Tim Walker ’10: International Educator (and Recess Enthusiast)

Tim WalkerWhen Tim Walker began teaching fifth grade at a public school in Helsinki, Finland, he was surprised to discover how seriously recess was taken. The Finnish school system incorporates 15-minute breaks every hour. Thinking he might improve productivity, Tim decreased the frequency of breaks—and quickly learned his mistake.

“During these times, [the students] not only rest and recharge,” Tim realized, “they also learn to cooperate, communicate, and compromise, all skills they need to succeed academically as well as in life.” Soon after re-implementing the scheduled breaks, Tim noticed a marked improvement in students’ attentiveness and classroom engagement.

“What I realized in Finland…is that once I started to see a break as a strategy to maximize learning, I stopped feeling guilty about shortening classroom instruction,” says Tim, who double-majored in sociology and social work at Gordon, and earned a master’s in elementary education.

Tim reflects on this phenomenon in “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play,” an article published in The Atlantic this summer. His piece became the second most read in the July-August edition. Shortly after, Tim made the front page of Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest daily-subscription newspaper, which chronicled his experiences as an American teacher in Helsinki. The article, translated by his Finnish wife Johanna, appears on his blog, Taught by Finland, along with other musings about his international teaching adventures.

Top – A cityscape of art nouveau homes on Huvilakatu (Helsinki). Photo credit: Jean-Pierre Dalbéra, Flickr.
Right – Tim Walker. Photo credit: Taught by Finland.