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Teachers’ Views on CPD

  • Yongjian LiEmail author
  • Fred Dervin
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter is devoted to teachers. A rural school, a bit isolated from the capital city Helsinki, was chosen as a case study. Interviews with teachers allow us to tackle the following issues: what are their experiences of CPD? What are their critiques of it? What needs do they have? What do their discourses on CPD tell us about the pitfalls of Finnish education? The data was collected a few months after major curricular reforms in Finland and there seemed to be frustration amongst the teachers, especially in relation to the lack of proper CPD. At least one of the teachers was very active in self-training.

Context: 2017, First Year of Reform

In this chapter, we examine teachers’ discourses on CPD. The context of the interviews was a small lower secondary school in a rural area, about 200 km away from the capital city. The choice of the school, where the interviews were collected, relates to our wish to reach out to the periphery and avoid schools based in the Helsinki area—which are often visited by pedagogical tourists to Finland (see Dervin 2013). The visit took place after the Christmas break in 2017. It is important to note that this followed the first semester of implementation of the New Core Curriculum. We had visited the school in early autumn 2017 so we already knew some of the teachers we interviewed.

The discussions took place in the teachers’ staffroom and in a classroom. They were led in three languages (Finnish, English and French) and translated into English when English was not used. We noted that many of the teachers lowered down their voices or code-switched to another language and looked in the direction of the Principal’s office when they were critical of CPD or the school in general.

When we started the interviews, we were struck by the fact that most of the teachers looked and sounded tired—even if they just had two weeks’ holiday. One teacher asserted that “I think that these Xmas holidays… they did not give me some rest… we are tired…”—shifting speakers from me to we. As we shall see, some were clearly annoyed by the reforms and the amount of work, they claimed, these impose on them. For example, they discussed the problems of ‘over-digitalisation’ and the new idea of phenomenon-based learning, which was not taking place in the school. One of the main obstacles for the latter relates to funding. One teacher exclaimed: “I can’t even take my students to the city 30 km away, we don’t have the money, while in Helsinki it is so easy.” During the visit, we were also told that one teacher had left the school, and the profession, as he was burning out. Another teacher was off work (one of the best teachers whose students get top grades in the final exams) because of stress about over-digitalisation. As we shall see these issues were omnipresent in discussions of CPD (NAE 2016).

Before we examine the data in detail, let us make general remarks about how the topic of CPD as an object of research is understood by these teachers.

Some of the teachers we interviewed did not understand what the Finnish phrase for CPD meant and what it covered. Besides some of them were clearly ashamed of the fact that they don’t do any CPD at all—apart from the compulsory VESO-days (see Heikkinen et al. 2015). However, we noted that all the teachers we interviewed appeared to be very eager to do new things and develop their skills, but they seem to do it either alone or with their closest colleagues. Teacher 5 described herself as:

I am the kind of person who gets excited about things and I am always so happy to find new methods.

Some of the teachers were also ‘hungry’ to do CPD but had no opportunity beyond VESO (because of family commitments or money). Two teachers had done long-term CPD (a minor in media education; a major in career advising while working). One teacher took us through her professional Facebook page, explaining how she uses this tool to self-train and “share tips” with other teachers. She considered this to be the best form of CPD as it did not require going anywhere or spending time in a lecture hall. Interestingly, this teacher, as well as another respondent, essentialised Finns to explain the lack of engagement and cooperation with colleagues: “We Finns don’t like to share our work”; “maybe we are too lazy in Finland and we are scared of what the others will say…” (see similar arguments in Heikkinen et al. 2015; Pöntynen and Silander 2015). These assertions (which we have heard from other teachers and providers many times) seem to question e.g. Sahlberg’s (2018) argument that “in Finland, we try to make cooperation part of our culture”. They also disrupt the official narrative of ‘trust’.

In total six teachers took part in our interviews. We realise that this is a very small number in a school that has 25 teachers. However, we are not trying to generalise about all these teachers—not about Finnish teachers in general. Our goal is to identify some recurring discourses about CPD that might dialogue with discourses from respondents in the other sections. We are also interested in the multiple and sometimes conflicting and contradictory voices that we might identify about CPD.

The choice of the teachers was based on: different levels of seniority; different school subjects; different teacher education backgrounds (Helsinki, Jyväskylä, and Turku). All the respondents were qualified with a Master’s and teacher education credits. Only female teachers took part in our study. One male teacher joined in one of the interviews as a guest but did not say anything. The table below provides basic yet anonymous information about the teachers (Table 6.1).
Table 6.1

Profiles of interviewees (teachers)

Teacher

Seniority

Subject

1

20 years

Mother tongue (Finnish)

2

15 years

Foreign languages

3

8 years

History and psychology

4

5 years

Foreign languages

5

15 years

Mother tongue

6

10 years

History and geography

Teacher 3 is probably the most interested teacher in CPD. During her interview she explained that:

I get bored very easily, so being me, I need the change if I do the same every year that would burn me out… so I need this change…

At the time of the interview she had completed an extra qualification in career advising and was considering doing a Ph.D. She was the only teacher who did not have a permanent position in the school. When asked how it felt when she started, she explained that she had received a lot of support “because the headmaster teaches the same studies as I do”. Furthermore, she considers that her university studies prepared her well for self-learning.

The analysis is composed of the followings subsections: respondents’ experience of CPD; discourses on VESO-days; critiques of CPD; needs.

Respondents’ Experience of CPD

Having access to CPD in Finland requires being active in finding proper and interesting courses in which one could take part (Niemi 2015, see Chapter  4). When asked what kind of CPD she has done Teacher 6 claims that “I don’t think that there is much to offer for history teachers or maybe I am not active enough to look for the trainings but…”, showing that she is aware of the fact that she is somewhat responsible for her own CPD.

Apart from teacher 3, it usually takes a certain number of interactional turns with us before the teachers mention concrete CPD courses they have taken. Teacher 1 mentions a course about media education that she took at a Finnish university with a colleague of hers, explaining that “That was something I did not have at university when I studied”. Teacher 2 seems to have had very little experience of CPD (she started her career five years earlier). This is how she responds to the query about past experiences of CPD:
T2:

that’s a very difficult question… if you count in all the VESO days… I have taken part in some training somewhere… last year I went to Helsinki… they have this association for language teachers… it was very useful it costs like 15 euros… the school paid… it was one evening and they taught us how to use abitti in a very effective way and that was very useful and that was something that was targeted… I have these great notes I can use…

Eurydice (2015: 83) had already noted that less experienced teachers have less access to CPD in Finland. The only concrete training that she mentions was meant to support teachers in their use of an e-platform (abitti in the excerpt above) used throughout Finland by high school students who take the matriculation examination at the end of upper secondary school. It is interesting to note that many teachers seemed to be worried about not knowing how to use the platform properly and claimed they needed more training—while they said nothing about their needs for further development in relation to e.g. the subject they taught.

When urged to think about other examples of CPD that she had taken, teacher 2 comments on a course taken at the National Agency of Education in 2015:
T2:

there was something organised by the NAE it must have been like 2015… autumn 2015… so we went to Helsinki… the problem is every time it is organised by NAE it is like they have several lecturers… there lots of people there… and the other speakers don’t know what the others talk about… so there might be slideshows that resemble one another and we were just talking about this… (…) the speakers did not know what the others said and there was a lot of overlapping…

This is a critique about CPD courses that we have often heard during interviews or informally with acquaintances (see Heikkinen et al. 2015; Huhtala and Vesalainen 2017). There does not always seem to be cohesion and coherence in the way CPD courses are organised.

The first two teachers are language teachers and, as seen earlier, there are many opportunities to apply for funding to do CPD abroad. However, neither of these teachers have taken part in such initiatives, although they remember having applied at some point in their career. The reasons given for not taking part include having young children, which limits the opportunity to spend time abroad, and financial reasons (although all is covered and a substitute teacher is even paid for).

Teacher 4 explains that she does CPD at least once a year, which she refers to as “short courses… a weekend, an evening or a day or something… nothing very extensive” (see Aspfors 2012). She only gives the concrete example of a course on using new technologies and IT in teaching organised by a university three years earlier. She adds:
T4:

The headmaster suggested I should take this course and I went and that was very useful and I have used things I learnt, it was organised locally so I did not need to go to Helsinki

I:

so the municipality paid for everything?

T4:

yes, everything, so that was good…

As explained earlier, teacher 3 appears to be the most engaged and motivated for CPD. This is how she talks about a CPD course she had completed just before the Christmas break:
T3:

I just finished in December studies that I became a student counsellor. That was a one and a half-year programme. I was working here and then one week in [name of Finnish university].

I:

and the municipality had organised all the substituting?

T3:

yeah, I did all my lessons for that time and when I was away I did not get any salary… well you know teachers are like that…

Unlike other teachers, T3 seems to be even willing to ‘sacrifice’ her own time and money to get extra qualifications. It is important to note that she is younger than other teachers, with no family ties. Furthermore, she was the only teacher who did not have a permanent position—although she had been working in the school for at least 8 years—and who was considering embarking on a PhD. Her case could show that personal motivation and circumstances can have an influence on participation in CPD.

Discourses on VESO-Days

As a reminder, VESO further training days consist of CPD organised by a school or a municipality for all staff (Hellström 2012). They are compulsory half-days or full-days, usually organised outside teaching time.

The teachers’ views on this major source of CPD are rather negative in the interviews. Teacher 1 is very strongly critical of VESO-days:
T1:

(…) VESO if you remember but the usefulness of that is like zero or minus three or… something like that

I:

when we came here in August there was a VESO day on evaluation, do you remember?

T1:

no… but yes… we had those but they are bullshit… mostly… of course there is something but… they are not very useful… maybe the performer has been poor or the subject I feel is something I don’t need in my every day work…

Teacher 1 is the most experienced teacher of all the respondents and is known for being an excellent teacher. Her language is very strong: VESO days are ‘useless’, ‘bullshit’ (see Guiden and Brennan 2017).

The other teachers appear to be a bit more balanced in their opinion. Teacher 3 argues that the usefulness of these VESO-days is unstable: “well it depends, sometimes they do, sometimes I get really bored and hate it and you know…”. Teacher 5 qualifies VESO-days as “always so ‘useful’” in an ironic way, using her fingers to form inverted commas. We asked teacher 5 why she felt this way:
I:

When we came in August you had a VESO on assessment… was that good?

T5:

yes, we have had many VESOs on this topic… it brought me very little… to me because in Finnish language and literature… so I think that the assessment that I have done has been very versatile so it was not so much news to me… I have never had this thing that we study this and then we have exam and then you get the grade… no that is not the way… (…) few VESOs have been kind of useful but… most of them are like too general… there’s all the teachers together and then there is no… and nothing to do with practical stuff…

Again and again the argument of VESO-days not being well targeted or useful for the respondents returns in the interviews (Heikkinen et al. 2015). We often felt that they experienced them as ‘duty’ rather than opportunities to learn new things. Teacher 5 gives a certain number of arguments in the previous excerpt: VESO days are too general and not related to practices. Teacher 4 reinforces this impression in her discourse on VESO-days but she also adds an important aspect: the leadership does not consult teachers about potential topics of interest. We were aware of a forthcoming VESO-day at the school, so we asked teacher 2 what it was going to be about. She replied:
T2:

yes, we are gonna have our next VESO this January, but we haven’t really decided… because our general idea was to work with teachers from different schools in the region but… they have all decided to have their own VESO days.

I:

So, is this going to happen?

T2:

yes, but I don’t know the exact date or the topic…

I:

what topics would you want? Give us a couple of topics.

T2:

I don’t know perhaps… cooperating and sharing ideas with the others…

The teacher’s answer seems typical of the participants: they would want something interesting and relevant to their own work but they are not sure what. It is also interesting that the cooperative characteristic of Finnish teachers, which is mentioned by many education exporters, is somewhat put into question here when the teacher explains that the joint VESO with other schools would not take place because “they have decided to have their own VESO days”.

Critiques of CPD

Throughout the interviews, the teachers don’t mince their words about CPD as they see it in Finland. The choice of the school, in a rural part of the country, in the periphery, shows that the teachers experience some kind of exclusion, by not being able to participate in CPD as often as they would like to if they lived in a city. Teacher 1 explains: “where we are away from city where all the activities are”. She adds “In Helsinki, it only takes 15 minutes to go somewhere for CPD here I have to take a train and it takes 3 hours” (see Heikkinen et al. 2015). In a similar vein teacher 5 shares the following:

I have tried to find some interesting CPD but I haven’t… or I had found something but it was in Jyväskylä… in Helsinki I could still go – but in Jyväskylä it is too far away…

The city of Jyväskylä is located in the western part of the Finnish Lakeland, about 270 km from the capital city and 150 km from the school. All these assertions go against the somewhat commonsense that has been built about Finland that all schools are equal in the Nordic country (Sahlberg 2011).

There are laws, of course, about CPD but the teachers are hesitant about the number of days they should reserve for CPD. Teacher 1 explains:
T1:

I know but two of those days are VESOS. They are legally those. And then there is one day which you have to find…

I:

But do you have to?

T1:

I don’t know maybe I should… but nobody is checking this…

Teacher 1 expresses guilt for not being actively involved in CPD (like many other teachers). The end of her second tour (“but nobody is checking this…”) represents an argument that we heard repeatedly (see Hämäläinen 2015). Some teachers assumed that leadership does not keep track of the use of the third compulsory day of CPD for financial reasons: the schools have very little budget for CPD and, silence around CPD, allows them to save money for other things. Teacher 3 goes as far as claiming that, as a consequence, “In Finland, CPD has been quite neglected…”

When asked who takes part in CPD in the school, some teachers argue that it depends on the teachers’ personality and motivation, confirming e.g. Heikkinen’s et al. (2015) study and Fullan (2005). Teacher 3, however, believes that:

through my experience my older colleagues… they are not so eager… if you have five years before retirement, but I don’t know how I will feel when I am 60… But if you look at this new curriculum, everybody has to change the way they teach…

Some decision-makers and providers that we interviewed also shared the view that ‘older’ teachers do not rely on CPD to develop. Teacher 3 adds:

I have only been doing this for 5 years so it is OK I can find my way but for my older colleagues who have been doing a successful job for decades already, I think they feel the pressure and I don’t think this makes them happy because it is nearly as if someone is saying to you OK the work you have been doing for decades is not good anymore, and I don’t think that’s a good thing and there is always a trend…

Through her discourse on older teachers, she shows her sympathy for them, especially as she claims, the request to do CPD could be deemed aggressive to their faces and professional identity.

Teacher 5 brings back the topic of financial limitations to taking part in CPD regularly and seriously. Teacher 5 is adamant that “maybe the trainings or educations that are for us are the ones that don’t cost any money”. In her opinion the school principal would send teachers more often to do CPD if there was a real budget and if CPD were much cheaper (see Hämäläinen and Hämäläinen 2011). Money issues also seem to matter to teacher 2:
T2:

I think it is most about money, you really need to ask can I go there? Can I get the money? CPD is not always good… you can have a lot of expectations and then you go there and then wow maybe 30 minutes is useful and the rest is useless… when you only have the opportunity to choose one training, you see the title and you go and you get disappointed…

For teacher 2, CPD is an investment for which one does not always reap the right fruits (or any fruit at all), depending on the trainer, the topic and the newness of what is offered (Aspfors 2012).

The Need for CPD

All in all, the teachers recognize the importance of lifelong learning through CPD in the career of teachers. For them, ITT is not enough. When we tell them that some decision makers we had spoken to claimed that teachers were so well trained that they did not need CPD, teachers 5 and 6 responded as follows:
T5:

No that is not the case

T6:

NO

T5:

that is truly not the case…

I:

so when you finished your studies you felt you were not ready?

T5:

No…

T6:

No…

T5:

never I am gonna be ready… this is how it should be, I think…

T6:

ITT gives us a good basis…

T5:

but if you don’t keep on building and training…

T6:

that would be a disaster.

Teacher 4 is of the same opinion:
T4:

no, of course not, I am not ready… it changes all the time, so you have to learn all the time, for example the new curriculum, for example, I have learnt all the different programmes and software… I learnt here… I wasn’t taught anything like that during my studies and I think it is important to keep up with the language level too because the language changes…

Teacher 1 shares the same opinion about ITT and CPD (see Niemi 2015), and mentions the new Core Curriculum to justify:
T1:

No, I don’t feel that I have been well trained… I am not in this moment when we have all this technology, all these changes and the new curriculum…

The way to do CPD properly, and how to get the time and money to do it, seem to remain mysteries to our respondents (Pöntynen and Silander 2015). Teacher 4 finds it hard to answer the following question:
I:

when you think about your own needs, what would be useful to give you a boost?

T4:

I would… I suppose… of course… hum… a good question… I am always eager to learn new things… but I think that the phenomenon based teaching I would love to learn…

Yet some teachers appear to be aware of what would need to be needed to make a change.

Teacher 1 agrees that there should be a system of more systematic and compulsory training (Villegas-Reimers 2003). Interestingly, however, she questions this ‘proposal’ by arguing that “I think my students are my priority”—meaning: I don’t want to be away from school. She concludes the interview with these words: “I think I need but I don’t have the time or the energy to go”…

For teachers 2 and 5, there are actual discrepancies in Finnish ITT as, depending on where the teachers were trained to be teachers, they might have different approaches and perspectives:
T2:

but I think that the standards vary a lot so… sometimes when I listen to my colleague I think that she has gone through such a different system… it depends on the teacher educators…

For them, this means that, in order to lower the potential gaps between teachers who were trained differently, CPD would be a good addition.

Finally, teachers 5 and 6 wish to explore forms of CPD that would be more informal, such as discussions with colleagues. They co-construct the following discourse of cooperation:
T5:

I think that I would like to talk to a few people… maybe about the same subject I teach… but it is not necessary and just talk…

T6:

I have found it very useful to talk to my colleague because she also teaches history… she has given me many ideas and to think myself these things… and I would like to have more education where we talk to other history teachers…

T5:

and maybe we could even see what the others have done…

Pause

This section has examined the discourses of six teachers about CPD from a ‘peripheral’ Finnish school. The choice of this context proved to be fruitful: many respondents argued that living far off the centre, limits access to CPD, especially when funding is almost nonexistent. What also emerges from the interviews is that teachers follow very little CPD, although one of our teachers seems to represent an exception (Heikkinen et al. 2015). A lack of funding, family commitments or simply a lack of motivation explain the low level of engagement with CPD. The teachers also blame the authorities (school leaders and municipalities) for not reserving enough funding for CPD or for ‘checking’ if people do CPD regularly. The teachers recommend more (practical?) CPD related to their own work; more cooperation between teachers and levelling of ITT through CPD (Niemi 2015). Although the teachers admit that there is a need for CPD, and that they would wish to have access to quality CPD, it does not appear to be a priority for them.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of Teacher EducationUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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