I have found that teachers and professors are very highly respected in Finland. All teachers have to have a master's degree before they can enter the classroom or the gymnasium to teach. At the elementary level, the classroom teacher is prepared to teach the content areas and one of the following three areas: physical education, music, or art. For someone to teach strictly physical education, they have to get the master's degree in physical education and then they will teach at the lower (grades 7-9) or upper (3 years of high school) secondary school settings. There is only one university in Finland that educates students to be physical education teachers with the Master's degree needed. This is Jyvaskyla University. It is located about 3 hours north of Helsinki by train and has a population of about 131,000. Only 80 physical educators are trained at this university at a time in the Master's program and everyone of them has a job when they graduate. Each of the universities is highly selective with the students for each discipline, so these physical education students are the cream of the crop. There is a need for more physical educators, but they don't have the resources to train more than 80 per group at this university. I will be going up there to observe in the next couple of weeks. This is such a different situation than in the U.S. We have plenty of university graduates in physical education and very few jobs for them. U.S. physical education specialized students have to be able to teach a different subject area in order to be hired most of the time as a teacher.
There is one major difference that I see between our two countries that may lead to the lack of jobs in the U.S. and the abundance of jobs in Finland for physical educators. One difference is the U.S. emphasis on athletics. Since many school districts offer athletics as an alternative for physical education, there are many university students who want to teach physical education and coach. In many states, only head coaches are awarded the physical education teaching jobs. This leaves many great physical education potential teachers without jobs in physical education. Hiring physical educators as coaches first also leads to a lack of respect in the physical education world in the U.S. On the other hand, Finland schools don't hire physical educators for the elementary positions. They have to be classroom teachers who also teach physical education. So the Finnish universities already steer their students into the classroom instead of training them to be physical educators with the result being too few jobs or none at all. They are essentially controlling supply and demand through what they offer and where. I wish Finland schools hired certified physical educators in the elementary schools, but I also wish the U.S. would hire physical educators who did not coach in the secondary schools. The bottom line is physical education teachers are highly respected in Finland, whereas many of the secondary physical education teachers and some of the elementary physical educators are not respected in the U.S. This has got to change with the obesity rates as high as they are in the U.S. schools (elementary and up). Physical education has to be the avenue to generate and stimulate thought and focus for the other content areas. I'll have more to say on this subject once I've been in the schools later this week.
One of the activities that I observed today with the students who are preparing to be physical educators had to do with statements related to physical education issues. The students were split into groups of 3-4 and then asked to discuss each of the statements - one at a time. It was really interesting to see how the students felt about certain issues and why. Sometimes their experiences with physical education personally drove some of their answers, but most of the time they really thought about the statement and why they felt the way they did on the topic. One of the statements was, "PE as a school subject always reflects the values of the time." Another was: "It is clear that PE has to serve competitive sports." There were 10 total. These are statements that we ponder in the U.S. also but the way they structured their thoughts & discussion was very good. These types of activities generate true respect for one another that, in turn, fosters respect for physical education teachers in the profession (in Finland). I'm going to adopt this activity into my methods classes when I return home.
One last thing. I went to the 2nd oldest town in Finland over the week-end - Porvoo. It's a beautiful place and it was nice to get out of the city and into the country to see other sites in Finland. The pictures below are of different views of Porvoo. Enjoy!!!