Christine McCartney, an English language arts teacher at Newburgh Free Academy and graduate of the Master of Arts in Teaching program at SUNY New Paltz, has won a Distinguished Fulbright Award in Teaching.
The Fulbright scholarship program is a U.S. government international education exchange that promotes “mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries of the world,” according to their website.
McCartney was awarded the scholarship to meet with professors and observe classes at the University of Tempere in Finland.
McCartney was looking for a way to enhance her teaching practice over the summer, and said she found the application to the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program online.
She said the application process was an extensive one.
“It took me about three months to prepare,” McCartney said.
As a part of her bid for the scholarship, she said she had to make contacts in Finland and find someone who would agree to work with her.
“In what I considered a long shot, I wrote to Pasi Sahlberg [Finnish educator] and explained what I wanted to research and why and he put me in contact with a friend of his. I think that really increased my chances,” she said.
Save for one exam that students take at the end of high school, there are virtually no standardized tests in the Finnish education system, which McCartney said intrigued her.
“[They] train their teachers in a much more comprehensive way, in my opinion, and they trust teachers to do their jobs,” she said.
The autonomy that Finnish teachers hold in their classrooms is an aspect of schooling that McCartney said is lacking in “the states,” where standardized testing is overused. She said she hopes to bring some of those practices back with her.
McCartney arrived in Finland in March and will stay until June. In that time, she must attend two graduate courses and complete an “action-based” research project.
She said she plans to visit the arctic circle and spend time at rural schools in Inari with the help of a friend who is recording videos of her interviews, which she will use in her final project.
During her time in Finland, McCartney said she has observed a lot that can inform American education, in particular, student choice.
“Vocational schools are highly respected and many students enter them instead of traditional schools,” she said. “They are able to pursue the field they are interested in and intrinsically motivated to learn about.”
Upon her return, McCartney said she would like to design courses for teachers to conduct their own research in the classroom.
McCartney works with the Hudson Valley Writing Project (HVWP) and will be helping to facilitate the HVWP Summer Institute when she comes back.
“[The Summer Institute] is always such a rich learning environment, so I am sure my ideas for how to share my work with educators will grow tenfold out of that experience,” she said.