What Finns find strange about American school schedules
Every year with my teacher education students (the future schoolteachers of Finland), we go through school schedules from the US and a few other countries and compare them to the Finnish system. The idea is not to define better or worse – just to point out different ways of doing things! Here is a summary of the kinds of things Finnish teachers-in-training notice about American school schedules.
School days in the US are longer, featuring fewer recess periods. However, sometimes these rarer recess periods are longer than the more frequent ones in Finland.
School subjects in the US have funnier names than in Finland. If you look at a Finnish school schedule, it will say things like Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Swedish, etc. If you look at an American school schedule, you’ll find Language Arts, Brainwork, SSR, LEAD, Mustang Minutes, Mrs. Fun, Words Their Way, Wordworks, BSW, and Pathway to Success.
The weekly school schedule in the US does not include any religion classes.
The weekly school schedule in the US usually does not include any foreign language classes. And when it does, it is sometimes nonsensical (Spanish in Idaho?).
The concepts of the pledge of allegiance and signing up/paying for a hot lunch are completely unknown here.
Some of the school schedules we looked at mentioned parent helpers, or parents coming in to teach art. This is a relatively foreign concept to teachers in Finland. From a parent’s point of view, I have never been asked to come help in the classroom or on a field trip, ever. One of my students said that anytime a school asks parents for even 5 euros to help cover some kind of class trip, there is practically a public uproar. And the idea that a volunteer parent would come in and teach an art class once a month – WELL. That did not go over well. Finnish art teachers are specially trained, just like a chemistry or math or English teacher would be, so it doesn’t feel great that art (let alone handicrafts, which is another separate subject here) would be outsourced in that way, and be taught so seldom.
In general, subjects like music, art, and PE were less common in the US school schedules. Literacy-related subjects were more common in the US (i.e., several English or Language Arts lessons in a week where in Finland there might be only a few).
School days that start and end at the same time every day! And always with the subjects in the same order! This is quite the novelty here in the land where none of those things are true. Students were split on whether this would be a good or a bad thing to do in Finland.
The specificity of some of the start/end times was alarming to the Finns. There were a few school schedules that dictated times that did not end in either a 0 or a 5, which is Not Done here in Finland.
Finally, the idea of a 5-year-old going to a lesson called Social Studies in kindergarten was equal parts adorable and puzzling to these Finnish students. You may recall that Finnish kids don’t even start school until age seven, and the specific subject of social studies doesn’t start until fourth grade.
So that’s what US school schedules look like to Finnish almost-teachers! I love doing this activity because I think it’s beneficial to take a step outside your own paradigm once in a while and see how things are done elsewhere.