Johanna Sopanen trains future healthcare professionals. For her, students and supporting their professional growth are the number one priority of work. The work takes its toll, however, and the amount of administrative work, for example, seems to increase year by year. Without vocational teachers, we would not have future professionals, which is why the sector’s attractiveness must be safeguarded by competitive salary levels and more funding for education.
Johanna Sopanen, who works as a lecturer in nursing at Stadin AO, Helsinki Vocational College and Adult Institute, is a typical vocational teacher – a professional of two fields.
Before becoming a teacher, she had accumulated 15 years of work experience working in the social and health care sector. As a nurse, Johanna instructed students alongside her own work, and the idea of becoming a teacher slowly matured.
“In my work, students are the most important thing and priority number one. They’re like tree seedlings that need a gardener. As the seedlings grow, their branches become slightly different, each one is unique. The students, too, grow into experts of different fields and have their individual strengths,” Johanna describes.
Supporting the students’ professional growth is important for Johanna as a teacher.
“I’m really happy for my students when they realise new things or learn to do something new. The students’ practical training periods and assessments also bring me pride. It’s a great feeling when your student receives praise or positive feedback and becomes employed,” Johanna says.
Distance teaching challenged us to try out new ways of teaching
Johanna is one of the thousands of teachers who signed a joint message to Finland in February. The message highlights not only the importance of work, but also the value of the profession that should also be reflected in the concrete actions of decision-makers and employers.
At the moment, many teachers are exhausted and are even considering a career change, because for years already, the workload seems to have grown too much in relation to the salary level.
OAJ is currently negotiating the salaries and other working conditions of teachers working in vocational institutions and universities of applied sciences. The aim is to reach a solution that would secure purchasing power and support well-being at work.
“I do recognise that the discussion regarding the burnout of teachers’ has increased. Sometimes my phone may ring in the middle of the lecture. At the same time, I might notice that I have received 25 new messages, and I then have to find time to get back to all of them,” Johanna says.
In addition to planning teaching and lecturing, the work includes various administrative tasks that must be completed in addition to teaching. Lecturers have to take care of students’ schedules, curricula, study plans and Wilma messages, and there are tables and statistics to fill in.
“Not all things related to teaching and work can be planned perfectly in advance. Situations change all the time. In such situations, teachers are often blamed for not being able to plan their own work well enough. This is extremely frustrating.”
However, teachers’ work does not depend on rotas in the same way as the work of a nurse does – it requires self-management.
“Teachers should be more strongly encouraged to limit their own work and to turn off their laptops and phones when the working day ends. The resources for vocational education and training have been cut enormously over the last decade, and no one can expect teachers to fill the gaps caused by insufficient funding.
In Johanna’s opinion, the problems related to teachers’ coping often indicate that the allocation of resources has simply failed.
“If an individual teacher has to constantly work in the evenings or at weekends, we should think about the reasons behind this. Has the planning of work succeeded, and is there a balance between the resources and workload?”
The shortage of vocational teachers could be solved with money
Even when the resources are correctly proportioned, in their everyday work, teachers are required to throw themselves into changing situations and solve problems quickly using their professional skills.
“I may be drafting students’ timetables, answering messages or completing other tasks on the to-do list when a student stops by to ask if I have a moment to speak with them. I might not actually have the time, but I always manage to make time for them. I’m always there for them. That is why I always answer: of course I have time, what’s on your mind?”
Despite the challenges, Johanna enjoys her work and encourages other professionals in different fields to consider becoming a teacher. There is a shortage of vocational teachers in numerous fields, and open teacher positions do not get nearly enough applications from competent teachers.
“Without us, there will be no skilled professionals in the future, such as nurses, builders, hairdressers or bus drivers. Supporting and seeing professional growth is the best part of my job. In my opinion, the shortage of teachers could be resolved by ensuring proper salary development and enough resources for teaching.”