Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Day in the Life of a Teacher in Sweden

I always enjoy reading other "Day in the Life" posts and I thought it would be fun to do one while I was teaching so I could compare teaching in Sweden vs the US.  At the end of the post I added a few thoughts on things that I noticed were different in Sweden versus the US so if you want to skip down to that you can.  But first, here is a typical teaching day:

Monday, May 18th, 2015
During the week I wake up about an hour or an hour and half before Jake. (Don't worry, I make up for it on the weekends.)
Cheerios and my Beth Moore bible study help me start my day.  The picture in the top right hand corner is the calendar hanging in our room.  Each month I get to see new pictures of some of my favorite people.  The bottom two pictures: When I was home in April I had my mom make a jacket expander for my coat so my belly would fit.  It is starting to get a bit tight but I have another one that is bigger that I can zip in when this one won't work anymore.

It takes me about 35 minutes to get to school.  In the mornings I take the metro and then a bus and then walk about five minutes for my morning commute.
The metro runs every 1-2 minutes during rush hour so I don't have to be too picky about which one I get on but the bus only runs every 15 minutes so I have to get there one time or else I'll have to take another bus plus another metro.  The bus on the morning I took picture had an awesome Garmin advertisement on the back of it :).  There is a pretty long escalator that I walk up every morning which wasn't that hard when I wasn't pregnant but then it started to get a little more challenging.  I do enjoy passing people who are just standing there knowing I'm pregnant and they (usually) are not :).

The bus ride goes over several bridges and one of them is really pretty but this day it was rainy and cloudy.  The last picture was from a different day but I wanted to show the bike path.  There are lots of cyclists during the morning commute.
My coworker Chelsea is awesome!  More about her later :).  We usually catch up about what we did over the weekend before our meeting starts.

Here is my schedule for the week.  Most days I have three one hour lessons but my long days include four one hour lessons plus lunch duty, mentor time or tutorials.  It is nice having a ten minute break in between lessons to just decompress, sit for a few minutes or pee :).

7:40-8:10 - I usually get to school around 7:40 am which gives me a few minutes before our 8 am staff meeting.  Every Monday we have a 10 minute long staff meeting.  It starts at 8 and actually ends on time.  Swedes definitely value punctuality and I appreciate it.  The principal talks and then any announcements from the heads of departments and then we are done.  Did I mention that is starts on time? And only lasts 10 minutes?

8:20 - Department Meetings.  After the staff meeting we have department meetings.  We meet back downstairs in the staff room.  Unlike the US where each teacher has their own classroom (in most cases) we have a staff room where each teacher has their desk.  Some teachers teach in the same room all day long so they technically have a room to call home but most still keep their desks in the staff room.  I like it because then I can hang out with my colleagues and get ideas or talk through things when I need to without running all over the school trying to find people.
Our department meetings are supposed to be 30 minutes long but they don't always take the whole time.  We talk about upcoming projects, lesson plans, etc.

8:55-9:05 - Mentor Time
Our mentor time on Monday is really short so we usually just give the students announcements or updates that we heard about in our staff meeting and see if they have any questions.  I talk more about mentoring at the end of this post.

9:10-10:10 - 6th Grade Math
We have been working on a survey project where students come up with a survey question, ask a sample group and then make a chart or graph and presentation about their survey question.
My desk set up in the classroom.
10:10-10:30 - Break
I have a 20 minute break before lunch duty.

10:30-11:00 - Lunch Duty
I have lunch duty 3 times a week.  It was a hard transition since our lunches are "duty free" back home.  It isn't so bad but it is a lot louder than the staff lunches I'm used to.  Chelsea also has a lunch duty on Monday so we usually eat together and watch both of our classes.  For lunch duty we are responsible for lining the students up quietly before entering the cafeteria, watching them get their food and then making sure they aren't too loud at lunch and that they clean up their tables when they are finished.
I always get carrots for lunch plus a piece of knäckebröd (hard bread or cracker) with butter and then usually some kind of meat with pasta or rice.  The food is definitely better than what they serve for school lunches in the US but it also gets pretty boring with the same types of food served every day.  We get fruit on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I started drinking milk at lunch during my pregnancy to add a few calories to my daily intake.

11:00-11:30 - Coffee Break/Lay on the couch break :)
After lunch Chelsea wanted some coffee and I decided to join her so I could lie on my side for a few minutes to get my feet up.
This is what I would call the staff lounge.  We meet here for our Monday morning staff meetings and our Thursday afternoon meetings.  Fika breaks are also done here and where the coffee can be found :).

We hung out for a few minutes with Richard and then headed to the staff room to get our things for our next lesson.

11:30-12:30 - 4th Grade Math
We introduce capacity, volume and mass to the 4th graders.  I am in charge of the 4th grade lessons.  George does the 5th and 7th grade lessons and Chelsea plans the 6th grade lessons.  It definitely helps cut down on the prep time which is nice.
It took me a little while to figure out my system of keeping everything organized especially when I was subbing and didn't have a "home room."  I always bring two folders to each class: the blue folder on top has my schedule and then the red one underneath has extra homework copies because students always lose them and then when they stop me in the hallway I can give them a new copy even if I don't have their specific folder.  Then I have a folder for each class I teach.  It has the lesson plan, copies I need for the lesson, answer keys, etc.  I also keep some copies in my classroom since I have a home room.

12:30 - Ten Minute Break

12:40-13:40 - 5th Grade Math
We were working on probability.

13:40-14:00 - 20 Minute break before tutorials
The Math department area.  My chair is on the left with the black coat (and the white chair might be for my feet).  George sits in the chair with the grey jacket and Chelsea is across from me with the tan coat.
14:00-15:00 - 4th Grade Tutorials
Every Monday we have tutorials for an hour with the 4th graders and then with the 5th-7th graders.  We take turns covering the tutorials so once every 3 weeks we get a break from tutorials.  On this Monday we were grading National Math Tests.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We graded our own National Math tests that the 6th Graders took in March.  That is completely unheard of in the US especially since we weren't even really allowed to read the questions on the state tests other than when a student asked for one to be read aloud.  Now we are marking all of the tests.  They get sent in to be monitored to make sure we didn't grade them incorrectly.

 National tests ready to be graded!
 This is Chelsea.  She is awesome!  She started working in January at the same time I took the full time math position.  We have really hit it off.  She makes me laugh and she listens to all my baby/pregnancy stuff which just makes me smile!  She is also quite sassy with me which I enjoy.  She has told me a few times that I have lost my speaking privileges.
This is George.  He is our department head.  He rocks! He does such a great job making sure Chelsea and I are good to go and always offers to help when we are stressed out.  He doesn't get all worked up or try to micromanage us.   Plus, he loves getting his picture taken :).

15:00-16:00 - 5th-7th Grade Tutorials
We helped a few students during tutorials and gave a few math retests while we entered the National Tests into the spreadsheet.
When I went down to the staff room I found these chocolates on my desk!  They are all dark chocolate!
Chelsea was pumped that I took her picture as we were waiting for the metro :).

 I left school around 4:30 pm.  I usually try to leave around 3 pm but with tutorials and entering in the
National Tests I left "late" today.  My first seven years of teaching I never left work right when I could, at 4:00 pm.  I always stayed until at least 4:30 but sometimes even 5:30 or 6.  My first few years of teaching it was much later.  I told myself when I took this job that I would try my best to not get too caught up in work that I forget that we lived in a foreign country.  I wanted it to feel different so leaving early was one way to remind myself to not take the time here for granted.
 Most days I work out before coming home but since I left school "late" I skipped it but I did stop by the store on the way home which is pretty normal.
 Jake made dinner for us which isn't the norm but it turns out growing a baby all day is hard work and pretty exhausting!
 Game of Thrones during dinner!
After Game of Thrones and dinner we both hung out on our computers for a little while before heading to bed.  This picture was taken at 10:18 pm.  I am no longer worried about the darkness that is for sure.

Here are a few differences between teaching and schools in the US versus Sweden that I thought were interesting:

Assessments: In Kansas, we start state testing in 3rd grade and they take tests every year it seems like for the rest of their lives :).  They start with just reading and math in 3rd grade and then add science in 4th grade.  In Sweden, they take national tests in 3rd, 6th and 9th grade.   They are spread out throughout the year but it seems like a lot of testing for that particular grade. They take tests in all subjects (English, Swedish, Math, Science, and Social Sciences).  At our school students can choose to take the test in English or Swedish which I think is awesome.  While taking the test if they get stuck with the Swedish version they can ask to see the English version or vice versa.  They also had oral parts to most of the national tests, even in Math.  If they are absent during the test there isn't a makeup day which seems crazy to me.  The teachers grade the National Tests, which I mentioned above, and then they are sent out to be spot checked.

Grading: In Sweden, when we grade assignments we are encouraged to use a rubric instead of giving a grade using a number or a percentage.  Percentages are not allowed.  That was hard for me.  Really hard.  Have I mentioned I don't like change?  I like turning grades into percentages because then you can easily compare how students did on different assignments.  If you do write a number on the assignment it needs to be written like a fraction with the total number the student answered correctly over the total possible.  I had a REALLY hard time switching to that grading method.  I always used to write how many they missed at the top and then a percent. (Ex. The top of a paper might say -3, 85%.)  Now I would need to write 17/20.  I think it takes more time to count up how many problems they answered correctly than it does to count how many they missed . . . assuming you are doing your job as a teacher and the kids are learning something.  Some teachers here put a star or a check mark next to each correct answer whereas I would circle wrong answers.  There were some students/parents who really struggled with seeing only circled wrong answers because then it seemed like we were highlighting the negatives instead of the positives.  Can you imagine grading 60 math problems per student and putting an individual mark next to each correct answer?  I understand that it isn't as positive to circle the wrong answers but no matter how I mark their papers if they miss several questions I think the focus should be on relearning the material, not convincing me to change the way I grade :).  #gettingoffsoapbox

Grades: At the school I worked at in Stockholm students don't get letter grades until 6th grade.  They can get anything from an A to an F with F being the only failing grade.  Since students are tested in 3rd, 6th and 9th grade they really have 3 years to grasp a concept.  For example, grades 4 and 5 are concentrating on the criteria for grade 6 so if the student is struggling with fractions in 4th grade no one freaks out about it because they still have 5th and 6th grade to catch on before the national test.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It seems like kids could get passed on to the next grade without fully knowing the material hoping they get it the next year instead of trying to help them catch up right when you notice they are struggling.

Another interesting thing I learned this year is that once a student achieves a level E, the basic level, in one area you can't take that accomplishment away.  For example, one of the areas we have on our rubric for math tests is basic problems.  If students take a test over fractions and get at least a level E on the basic problems then they will get at least an E on the overall subject rubric at the end of the year in the basic problems category because at least once they met that goal.  So if they fail basic problems in multiplication, geometry and measurement they still pass that section of the rubric because they achieved the goal once and you can't take that achievement away from them.  It is actually a law. #idisagree

Homework: Students get weekly homework which isn't all that different than the US.  There is another law, however, that says you can't assign homework to be due the following day.  You have to allow the students at least two days to complete the homework assignment and you can't assign homework over the weekend . . . that time is for spending with family.  So if you want something turned in on Monday you have to at least assign it on Thursday night.  The students know these laws well and will definitely speak up if you try to go against them.

Lessons: Since this school was more like a middle school or high school setting I had one hour lessons and then at least a 10 minute break before the next lesson which was really nice and different than being an elementary school teacher.  I taught 3-4 lessons a day and then sometimes had extra duties like break (recess) duty or lunch duty.  The prep time for lessons was significantly less than what I was used to since I was only responsible for one subject.  I did have help with lesson planning since we split the grades between all three math teachers so I only had to plan for 4th grade which included 3 lessons a week.  Then my colleagues would share their plans for 5th, 6th and 7th grade.  We used google drive for all of our planning and sharing of documents which was great!

Staff Meetings:  I mentioned this above but we had two staff meetings per week.  On Monday mornings we had a 10 minute long staff meeting that started promptly at 8.  On Thursday afternoons we had a longer staff meeting that went from 3:10 pm to 4:30.  The first 30 minutes we talked about upcoming events and then the last hour or so was usually a presentation by a colleague about some new program or theme week we were going to be doing.  I still can't get over that they started on time every week regardless of who wasn't there yet.  During the Thursday afternoon meeting we usually had fika which included sandwiches and sometimes fruit.  Once a month we also had cake to celebrate staff birthdays.

Mentoring:  Most of the teachers at our school are subject teachers so we see all different grades/classes throughout the day.  In order to build better relationships with the kids we all have a mentor class we are responsible for throughout the year.  Most classes have two mentor teachers so we share the responsibility and the students are split between the two teachers.  There are 30-32 kids in each class which means you are more responsible for 15-16 students on a more personal level.  As a mentor I check in on those students to make sure they are doing what they should be doing and keeping up with their school work.  I made monthly phone calls to parents, help write weekly newsletters with my co-mentor (although to be honest she did 95% of them which I really appreciated) and we have development talks, or parent teacher conferences, twice a year with our mentor students and parents.

Parents in general, seem more involved than what I was used to.  I know parental involvement varies in the US but I felt like parents in Sweden have been very involved.  One really great thing is that education is free in Sweden so responsible parents can put their child on the waiting list at great schools regardless of their income to make sure their child gets a great education.  I love that.  It doesn't matter how much money you make it matters more that your parents were responsible enough to get you on the waiting list of a great school in a timely manner so you can get a great education.

Supplies: At our school students get school supplies for free from the office.  If they need a pencil, ask the secretary.  If they lost their eraser, go get a new one from the office.  It was nice that they never had an excuse for not having supplies since they were free but I feel like they weren't very responsible for their things since they could just ask for a new pencil everyday if they wanted.  Same thing goes for textbooks.  If they lose one they just get another, no accountability, which I wasn't a fan of.

Classes:  Students are organized into classes of 30-32 students.  Then they are assigned a letter and a number (5A, 5B, 5C, etc).  In some schools, students stay with those same 30 students from grades 1-9.  Other schools they are together for grades 1-3 and then switch to a difference class for grades 4-6.  Part of me thinks this is why it is hard for Swedes to make new friends because they aren't really encouraged to do that in school.  We also started a house system similar to what they have in Harry Potter.  I guess houses are pretty common in England.  We just started at the end of the school year but I think it will be really neat.

Hope you learned a few things about the Swedish school system.  If you are wondering about something in particular leave me a note in the comments and I'll see if I can answer it!

If you want to read my Day in the Life post when I was subbing it is here.

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