Day 8 of the Quebec - Finland Expedition: the dropout of the teachers

Day 8 of the Quebec-Finland expedition: While we are led to believe that everything is rosy in Finnish education, a chance meeting with a teacher ready to reorient himself lifts the veil on a problem that is known to us in Quebec: dropping out teachers.

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Our collaborator Marc-André Girard is on an educational expedition to Finland and documents it here!

The dropping out of teachers early in their careers has always been a topic of interest to me. It has been a hot topic in Quebec for a long time and it has caused much ink to flow for at least twenty years.

At the same time, we perceive the Finnish education system to be a perfect and inspiring system, so I was quick to question various directions about this phenomenon: does it exist in Finland? In the facts, 23 % of Finnish teachers drop out of the profession at some point in their careers. I had not planned to approach this subject directly with the teachers I met, but the subject imposed itself. Indeed, a teacher who asked me to respect anonymity expressed that he was undertaking studies parallel to the baccalaureate in order to open the doors for a possible career change. I was surprised to hear this and asked him to explain to me the bottom of his mind and his career plan.

Basically he's been a teacher for seven years. He has the impression of having walked around the garden. He describes, rightly or wrongly, that he is finishing a cycle of seven years and that, with this feeling, starting a new cycle of seven years somewhat upsets him. He doesn't see himself completing five seven-year cycles in a 35-year career. As he claims, if for many, the routines of the teaching are meant to be comforting, he needs more stimulation and challenges. He needs challenges that his profession can't seem to provide him with.

Six months from the end of his first cycle, I ask him: how does he see his second cycle? Recently her life has changed. He's a dad and he wants to take more time for himself and his family. It is interesting to note that work-family balance also seems to be important for Finnish teachers. In retrospect, he feels that his early years were spent preparing for his lessons, putting together teaching materials and developing teaching approaches. He will continue to improve all this, but the big thing being done, he wants to focus on something else, because he considers himself to be at the forefront of educational approaches. What he qualifies as the “stone age” of certain directions or fellow teachers and makes him despair.

I immediately refocused the discussion: is it really a "stone age" or rather, his perception of a gap between his practices and those of his colleagues? Is it that much worse than that, or is it his vision of the issue that is too micrometric? From a systemic point of view, has there been progress in recent years? Perhaps he has progressed faster than his colleagues, it is quite possible, but is the divide in teaching practices so pronounced? Failing to have been able to obtain answers to these questions, I hope to have been able to sow the seeds of reflection!

Teacher dropout: a professional tragedy

In my opinion, dropping out of teachers is a professional tragedy. I wonder about what can be put in place to reduce it, even if I suspect that it can never be zero. This issue concerns all education stakeholders.

At the local Quebec level, administrators and teachers are concerned about the phenomenon and measures have been implemented in several schools. At the regional level, the service centers have also implemented more “universal” measures in their territory. At the national level, the trade union centers and the Ministry of Education have looked into the problem, just as the faculties of education improve teacher training year after year, bearing in mind the existence of the gap between training and practice. Beyond all these measures and knowing full well that everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel, if I can trust what the Finnish teacher tells me, there are other avenues to explore.

Obviously, he complains about the number of students in his class which is constantly increasing. According to him, 25 students is a large group and it struggles to meet everyone's needs. He teaches in high school, so, smirk, I told him there were many more students in Quebec or Canadian classes, but for him, Finland's drop in PISA tests is mainly due to this. phenomenon. There is also the paperwork that weighs heavily on the shoulders of Finnish teachers.

Why raise these complaints? For two reasons: on the one hand, it is all very well to idealize Finland, the fact remains that all is not always rosy in education in this country. Second, the source of our worries often comes from our own vision. It is rare that everything is to our taste in our profession, whether in Quebec, France or Finland and whether in education or in another field. There will always be irritants. A macrometric lens allows us to grasp the problem as a whole, in its system, rather than isolating the problems from what causes them and decontextualizing them, to interpret them according to our perceptions.

Advancement in the profession and international collaboration to fuel motivation

Also, we must consider the possibilities of advancement for teachers. The profession may seem hopeless for many. Indeed, not all teachers aspire to become educational advisers or school administrators. What else can they do? What can they dream of? What to aspire to? France has set up a interesting system of advancement in the profession. Maybe we can be inspired by it?

Collaboration between teachers and between schools also acts as a motivation. The idea of collaborating with one's own colleagues, but also with colleagues from other schools in Quebec, Canada or internationally is certainly stimulating professionally and at the same time allows the establishment of a growth mentality.

For example, for school Ounasrinteen Koulu of Rovaniemi, international collaboration is one of the aims of the educational project, determined by the management together with the teachers. Next April, if the pandemic situation improves, it is expected that around fifteen teachers from the school will go to the United Arab Emirates for a week of professional exchange and, in turn, the school. welcomes UAE nationals for another week later in the year.

Going to be inspired by the practices of others to shed light on our own is not only inspiring, but it allows us to find new ways to transform and transform our practice and our school. Professional opportunities allow you to push your limits and broaden your horizons. And when we do, it is the horizons of our students that we can broaden at the same time!

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(Editor's note: The École branchée is happy to be a media partner of this expedition! Note that we are not, however, associated with the fundraising campaign.)

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About the Author

Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard
Marc-André Girard holds a bachelor's degree in social studies education (1999), a master's degree in history education (2003), a master's degree in education management (2013) and a doctorate in education (2022). He specializes in school-based change management and educational leadership. He is also interested in the 21st century competencies to be developed in education. He is a principal in a public high school and gives conferences on educational leadership, pedagogical approaches, change in schools and the professionalization of teaching. He has participated in educational expeditions in France, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Morocco. In September 2014, he published the book "Le changement en milieu scolaire québécois" with Éditions Reynald Goulet and, in 2019, he published a trilogy on the 21st century school with the same publisher. He is a frequent contributor to L'École branchée on educational issues. He is very involved in everything that surrounds the professional development of teachers and principals as well as the integration of ICT in education. In March 2016, he received a CHAPO award from AQUOPS for his overall involvement. He is a recipient of the Régent-Fortin 2022 scholarship awarded by ADERAE for the significant contribution of his doctoral studies to the development of practice and knowledge in educational administration.

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