The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Eight — Huitennen, Finland, On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Eight — Huitennen, Finland, On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

By Kaia Lawton
Week 8 and Final Week

So last week we finished up the session. Luckily I got my voice back and was able to have discussions with the kids and interact with them a little bit better. We had debates and we wrote stories and a bunch of other fun things! Unfortunately, at the time, there was also some shifting going on with the teachers. We had a teacher leave and another take over their spot. It was uncomfortable to say the least. But that is all I will write about that. The performances on Friday were amazing, almost every group doing even better than the last, and my group finished the ceremony. It was a moment to be proud of I would say.


This week my kids are in a less advanced group but they are all full of energy and ready to learn. It is a little tricky to get them to understand what I want them to do and sometimes I know they get bored with the activities I have for them because they are older and the activities are not exactly for their age. But most of them are good sports about it and if one kid understand the directions he or she will translate them for the other kids. That is another difficult thing at the moment: the difference in English ability. I have grades ranging from high twenties to low forties. In teaching a group like this, that is not ideal at all. If the numbers were closer together, that would be better. But I have some kids who don’t understand anything I am saying and some who are bored because they know what I am talking about already. It’s a little difficult to make sure everyone is one the same page.
I have also come to realize the extreme drain that teaching can have. I have been teaching now for nearly two and a half months, five days a week, five hours a day. I get weekends off, but I have had no holiday or vacation yet. And I am tired. Before I didn’t think that teaching would be so tiring. All you have to do is get up in front of a bunch of kids, give them some information, and then let them do with it as they please, right? Nope, not even close. It is almost like I have to entertain these young people for five hours of the day, try to keep them from falling asleep or texting all the time, and in the process hope that they get some kind of useful information out of class. I feel like I am a one woman circus sometimes, jumping around like a clown, fending of questions like a lion tamer, conducting class as the ring master, and so on. It is rewarding, don’t get me wrong. But now I have a greater respect for my teachers and and better appreciation for what they have done for me and all of their students in the past.


My last session ended as well as I could hope with students abilities varying from upper elementary to intermediate. It was hard to get everyone to participate on the same level because the tasks would either be too easy for some or too hard for others. That is the unfortunate part of having less teachers. With more teachers it would not only feel more one on one with the kids but we would be able to tailor each lesson much more easily to the kids skill levels. Otherwise it seems like we are just jumping all over the place right now.

And then, last week, I got a new group of kids. I got the second highest level, and the toughest group I have had thus far. Each teacher was supposed to get only twelve kids, but by the second day I had fourteen, adding two more troublemakers to my class. The youngest in my group in 11,then it shoots up to 14-17. The defiance of the group in the first week really got to me. The first couple days I could not stand to be around my students. But then, I took a hold of the situation, in a more creative way than I thought I could, and got a little cooperation set in place.

On Thursday of last week I was beyond tired of arguing with my kids, yes arguing, over the cell phones. So, I took an old one out of my purse. The head of maintenance gave me an old phone that some student left behind ages ago that has since stopped working. I told my kids, “If I see one more phone today, this is what is going to happen to it,” and promptly threw the phone out of the window. The expressions on their faces were priceless! They were so concerned with whose phone it was and if it would work, but the most important part was that they put their phones away for the rest of the day. Other types of defiance continued, forcing me to bring a supervisor in to monitor the class the next day, but that seems to have worked well.


Now, with the help of a seating chart as well, my kids are much more willing to work with me, setting their phones on my desk in the morning and listening to me. Sometimes I have to pry a phone or two from teenage hands, but they know that they will at least get the phones back at the end of the day if they give me their phones instead of me throwing them out the window.

I’m both sad and happy that my last session of my first summer teaching is ending with this type of group. I’m sad because I wanted my last session to be awesome and fun and to end on a high note. But at the same time it showed me that I can be the fun teacher and the strict teacher when I need to be, and I have more to me than just one form of teaching and presenting myself, if that makes any sense. And I think it still will end on a high note. I’m pretty sure it will.

The North Star Project: Collaboration between The Middle Ground Journal Student Interns, The College of St. Scholastica, and North Star Academy 8th Grade Global Studies Classes, 2013-2014 School Year Summer Reports.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

This summer we will re-tool and re-design the collaborative program, drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This summer The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their brief dispatches here throughout the summer, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, June, 2013

(c) 2013 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 6, Spring, 2013. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

7 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013 Summer Report Number Thirty-Eight — Huitennen, Finland, On Teaching and Learning Across National Boundaries

  1. I think that it shows how a universal understanding can help with having authority. When throwing the phone out the window it showed the kids even the ones that could not speak the language understood the consequence. It was interesting that was what it took for the children to behave.

  2. Maija

    This is such an interesting perspective! I like how no matter how many hoops there was to jump through, or hurdles to get over, you just took them one step at a time. It shows how difficult this situation must have been, but also that it can be rewarding!

  3. I’m so glad I found this article! I am an education major and am really hoping to teach middle schoolers, but I have been thinking about teaching abroad before entering the American education system. I love how you used such a drastic action to reign in your students. I know I am very strict and also have a very soft side, it’s just a matter of melding them to be an assertive but kind and caring teacher. I enjoyed reading about your experience.

  4. I loved reading this. I think as a teacher in training I often find myself questioning how to meld my strict attitude and my soft side. The perfect balance of an assertive and yet caring teacher seems like a form of alchemy. Sometimes it does take something dramatic to get the students to pay attention. I enjoyed reading about your experience.

  5. Carley Nadeau

    I loved the perspective of this! My mom talked about her feelings with about when she was becoming a teacher, and her frustrations she first when training. Your story reminded me a lot of hers, so remember you are not alone. Just remember to take it all one step at a time and you’ll be fine.

  6. Marissa Mikrot

    I loved reading your stories about your experiences in Finland! I am currently applying for this job and I think it’s wonderful to hear about what’s it’s like on the inside. Teaching is a difficult professional, so extra points to you for being able to pull through, be creative, and for gaining confidence in yourself! What did you take out of this experience the most? Have you/would you apply to work here again?

  7. jenna proulx

    I enjoyed reading your post because I too would love to teach in Finland. I like that you told the truths about how your experience went instead of making it seem better and easier than it was. You post gives me a reminder of the struggle that comes along with teaching especially in a different country. This is the reason why I have the desire to teach abroad because I want to experience the struggle; there is growth in going through challenges. Thanks for sharing!

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