Next year will be my 10th as a secondary teacher in Sweden. Before, I led a somewhat nomadic existence as an English as a second language (ESL) teacher, after graduating in political science from the University of Dundee.
ESL teaching, while rich in experience, had not proven financially lucrative. Freelancing as a language consultant in Stockholm meant periods of feast or famine, with the summer particularly lean. As the years passed and my Swedish improved, I found myself keen to trade the corporate conference room for the classroom.
When I started my teacher training there was – and still is – talk of a profession in crisis. Few view it as an attractive career. Indeed, in 2014 the reality TV show Paradise Hotel received more applications than the country’s teacher-training colleges. Today there is much debate about improving the status of teachers and the quality of training.
Swedish secondary teachers are trained to teach two subjects. My combination is English and civics – a mixture of modern studies and citizenship. Happily, this has enabled me to draw on my ESL experiences and to use my degree.
Teaching business professionals in Stockholm had taught me that Swedes value consensus and flat organisations. This is reflected in education, too: emphasis is placed on the say students should have over their own education, from choosing their school to influencing what is done in the classroom. I work in an international school, which in many ways is not a typical Swedish school.
While we do not have uniforms, students are still required to address teachers by title, as opposed to using first names. Culturally, this made my transition from a traditional Scottish classroom easier.
In grading and assessment, the approach is more progressive. At the end of their studies, Swedish students do not face a prolonged period of exams – no waiting with bated breath on a brown envelope.
The Swedish system frees teachers from teaching to the test. Students work towards the goals of their courses, covering content outlined by the education authority, Skolverket. There is flexibility in how courses are designed and in the assessment used – this is typically decided in dialogue with students.
Grades are based on what the student has demonstrated by the end of the year. This is done by the teacher – there is no external examination authority. Indeed, for most courses there is no final exam or national test. In subjects that do have a test – such as Swedish, English, maths and modern languages – it serves only as further evidence to support a grade, not to replace it.
The system gives me freedom to explore new methods in the classroom – and the students freedom to take a much more active role in their education than I did at the same age.
Chris Hill is a Scottish teacher working in Sweden. He tweets @MrHill_IEGS