Finnish born and California based teacher Aulikki Flagan shares her thoughts about what Finnish education system has to offer to foreigners pursuing the career of an educator.
When I was nine years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be a teacher, but it took 30 years for my dream to become true.
I graduated from the Institute of Health Care in Helsinki, Finland with a degree in Medical Technology. I got a job as a research technician and two years later, my boss accepted a position at City of Hope Medical Center in California and brought his whole laboratory to California. Soon I fell in love with an American, married, had three children, and now 40 years later, I am still here in this beautiful country.
After getting a degree in chemical engineering, I worked at USC Medical Center as a genetic engineer for a while, but I still wished to teach young students the excitement of research, to get them excited about the wonderful world of science. It suddenly hit me that this might be my last chance to fulfill my childhood dream to become a teacher. Ramona Convent Secondary school was the answer to my dream.
I now have a master’s degree in Education and Zoology and twenty-eight wonderful years at Ramona behind me, teaching mainly Biology, Engineering, and Environmental Science. I also mentor several science clubs and competitions and have coached a Robotics team for 18 years. An admitted workaholic, I have also been an adjunct instructor for a local community college for the past 13 years.
I had accomplished everything I wanted from my life but one thing was still missing; I wanted to have a broader impact on science education. I applied to the Fulbright Foundation in 2017 and was granted the Distinguished Teaching Award Grant that allowed me to travel to Finland for six months to understand the success of the Finnish education system and to see firsthand how teachers are trained and how they motivate students to excel in academics, especially in science. My goal was to learn directly from experts in teacher education and seeing educational theory at work in classrooms.
For several weeks, I attended lectures at the University of Helsinki where future teachers worked on putting finishing touches on their lesson plans. I visited schools where these young educators work with mentor teachers and had constructive discussions with the mentor teachers. I saw firsthand how the future teachers practiced and were guided by constructive feedback after each class presentation.
In high schools, I interviewed female biology students who were all very excited about the subject. They planned to take the biology matriculation exam, and “demanded” intensive lectures and detailed explanations. Incredible. Also in the elementary and junior high schools, the students seemed eager to study and everyone seemed enjoyed learning. I liked the way that the teachers even in elementary school, guided the students to become independent learners. They allow students to proceed with their own pace and learn from mistakes.
I attended twelve professional development activities around Finland and visited the teacher education departments at eight universities. The activities were so much fun that I plan to use some of them in my classroom. Some activities dealt with electronics, computers, robotics, and coding, which is viewed as very important in Finland, so students begin to learn to code already in the first grade. At that early level, it’s usually done by playing games.
I now look forward to applying what I learn to my teaching at Ramona, and to share it with teachers around the state and the nation.
I became a teacher relatively late in life because I did not realize how rewarding teaching could be when I was a young adult beginning my career. Because of that, I decided to write a book on growing up in Finland and obtaining a teaching certificate. This book is written for a young minded person who is thinking of entering the fascinating world of teaching or an educator who wants to learn more about the Finnish system for training teachers. I hope this book gives the insight of what one needs to become a fascinating, creative and inspirational educator!
Text by: Aulikki Flagan