In Finland, Stenfors had to work very hard to get into her teacher-training program. After high school, like many aspiring teachers, she spent a year as a classroom aide to help boost her odds of getting accepted.1
By the time the year ended, she had begun the application process for the University of Turku’s elementary education program. After submitting her scores from the Finnish equivalent of the SAT, she read a dense book on education published solely for education-school applicants. Several weeks later, she took a two-hour test on what she had read. After she passed the test, Stenfors sat down for an intense in-person interview with two education professors.
Like all of Finland’s teacher-training colleges, the University of Turku accepted only 10 percent of applicants for elementary education in 2010, and Stenfors was one of them. “I was so happy and excited. I called everybody,” she remembers.
After three years of studying in her Finnish university, Stenfors came to America to study abroad at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Right away, she noticed a subtle but powerful distinction. It happened whenever she met someone new in America. “Every time I told them I am studying to be a teacher, people said, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ ” They nodded politely and moved to other, less dreary conversational territory.
In a blog post she wrote from Kansas City, Missouri, Stenfors reported her finding home: “Here it’s not cool to study to be a teacher,” she wrote in Finnish. “They perceive a person who is studying to be a teacher as a little dumber. … Could you imagine [being] ashamed when telling people you are studying to be a teacher?”
The University of Missouri–Kansas City admits two-thirds of those who apply. To enter the education program, there is no minimum SAT or ACT score. Students have to have a B average, sit for an interview, and pass an online test of basic academic skills.
The good news is that 50 years ago, Finland used to be a lot like what U.S. is today. So, is there hope for the US?
The bad news is that there are powerful forces in the US that vehemently oppose setting standards of any sort for the education of students!