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Finnish teachers’ experiences in multilingual preparatory classes

Meeting in the Middle's PhD student Tatsiana Shestunova writes about a few early findings in her research, based on the interviews of teachers in preparatory education.

One of the Meeting in the Middle project’s strands is my research focused on preparatory education teachers. The central question of the study is What is it like to be a teacher for multilingual children in a Finnish preparatory class? The aim of the research is to understand the challenges teachers have in their everyday work with multilingual learners and to reveal support factors vital for teachers' work.  

The research is carried out in the form of interviews. The language of the interview is English. Each teacher will be interviewed twice. The 1st round of interviews discusses teachers’ needs, concerns and the challenges they meet when working with diverse students, how they deal with those and what support they expect. The 2nd round of interviews will be held one year later to understand if any changes occurred in teachers’ work, their opinions and attitudes. The questions for the first interview are divided into 7 thematic units including teacher’s background, their attitudes to recently arrived students and the challenges they cause; support to teachers and networking. 

Up to the present, six teachers participated in the first round. They teach students in the capital area and in Central Finland. It is too early to make any conclusions, however we decided to share some interesting findings with you. 

Do recently arrived students create challenges?

Teachers do not consider recently arrived students as challenging. According to them, we should not label all the problems in the classroom as immigrant problems. Children might have teenage, or psychological problems which are not related to their immigrant status. On the other hand, teachers recognize that in the beginning, immigrant children have more problems than the Finnish kids and they compare them with first-graders, when kids come to school and don’t know yet anything about how the school functions.  

Even though teachers do not call them challenges, there are some issues with parents and cultural difference. Teachers agree that it is important to respect each other and to be culturally sensitive and responsive. 

Teachers and support

Teachers do need support. The main horizons are support from school administration, colleagues, school staff and parents. Some teachers complain on lack of attention from the administration side. The luckiest teachers seem to be those working in schools with several preparatory classes. In this case, preparatory teachers have good opportunity to meet, discuss and share their materials. This co-operation seems to be working well especially in cases, where siblings are in two different preparatory classes of the same school.

Usually school staff is ready to collaborate and to help, but in some situations, other school teachers perceive it as an extra work and don’t want to carry out support. 

Multilingualism in the class

All the teachers who participated in the interview support the idea of multilingualism and discuss the importance to promote and develop students’ native language. They say that if there are several students in their classrooms who share the same language, it is even easier to work with them as they can help to each other. 

Afterthoughts

The research is only at its initial phase. However, it is important, because even though we acknowledge the multilingual turn and the need to know about it, quite often, we concentrate our efforts on majority, i.e. on students and their parents. We forget about people without whom this process can’t exist – about teachers. Moreover, even when we remember them, we study teachers from the point of view of newcomers’ wellbeing and forget that they deserve to be discussed, to be supported and valued. This research is not going to change the world. Nevertheless, if it is able to attract the attention to the issues discussed, it will be good. 

Tatsiana Shestunova