Who wants to be a teacher?!

It happened, back in Sweden, a couple of years ago, when visiting the hairdresser, sitting in the chair, chatting politely, the question is asked – ”what do you do for a living?”I answered ”I am teacher” and the response was honest and spontaneous,”poor you!”.
It summons up the Swedish public opinion about the teaching profession quite well, during that time, 2010, teachers were considered losers,when it came to pay, responsibility, and working conditions. But now we are noting a shift in the public opinion,for the last three years there have been an increase of applicants to the national teacher education program in Sweden. Compared to the year 2008, the first hand applicants has increased by 67%. Behind the switch you will find hard political work and determination. But still we are far from Finland – in Finland the teacher education programs are considered one of the most popular academic courses, more so then medicin and journalism. Finland has been extremely careful and selective when it comes to introducing new political reforms in the field of education and schooling, opposite to Sweden.
In Sweden twenty five, twenty years ago, the national mandatory school as well as the upper secondary school, went through massive changes, immense political reforms effecting curriculum, teachers’ employment and more. The Swedish free school choice reform was introduced during this time, and several independent schools started, especially at upper secondary level. In fact, today 40% of all schools at upper secondary level are independent schools, in some municipalities up to 60% of the students attend independent schools. Despite the reform was launched two decades ago the introduction of school choice is still a subject to debate.
Sweden has a voucher policy, allowing an easy entry of independently run private schools which any student could attend. The school receives an amount equal to the average per-pupil cost of the students public school system, and this is paid by the student’s municipality, to the school chosen by the student or her or his parents. This means that the resources available to the local public school are decreased as more students choose independent schools, and vice versa. In addition, any kind of organization can start a school, including for profit companies.
The debate in this field is largely ideological, and no research, that I know of, have researched the impact of the reform on teaching quality and effects on attractiveness of the teaching profession.

But today education is on the policial agenda, especially now with the Swedish election to the parlament in September this year.
But the swift in public interest came a bit too late, after several international reports, such as PISA, (Programme for International Student Assessment, managed by OECD), showing test results decreasing rapidly. At first the results were criticized and sometimes even ridiculed, but now, at last, seriously discussed, analyzed and acted upon.

But in the beginning, 2006, the Education Minister of Sweden, suffered from harsh critiques when demanding orderliness, focus on knowledge and raising expectations of both teachers, students and school boards. Therefore the news about the rapid growth of applicants to teacher education program is welcomed and encourages hope.

When it comes to teachers reputation and standards in Japan, both are eminent. Teachers are highly respected in Japan, there are about seven applicants for each teaching position. To have a teacher in the family is highly regarded and looked upon with great admiration.

So, telling my hairdresser here in Tokyo, that I am a teacher, is much more fun, because she isn’t pitting me.

In Japan, teaching, is considered a middle-class profession, and teachers are paid well. Following WWII, the Prime Minister and his cabinet were over concerned about teacher shortages. Therefore decided, teachers would be paid 30% more than any other civil servants. This gap has surely decreased over the last 60 years, but teachers are still among the highest-paid civil servants, with a beginner teacher paid the same as a new engineer.

In Japan, as mentioned previously, teaching is a respected profession, and the first thing in the morning, Japanese children bow to their teachers. In Japan bowing is a way to express gratitude,respect and hierarchy. But the teacher also always bow back, in respect to his or her students, the reciprocal bowing is very important, and often missed in western description of Japanese bowing culture!

The teaching profession in Japan is also highly selective, at both the program admission and the hiring phase. About 14% of applicants are admitted into schools of education, and of those who do reach graduation – only 30-40% find work in public schools. Those who do make the cut only do so after a rigorous set of school board exams and evaluations. The whole system is set up to emphasize the continuous development and control of teachers, especially newly examined teachers.
As a result of this check and control system, about 98% of classes at the secondary level are taught by teachers who hold a certificate in the field or subject they teach.
In Sweden we are focusing on managing and organizing a system for handing out teacher certificates for both newly examined and employed teachers. In Sweden this is a challenge, since the teacher programs have changed rapidly during the years. I recall during my own four an and half years in teacher education program, the requirements and curriculum for reaching certificate to be be classified for teaching upper secondary level were changed two times!
In Sweden we also have high number of none qualified teacher, or none certificated teachers, teaching, and in 2015, new state regulation limits the grading process of students only to licensed teachers. This is a huge conundrum and is not easily resolved.
In Sweden we also have a another problem we need to attend to – teachers, both well educated and skilled, leave the profession for other employments, usually with larger pay checks and with greater opportunities to advancements. In Japan this problem is non existing, of many different reasons, first of all employees in Japan tend to stick to their employer, loyalty with your employer is highly regarded. Loyalty to one employer in Sweden isn’t regarded highly. Carrier planners encourage people to change employment every fourth, fifth year. This trend is picked up and followed by high ranking civil servants in the municipalities of Sweden, leading to employ principals on a four year contract. Quite silly, and not promoting sustainability to the schools.
In Sweden, Japanese teachers are able to move up within schools over the course of their careers, with the most straightforward path being teacher, head teacher and then principal.

Finally, another big difference a majority of Japanese teachers remain in the profession until retirement age, which by the way, is reached at 60!

”Respect is the backbone of Japan’s school system, which for decades has topped international rankings while spending the lowest amount on education among developed democracies: 3.3 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, or GDP, goes toward schooling compared to 5 percent in the United States.”/CNN

How do they do so much with so little? By investing in top-notch teachers. Most international research shows the same result, the quality of the teachers is the single most important school-related factor influencing student achievement.

Japanese teacher spends 60% teaching and 40% interacting and working with colleagues. This system of inter colleague learning is called “lesson study”. The purpose is to learn from colleagues informally. The Principals of the school, organize meetings during which teachers with varying levels of experience discuss teaching techniques and formulate sample lesson plans. The next step is then to use this sample plan in the classroom, with one of your colleague observing, taking notes and listening. Following the sample lesson, the group of teachers meets again to evaluate the lesson, maybe to make adjustments to the lesson plan and to offer constructive criticism to the responsible teacher. This is something I strongly advocate, to create a learning and supporting working environment by organizing and regulated reciprocal learning. Attempts have been made, and are still progressing but more can be done by using right criteria and incitements.

For a long time in Sweden,the only career step available for teachers was to get engaged by the union, which were quite common. If you were interested to become a principal or headmaster, you were encouraged to change school, and or even municipality because advancement within the school organization was considered wrong, and not promoted.

In Japan there are strict carrier ladders for teachers, known to everyone and similar everywhere. However, within each of these steps, there are multiple salary grades based on performance and experience. While some teachers may never be promoted to head teacher, they are able to see their salary climb from about 270,000yen to nearly 700,000yen over a lifetime. This salary increase takes place over 36 steps; there are an additional 20 salary steps within the head teacher position, and 15 within the principal position.

If we return to Sweden, and the coming election, I am worried we will stray the path. The enhancement of teacher quality is likely to be quite costly. Increases in teacher salaries, and other efforts to educate, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers are all associated with substantial costs. Nevertheless, the willingness of policy makers and taxpayers to devote such a large proportion to education to highlights the undisputed importance of teachers in realizing educational goals. As mention before, numbers of researchers have argued that teacher quality is a, maybe even the powerful predictor of student performance.
Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education(2000) reports that “measures of teacher preparation and certification are by far the strongest correlates of student achievement in reading and mathematics, both before and after controlling for student poverty and language status.”
She contends that measures of teacher quality are more strongly related to student achievements than for example reduced class sizes or other educational incitements to achieve student progress.

Sources: UHÄ, Swedish university statistics.
NCEE Center on international education benchmarking.
CNN world news.
Linda Darling-Hammond Stanford Center for opportunity policy in education, Graduate School of Education.


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