Class teacher Jussi Häikiö has worked in the field of education for the past 20+ years and recognises that, year after year, teaching has become more demanding. Jussi calls for more appreciation for teachers' work in everyday life, such as smaller group sizes and a salary level that corresponds to the demanding nature of the work.
Teachers are highly educated professionals who are proud of their competence and see the significance of their work for individuals and the future of Finland as a whole.
However, many teachers are exhausted and even contemplating a career change, because the appreciation of the industry cannot be seen in the everyday work. This is the message for Finland in short, signed by thousands of education sector professionals.
Jussi Häikiö, who works as a class teacher at Vartiokylä primary school in Helsinki, agrees with this message. He has worked in the field for more than 20 years.
“In the work of a class teacher, it feels particularly important to see the students’ growth so close and to create a basis for learning for their future education path,” Jussi says.
However, Jussi is also familiar with the increase in workload and the job becoming
more and more demanding. He is also familiar with the societal inequality, which in the work of a teacher is visible in the differences between pupils and their backgrounds.
“The school mirrors the society in the good and the bad. In our everyday work, teachers get to witness how our society has become polarised during the recent years and decades. Students who naturally cope well can even choose the school they want to study at. At the same time, many students are on the brink of exclusion."
"There are many different kinds of learners and each of them deserves the support of a teacher. But group sizes have grown and special classes have been abolished, all the while resources have not grown along with the changes in our society. It seems that teachers have been left alone and that they are expected to conscientiously complete tasks that have become more and more challenging”, Jussi says.
Growing haste weakening the success of teachers and students
According to Jussi, a sense of haste and requirements for efficiency have taken over schools: the ever-increasing workload should be managed with fewer staff members and, in the meantime, training should be carried out in order to meet the increasing requirements of professional competence.
The world of education needs to calm down in order to allow time for genuine learning and growth.
“A lot of content has been added in teaching and the job description has changed. I feel like there’s a terrible rush to learn these days. Furthermore, there is a lack of multi-professional support. School psychologists, public health nurses and curators often change or do not exist at all.”
According to Jussi, these issues could be solved with money. Education should be realised in a new way, as an economically viable investment in the future of children and young people. For example, the earlier learning difficulties, problems with peaceful working conditions or bullying can be addressed, the better we can prevent exclusion.
“Increased funding would help, for example, to reduce group sizes. This would have a huge impact on learning, and it would also support the coping of teachers and other staff and their willingness to work in the field,” Jussi summarises.
Untrue impressions of short working days
People typically think that the profession of a class teacher means short working days and long summer holidays.
However, a large part of teachers’ work is not visible to people outside the industry. In reality, teachers work long days and spend their evenings preparing for classes, meetings, contact with parents and taking care of unexpected situations that could not be predicted at the start of the day.
“Teaching requires competence, we can’t just appear in front of the class without preparing. The classes must be planned and the materials must be prepared in advance. The work also includes therapeutic elements, as teachers must help students with their problems. Providing help for each student is a human process. Teaching a new class in the autumn is like starting a new business, preparing for it requires sufficient recovery time.”
The appreciation of teachers' work should also be reflected in pay and working conditions
In other countries, people envy Finland’s success in the Pisa studies comparing learning outcomes. The results show that Finns say they really appreciate the work done by teachers.
Despite this, the appreciation of teachers’ work is not reflected in their everyday work. According to a survey conducted by OAJ in autumn 2021, six out of ten teachers were considering a career change, the main reasons being the stress of work, excessive workload and insufficient pay. For example, the salary of a class teacher with a Master’s degree at the beginning of their career is a little over EUR 2,700.
OAJ’s aim is to secure salary increases that safeguard purchasing power, as well as a salary programme that would ensure the development of teachers’ salaries in the long-term. Jussi also believes that the appreciation of the sector should be better reflected in the actions of decision-makers and employers – in other words, in pay and work resources.
“I often wonder if we are genuinely appreciated, because the appreciation is not reflected in our salary. That’s why talking about the best school system in the world often makes me upset. In the Helsinki Metropolitan Area, you can barely get by with a class teacher’s salary,” Jussi points out.
We need competent teachers now and in the future
Jussi sees education and teaching as a significant factor for societal change, both on a national and global level. For example, girls’ education has played a major role in strengthening democracy and in the development of girls’ and women’s rights.
Work is done daily in schools that directly affects the learning and future of tens of thousands of children.
“A teacher’s job is to maintain the system and society. We carry children and young people forward, and what we do today can determine the direction of a child or a young person for the rest of their life. That’s why it’s important to ensure that there are competent teachers in Finland in the future as well. The better our chances are to succeed in our work, the better the future of the whole of Finland will be.”