Curtain-twitchers put the boo in booze

3rd February 2012 at 00:00
In Finland, nosy parents are making it difficult for teachers to buy and enjoy alcohol

After a hard day in the classroom, many teachers like to relax with a drink. But winding down with a glass of wine is becoming increasingly difficult in Finland.

According to teaching magazine Opettaja-Lehti, Finnish staff feel that their alcohol consumption is relentlessly monitored by pupils and parents. The magazine conducted a questionnaire with a representative sample of 746 teachers and found that 25 per cent make a point of avoiding "Alko" shops because they are concerned that they will be seen by curtain-twitching parents. Alko is Finland's alcohol monopoly; anything stronger than weak beer and cider can only be purchased from these conspicuous, state-run shops.

In addition, in a country that is committed to recycling, a third of teachers avoid taking their empty wine bottles and beer cans to bottle banks for fear of being seen. These electronic banks pay recyclers for each returned item, so teachers are also missing out on a small extra source of income.

The research was conducted by Hannu Laaksola, Opettaja-Lehti's editor-in- chief. "There is an old tradition in Finland - it goes back about 100 years - that the teacher has to be an example to the pupils in all aspects of their lives," he explained. "The parents' attitude is that, if teachers go to Alko, or to a bar, or they order alcohol in a restaurant, then they cannot be good teachers; their work will be bad as a result."

Mr Laaksola said that in Finland, especially in the countryside and among older people, bars are considered to be the haunts almost exclusively of alcoholics.

According to experts on Finland, such as the University of Amsterdam's Dr Tarja Laine, the country perceives itself as having a problem with alcohol and religiously-inspired temperance is strongest in rural areas. Unlike in Britain, where about 10 per cent live in the countryside, 40 per cent of Finns live in rural locations. Many more live in urban areas that are separated from the city proper by forests, giving them a rural feel and atmosphere.

Mr Laaksola found that teachers felt far more restricted in these kinds of areas and much less so in large cities such as Helsinki.

Riikka Saarras, the special adviser to the OAJ (Finland's teaching union), explained that there are no specific rules governing teachers' behaviour in their free time. "Newspapers would be more interested if a teacher was involved in a drunken incident than an ordinary citizen. However, there have been no reported cases in Finland of teachers being reprimanded for legal behaviour outside of school."

According to Mr Laaksola, 60 per cent of teachers are convinced that their free time is too closely monitored, which can even lead to female teachers in smaller towns covering up at the height of summer.

Teachers in the UK have often complained about the General Teaching Council taking too close an interest in their private lives. Imagine the uproar if they couldn't even pop to the pub.

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