The teaching profession is the best profession in the world – this is the unanimous view of Risto Sarvilinna, Jerker Polso, and Samuli Laitinen, three JYU alumni that make up a trio of recently appointed principals in the city of Jyväskylä. At the beginning of August, Sarvilinna started at the upper secondary school and Polso at the primary school of the University of Jyväskylä Teacher Training School. Laitinen has worked as a principal and the director of upper secondary education at Jyväskylä Educational Consortium Gradia since the spring semester.
Returning to one’s alma mater immediately brings up memories. Each member of this trio ended up in Jyväskylä through slightly different routes. Originally from Vantaa, Jerker Polso applied for a study place in Jyväskylä, because he knew that class teacher education here was the best in Finland: “I hadn’t had any previous contacts with Jyväskylä, but I wanted to get in for the best education.”
Jyväskylä was not included in Risto Sarvilinna’s plans at first, as he was going to apply for a study place at the University of Helsinki. However, his plans changed when the book he had to read for the history entrance examination failed to inspire him. “I looked into whether there was an entrance exam book for Jyväskylä – there wasn’t. That decided it and I’m extremely happy for it.”
Samuli Laitinen comes from Varkaus and was interested in the Finnish language already in upper secondary school: “My girlfriend, now my wife, was already studying in Jyväskylä, so my choice was naturally the Department of Finnish at the same university. I immediately felt I was in the right place.”
The ever-increasing pace of societal change has long posed challenges to an expert organisation like a school and its management. Polso, Sarvilinna, and Laitinen all look to be difference-makers and ready to respond to challenges. Since the very beginning of their teaching careers, they have been interested in the development of school and teaching work. These projects also planted seeds for their current careers as principals.
In their current roles, the three new principals have a unique vantage point. Jyväskylä, as the cradle for the Finnish school system, also serves as a model for others. Although resource discussion is important and a part of the policies come “from above”, the principals emphasise a collaborative, positive and solutions-centred management model. Indeed, the principal’s role is to provide for the teachers and other staff a good and functional work environment as well as a framework for high-quality teaching and learning. “In particular, I would hope for more time and space to work in upper secondary school, because there have been so many changes recently,” Laitinen says.
“The future is not planned by the principal’s decisions, but in extensive cooperation through listening, discussing and making decisions together. In Jyväskylä, we have available the best possible cooperation partners for development work.”
All three principals want to tell both in-service and preservice teachers how great a profession teaching is. Young teachers, especially those at the beginning of their careers, tend to face challenges that may come as a surprise and even undermine their career choice. The job includes much more than just teaching, and new teachers do not necessarily receive a proper induction. In addition, the colleagues comprise a wide range of teachers of different ages and with different teaching philosophies. Laitinen compares the start as a teacher to other fields: how many work communities have experts from so many different fields with whom to engage in close cooperation?
“A teachers’ room is a highly unique workplace. The new curriculum increasingly challenges teachers to collaborate across school subject boundaries.”
In his study years, Polso would have liked to hear that you do not have to be a ready teacher right from the start. Of course, students hope to gain and are provided a fairly extensive toolbox from their studies, but a deeper personal teaching philosophy is established later. “For me, the first teaching years were spent in deepening the substance of my own teaching subject,” Sarvilinna says. “I didn’t have time to consider any teaching philosophy there. One’s own teachership also changes over time.” Laitinen adds: “Assessing the matriculation examinations was quite exciting in the first years.”
School management and development calls for a strong knowledge base. Such a base makes it possible to obtain and apply knowledge about the surrounding society and various school cultures. All three find that they gained such a knowledge base during their studies. Understanding the significance of cooperation as a guarantee for good and lasting results originates from the study years.
A principal’s work requires looking at issues broadly and from many different perspectives. The fact that teachership is still in high regard in society gives good motivation for running daily school life.
“We have the best profession in the world!”
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