Saturday, April 20, 2013

"I didn't know you were at the top of a flippin' mountain!"

Friday was, in fact, exhausting.  Not only was it the end of the week, but I did an observation at an elementary school in the morning, worked in my office for part of the afternoon, then biked to my final meeting on the campus extension across the lake.

The elementary school observations have been very interesting. The experience was quite recognizable as "schooling." The structure of the lesson, the sorts of materials used (books, paper, pencils, talk, smartboard, chalkboard) were the same. One of the major differences is the small class size. While the homeroom classes are about 25 students, there is sufficient time, space and support (yet) for the teachers to break out sections of classes. The one I observed today, English language, had about 12 in it because the teacher who partners with another split the class--one day a week they meet as a whole and the second, the half-sections. The elementary students have a "college style" schedule so that for some, this was their first class of the day at 10:00 AM. Consequently, some are finishing the day at 4:00 PM.  The number of classes in a day varies, from day to day. The open times during the day allow instructors to meet, plan, grade or run an errand, if need be.  Primary and secondary teachers' work lives are more like university instructors in the US than like those our teachers experience. However, a number of teachers stated that the existing conditions are changing due to budget cuts.  The teacher I observed worries that the resources for splitting classes will soon disappear.  That's unfortunate.

There seems, though, a qualitative difference in what is happening in Finnish schools.  They are quite successful even though moment to moment operations look a great deal like schools in the US. A noted sociologist of education, Basil Bernstein, commented that "education cannot make up for society."  He was talking about the fact that the backgrounds, resources, environments of some children work against their success in school.  Given what I've seen of Finnish culture, so far, and a few weeks doesn't make me a great expert, it seems that there is kind of self-organization to this society that is often missing in the US. People are expected to be good citizens in public; they take care of things for the most part. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the furniture in many of the university buildings is 50 years old and looks like new. The laundry room in this building is pristine, nothing like the apartment laundries I've experienced.  Perhaps, here, society has a role in promoting (the opposite reading of "making up for") education by itself being better organized, less chaotic, less time-deprived, and more committed to supporting a highly professional cadre of teachers. Such analysis doesn't lend itself to much more, perhaps than some correlational studies perhaps, but I think I'm on the right track in my theory :)

OK. So, off to the office to do some reading, and abstracting some essays; parsing out an an observational tool from one; planning next week; keeping track of email. My final meeting was at 3:30 PM "across the lake."  One can see the campus buildings across the lake and it looks like one can see them all.  I left a half hour to go from the office to the meeting--what thought would be twice as much time as needed. I only need 15 minutes from my flat to the main campus, so how could it take 30?

Starting from my office it looks to be an easy trip (and on the page, it's all "down hill" :).  My first brief problem as a detour, missed route because I couldn't see the pathway under the freeway.  That wasn't so bad; a local guy got me sorted out and on the way.  When I arrived at the end of the bridge, there is a massive building ahead and a stairway that looks like it was modeled on the pyramids.

You can see it on the right of the picture.  I knew this wasn't the building; it looks like I just swing around the back of the hill, so I set off kind a behind the guy in the lower left....

Needless to say, I was starting to run late, was a bit in a hurry and when made the first turn, I was faced with an Alpine incline the top of which I could not see.  It was a thigh burning, lung busting run up the hill. I made it to the meeting perfectly on time, although barely able to speak.  My Finnish colleagues, valuing promptness, started on time! What I wanted to say was, ""I didn't know you were at the top of a flippin' mountain!" but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.  As I pealed off my coat, they gave me a very thorough handout they'd prepared; I gasped a thank you; as I staggered to a chair, they began outlining the features of the online program I'd come to discuss.  I nodded approvingly as I tried to get my breath, and discretely blow my nose (you can imagine fountain of stuff that freezing air being sucked, in large volumes, into the sinuses can make--sorry folks, but that's biology!), and get my head to stop spinning.  I appreciated that they didn't make a big deal of my ablutions, but, hey, they were supposed to be all impressed that sixty year-old had made the Kessel Run at light speed--on a bicycle!  Alas, as Finns,  they focused on the task a hand and no mollycoddling. Joten, nyt hommiin.


  1. Well done!!! :) Although, while impressed, im not surprised that you were able to make it - I've seen you walk across the Sac State campus at warp speed!! Pretty amazing! And because I know you have been missing my trivial pop culture references, I have to mention that this story reminds me of Ross when he was teaching a class on one side of campus and another right after on the other side of campus...and he was always arriving late, sometimes on roller blades ;) Miss you!!!

  2. Heather, your comments always make me laugh. I read your note while having lunch in the library coffee shop and when I read your Ross reference, I nearly snorted coffee all over the guy across from me! Such fun! ;)