THE BLOG
10/06/2010 11:40 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

My Crush on Finland: A Country That Values Its Teachers

I have a crush on Finland. I didn't know this was possible, but there you have it.

Throughout the making of Waiting for 'Superman', I kept finding myself looking at the amazing academic success of Finland. I dismissed it as an "apples and oranges" comparison to the United States initially, because most people in Finland are...well...Finnish. It's a very different country; Finland is smaller and more homogeneous in culture, and more advanced when it comes to health and welfare services provided by the government. School doesn't even start until the age of six or seven and is structured differently. Finnish kids have shorter school days, but slightly longer school years; they have a national curricula and a healthy unionized teaching force; they spend less on education than the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) average while the United States spends much more. And, when you look at the numbers, Finland is number one in math, number two in reading, and number one in science. Education is considered a civil right and the Finns emphasize quality and equity for everyone.

So as much as I tried to dismiss Finland for its differences, one factor just kept standing out: the quality of the teaching force. Teaching is a very sought-after profession, allowing for the selection of some of the best students to become teachers with most teachers being chosen from the top 10 percent of their college classes. It's both competitive and prestigious with only a small percentage of candidates being accepted to study as teachers. Teachers are respected, trusted and honored. And guess what else? Teaching is popular.

No doubt we have many amazing teachers here in the United States But great teachers cannot exist in a void. They need great principals, great leaders, support and professional development. And we need more of them. With 50 percent of the teaching core eligible for retirement over the next 10 years, we have a challenge and a real opportunity before us. We need to treat teaching as a profession on par with that of a scientist or doctor. Shore up our schools of education, draw candidates for teaching from our top graduates, pay them better, support them, evaluate and reward them. Great teachers want to work with other great teachers. Imagine that. Whatever you might think of Finland in comparison, the Finns properly value the teaching profession. That is something we should look at closely.

Originally posted on WaitingForSuperman.com

If this is a subject you're passionate about, please join me here on Huffington Post Education in a virtual town hall with Arianna Huffington, NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Director David Guggenheim this Friday, October 8 at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. We will be taking questions from people across the country as we discuss teaching, education and the film, "Waiting for Superman.' "