This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Editor's note: Tara Black, who teachers second grade at Indian Hills Elementary in Salt Lake City, was among 32 Utah educators who recently visited schools in Finland with Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Europe. Read the related story here.
I am constantly reevaluating what I'm doing with my current students to make sure I am teaching them in a way that they will comprehend and retain. I try to be the teacher that I hope my own family will have. I like to think I am backing up to look at the big picture and making sure my students do the same.
Every class and every student is different from those in the past, so I need to keep learning to be my best. Focusing on test scores can interrupt this process. I've been treated like I don't know what I'm doing but gotten awards saying I'm one of the best at what I'm doing in the same year.
I'm not listened to, and my scores are compared to others like it is a sport and I must be ahead. I've had teachers compete with me, and in that environment I find so much time is wasted. I could be learning and bettering myself instead of feeling guilty that another teacher might be ahead of me.
With this program with the Center for the Study of Europe, I almost feel like when the lens on the Hubble Space Telescope was put into focus and I realized the blurry dots were actually universes. My big picture was suddenly HUGE.
In Finland, I learned the schools doing best are not micromanaged. They trust each other. They trust the system. They trust the teachers.
Classrooms have a low student to teacher ratio. Play is essential and contributes to learning. Not every bit of play has to be directed. Kids can trust imaginations and explore. Nature is valued. Going green is supported by everybody, not just a teacher guilting kids about recycling.
I still have much to process from what I've seen, but this trip has shown me that my basic instinct about teaching is correct. Students can learn in fun ways and be shown that they are connected to a whole big world.
I also learned again that people who work together for a common good in respectful ways can achieve great things. When the director of a school was asked how his school compared to the one across the street, he didn't even know. They work together for the greater common good, not as competitors.
I will keep improving as a teacher and helping my students see the big picture, hold on to things that work, and respect each other to learn for being our best instead of the best.
I am a better teacher having witnessed these fine people in a bigger world than I had been looking at. Every teacher should experience this. Every lawmaker should consider the idea that we ought to work together not against each other for the goal of helping students be their best.