Recently while travelling overseas, I met an Australian girl studying to become a teacher. Her reasoning was because it “wasn’t too hard”, and she enjoyed working with children. The conversation moved on, and I quickly forgot about it. A few days later, however, I found myself thinking back to what she had said. When had teaching become a job that was chosen because it’s “not too hard”? By no means am I suggesting that this is the rationale of all who choose to become an educator; I have many teachers in my family, and I know first-hand that many choose to do so out of a desire to better society and love for their work. I merely wondered why it was so easy to join the ranks of a profession that, at least in my mind, performs perhaps the most important function in society.
Finland, a country famous for the high standard of its teachers, may be a good place to start. Being the capitalist pig I am, I immediately assumed the answer must be money; Finland had to be paying their teachers much more than we do. The truth shocked me. According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data, the average wage for a teacher in Finland ($37,000) is around A$10,000 less than it is in Australia. And yet, Finland’s teachers are widely acknowledged as being among the very best in the world. Why is it that Finland’s brightest minds gravitate towards this profession, rather than toward big money positions in the financial industry, for example?
I have a suggestion as to why this occurs. According to the Centre on International Education Benchmarking, teachers in Finland are treated extremely well, with good annual leave, overtime conditions, and small class sizes. The CIEB also notes that the process for becoming an educator is extremely strict, with many more applicants rejected than successful, and that as a result there is a very high level of prestige that comes with being a successful candidate. Moreover, maintaining a high standard of education is considered to be an extremely high priority for the nation, and this is reflected in social attitudes within the community. Simply put, the Finnish government ensures that teachers are treated well, and Finnish citizens actually care about the standard of teachers in all schools, not just that of their child.
Perhaps there is a lesson here, perhaps not. It is my opinion, however, that teachers play an essential role in developing the minds that will one day be the backbone of our society. They work extremely hard in what is often a thankless position, and we would do well to recognise the wisdom of valuing the quality of education in Australia as a whole, rather than just caring about the school to which we send our children. If we don’t, we may see a day where wut u red in magz lyk lot’s wyf is speld lyk dis lolz.