It is almost 1am when the ferry finally reaches the shore of Mariehamn, the capital city of Åland archipelago, still an unfamiliar place to me despite the 20+ years I have lived and worked in Finland.
The reason for my visit is strictly work-related. As a teacher trainer at the School of Vocational Teacher Education, one of my duties is to observe each of my student teachers in action.
The observer’s perspective
Johan picks me up from my hotel and we walk together to the main campus of Högskolan på Åland, a Swedish speaking university of applied sciences.
Today, I am going to observe two different lectures. Johan submitted the detailed pedagogical scripts in advance so that I have a chance to make comments and suggestions. He is very well prepared.
We head to the first classroom. As always, I choose to sit at the very back of the room to make myself as invisible as possible. Johan introduces me to the group and gives me the floor for a few minutes. The ice is broken and students can now focus fully on the lecture, no longer wondering who the stranger at the back might be.
The lecture is kicked off and I can start scanning the learning and teaching environment. I listen carefully to the teacher and the students, keep track of their actions, take notes, formulate questions, and sketch how the space is used. Not being in the limelight is such an enjoyable moment.
After lunch, I repeat the same process with a different group, pointing out in my notes the similarities and differences between the two sessions, adding more comments and questions to a simple template. The feedback discussion following my observation matters more than my notes. I will share them with Johan afterwards, but they are just triggers for the discussion.
The student teacher’s perspective
I was very much looking forward to David’s visit here in the Åland islands. When entering the hotel lobby in the morning it was kind of an instant relief. I normally do not stress over being “on stage” and I did look forward to the visit and the full day program itself. Still in all honesty, I was nervous and felt some anxiety beforehand. However, that feeling instantly turned into inspiration.
We checked into our school and went to the classroom in order to start preparing for the lecture. David reserved a seat back in the corner and I introduced him briefly when starting the class. There was no stress nor strange reactions in the class about the visit. Actually, I think it was just the contrary, something inspiring to the class.
During the day we had a double class with the first group and then after lunch another group. I had planned the program and made a detailed script beforehand. It included time indications, descriptions from what class, group, language, etc to objectives and the structure of the program including exercises and timing.
I had never before planned classes in such detail, but I found it really interesting and a good experience. It requires a lot of time. Thus, I might not do it in such a detailed manner in the future but it has made me think and reflect on planning and preparations.
After closing the classes in the afternoon, we sat down for a coffee and started talking about the day. It was a very informal but structured discussion. Many very interesting and useful observations were discussed with some concrete highlights.
There are so many good things to be gained from the teacher education program: practical exercises, group work, discussions, theories. The contact days and being with the group itself has been fantastic. But, on a practical and very direct level, the teacher observation feedback discussion and my own reflection, was really a top notch experience. Without any doubt, the tutor visit and teacher observations have been the absolutely most valuable practical part of my teacher studies.
Class observations are highlights of the teacher education
Time flies and we have to wrap up the feedback discussion. Johan’s colleagues must be waiting for us at a local restaurant. This will be a great opportunity to network and learn more about their work at the university.
During my journey back to the mainland, I continue the reflection process on my own. What did I learn today?
It is even clearer to me that class observations are one the highlights of our programme, an opportunity for the students to demonstrate their competence and receive feedback beyond the written documentation provided by the student teachers before or after the teaching practice.
Class observations are an essential component for guaranteeing that our students will be indeed competent enough to operate in Finnish vocational education, ensure quality facilitation and lecturing and more importantly contribute to the success of their students in working life.