2005 - Julie Zenz

Julie Zenz

Fulbright Teacher Exchange

Living in Finland for a year changed the direction of my life in 2005. I taught art at Nakkilan Yhteiskoulu ja Lukio on a Fulbright Teaching Exchange with Juha Kopio for a year. Mr. Kopio took over my teaching position in Tampa, Florida. I was drawn to Finland to examine the education system which is enviable in most of the world. I found a warm reception among my Finnish students and fellow teachers as well as the community, who made me, feel at home. In fact, I felt so much at home that I moved back to my hometown in Wisconsin from Florida, where I had lived for twenty years. This year in Wisconsin we had record breaking snowfall so my Finnish experience came in handy.

I have recently been named principal of a small Catholic Grade School. I look forward to leading a school with some of the things I learned about education in Finland. Let’s start with recess, the favorite of most students. The fifteen minute breaks after forty- five minutes of class, seemed to be refreshing for students, no matter what the temperature. Recess is important because students can play imaginatively, socialize and exercise. Stuart Brown, who heads the National Institute of Play, has said that the pleasurable, purposeless activity of play promotes trust, empathy and the ability to adapt to life.

Lunch was another eye opener for me as an American teacher. Our school in Nakkila used locally grown food as much as possible. Meals were planned by a trained dietician who often talked with students about healthy food choices. Students served a free lunch to themselves on plates using glasses and flatware which was washed. My students in Tampa often ate high calorie food with plastic sporks on Styrofoam trays. Everything went into the trash at the end of the meal. We will wash dishes in my new school and see if a garden is feasible in the future.

Finnish students had opportunities to take classes that were traditionally offered in our schools such as Industrial Arts, Sewing, and Cooking. I plan to teach my students how to knit, sew and cook in my new school. I am having my Dad build chairs and wooden chests as kits for the kids to assemble as future fund raisers. Making things by hand teaches problem solving and following directions, two great life skills.

My Finnish experience has supported my ability to “think out of the box” and plan ideas to enhance the school day in America. The teaching exchange is a challenging and ambitious program to offer teachers. In my experience the rewards are great and the repercussions echo into the future.