In the following sections the results will be discussed in relation to 1) the re-certification process; 2) the organizational pressures and opportunities; and 3) the process of finding a way into work. After presenting the results we will discuss the three different themes in relation to one another under the heading Analysis.
The Re-Certification Process
Individuals who have completed their teacher training outside of the EU/EES area are required to send their documentation to the National Agency for Education alongside evidence of completed Swedish language courses when applying for a teaching certificate in Sweden. The teaching certificates and other higher education certificates are then sent to The Swedish Council for Higher Education, which ascertains whether the documentation is a valid teacher certificate in the host country and compare it to an equivalent Swedish teacher education.
We compare the different educations. If we say, the starting point is that there is a teacher certification in Sweden, that’s the reason for this process. And in the certification, there are a number of demands. We have legal regulations that are very extensive and detailed. And we follow it as well. (The Swedish Council for Higher Education caseworker).
The comparison with a certified Swedish teacher education is made with what the informants call a “discount”. For example, where a Swedish teacher certificate requires a minimum of 90 higher education (HE) credits of “teacher preparatory” studies – i.e. pedagogics, didactics and practice – this has been reduced to 45 HE credits for migrant teachers.
So, what we look at is the teacher preparatory studies, pedagogics is one part, but it should preferably be pedagogics, didactics, practice. So, if you look globally, the teacher preparatory part is more difficult [to validate] because Sweden is the odd country there. We have an unusually extensive part of the teacher education that involves the teacher preparatory elements. And normally it is 90 HE credits, but it has been reduced. (Respondent, The Swedish Council for Higher Education).
The regulations can thus be applied relatively generously; and in relation to the teacher preparatory studies, teachers with a foreign teaching certificate can “compensate” for the lack of these studies through documented work experience. The specific regulations, however, also entail that teachers gain a very specific diploma or validation upon successful application.
I think that it’s quite unusual from an international perspective. We have the Education Act and also the qualification regulations (behörighetsförordningen), which state that in order to get a certification you also get a detailed statement of which subjects, school years and types of schools that you are qualified to teach. And the regulations are very detailed, especially considering they are stated by a national authority, whereas in other countries you might get a teacher certification that is less detailed. (Respondent National Agency for Education).
As the regulations are considered in a relatively detailed manner, participants may find it difficult to estimate the results of the validation process. Moreover, no preliminary decision is given by the authority. One of the interviewees comments on the perceived difficulties facing individuals in terms of predicting the results of the process.
This means that it’s hard for individuals to understand the process, and it’s difficult to get information about the process. It’s hard to weigh up your options […] And it’s also hard for the Public Employment Service – when they meet an individual who says they’ve been a teacher – to know whether this is an individual who, within a reasonable amount of time, can reach a [Swedish] teaching certificate, or whether they won’t. Because if they can’t, it would be more reasonable to recommend an alternative path or fast track to a teaching assistant or some other position that you might take up because you have experience of working in a school. Or maybe that you, long term, might be able to study in higher education as well as validating some of your practical experience (representative, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions).
This representative highlights the insecurity of the validation process and the time aspects in relation to being able to make a decision on whether or not this route is an adequate choice for the individual participant.
Organizational Pressures and Opportunities
In addition to the formal re-certification process, individual migrants also need to navigate the more subtle organizational requirements of individual employers. The interviews with school representatives (principals) reveal that these requirements vary greatly and, to an extent, disclose the different needs of local schools.
Previous research has suggested that teachers from a migrant background often find work in schools with a high proportion of students with the same background (Collins & Reid, 2012; Fee, 2010). However, our data also discloses that some principals in these schools are more careful when employing staff, pointing mainly to the importance of developing Swedish language skills among their pupils.
Well, the thing is that in my school, of almost 150 pupils, I think I have 3 with Swedish as their first language. So, I need teachers who speak Swedish. It’s very important that teachers speak good or a reasonably correct Swedish. I’m very careful with teachers speaking Swedish and that they try to remind pupils to speak Swedish at breaktimes as well, because most pupils have the same first language. And if they fall back into that and they’re not forced to speak Swedish, then their Swedish won’t develop, and they won’t learn new vocabulary. (Principal 008).
Evidently, in schools where students are struggling with adapting to the Swedish language, teachers’ language competencies are more highly valued than their ability to take on the role of bridge-builders.
However, other principals explicitly refer to utilising migrant teachers as bridge-builders or as role models.
It’s also one of the reasons I thought it [hiring a teacher who had previously participated in the fast-track education] was a good idea. We have many pupils with another mother tongue than Swedish, and I think it’s good to show the pupils different opportunities: that teachers also have different backgrounds and different qualities and skills. (Principal 005).
This principal clearly sees the students’ Swedish language skills as lacking. Moreover, s/he also reflects upon the organizational consequences behind the decision to employ an immigrant teacher.
This very important aspect of security and a calm environment in the classroom is one of the great challenges for this teacher. And it’s easy to be frustrated when this doesn’t work, if the classroom gets unruly then the class teacher can get frustrated. But then we talk about the fact that we have different strengths: s/he has some other great qualities and that their teacher education is very different.[…] So even though s/he has some things to learn and everything doesn’t work perfectly, s/he also has a very tolerant group of colleagues. And the fact that I knew that her colleagues are very good and supportive led to me taking a chance in hiring this teacher. If the circumstances were different, I might not have done it. (Principal 005).
Another school principal in a similar local area also reflects on language issues, but identifies other qualities that experienced migrant teachers bring to the school, as well as their ability to develop language skills during their employment.
Well, we’re in an area where we’re a multicultural school. We have many language groups represented here. And just the obvious point that [migrant teachers] bring other languages and have knowledge of a different culture, it is to speak of something that is incredibly valuable here, both in everyday situations and to help us understand parents and other things. And it’s also the experience they may have in order to compare different education systems, because there are things in other education systems that sometimes may help us to choose some other ways I think. (Principal 006).
Another interviewee refers to both the individual differences among teachers with a migrant background and the importance of finding organizational support for this group to be able to gain access to and stay in the system.
There are migrant teachers that are incredibly appreciated. But if the organisation has to cut back, that person will often be the first to leave. The reason being that it might be a subsidised employment; thus they are not yet hired as regular teachers that manage the whole class room teaching. If you’re the supporting teacher or teacher assistant, then you will have to leave. So it’s not only language related – they haven’t reached a secure place in the organisation yet. […] But I think that we have to work more as municipalities in a structured way to give opportunities, to give support, and then be brave and actually give them a chance. (Principal 009).
This school principal, who works in a smaller municipality, actively works with this group of teachers to provide a more streamlined route into permanent employment. Here, support is provided to individual teachers in different ways and serves both as a form of gatekeeping and providing individuals with the kind of subtle knowledge about informal requirements that is often difficult to acquire independently.
The Process of Finding a Way to Work
In this section, we will mainly discuss the individuals’ own narratives in relation to the organisational and institutional obstacles discussed above. The individual migrants interviewed consider their routes into the teaching profession from a more or less stable labour market position. Most of them have managed to find a way into the labour market and are now in a position to reflect on the strategic route they took. However, they now see this period as one where both the re-certification and job-seeking processes were somewhat unstable.
One issue brought up by many respondents was that of finding correct information about the re-certification process. Moreover, the bureaucratic process described by the interviewee working in the authority is seen by many interviewees as opaque and daunting. In particular, and similar to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions’ representative, the uncertainty of how much time needs to be spent on re-training is central to the participants’ stories. For some interviewees, finding reliable information through municipality career services enabled them to better overlook the re-certification process and find the path towards teaching a realistic option.
If I hadn’t had this help, I wouldn’t have been able to reach my goal. We were able to meet a study advisor almost once a week, and she always had new information. And she also arranged for us to meet other migrant teachers who had been fighting to get their re-certification and who had worked as teachers in Sweden. And they came to the classroom and told us their stories. And it always gave us energy. You would say, “If he could do it, why wouldn’t I be able to?” It was clever. (Teacher S).
Others less fortunate to find this type of support and information were disappointed having lost time that could have been spent reaching the goal of teacher validation more quickly.
I actually think that, what are they called, study advisors, that they need better education. Because I went to see them several times, and they never gave my any useful tips. […] They said I had to study Swedish and then complementary studies (ULV). But there are many alternative routes, actually. So I studied Swedish, but there are also other ways. I would have been able to study over the summer, for example. But I didn’t know, they didn’t tell me. They hid information from me. So it’s seven summers that have disappeared from my life, that’s what I feel. I would have been able to get my teacher certification earlier. Do you see what I mean? (Teacher B).
For this participant, there is a clear sense of disappointment in having missed out on important information and even the suspicion of information being hidden. While it seems unlikely that career guidance services would deliberately withhold information, the frustration expressed by this informant may nonetheless be seen as a reflection of the difficulties in overviewing the process. Moreover, it may also signal the need for career services to provide more targeted information to individuals without knowledge of the education system or different authorities.
The sense of temporality as being important for individuals in this position of waiting for re-training is referred to by some of the participants. However, when many of these individuals have reached their desired teaching position, the sense of urgency that is often referred to while in training, is replaced by a sense that time passes quickly and that the opportunities to re-train have to be seen in relation to a longer working-life.
Life goes so fast, so fast. Do you understand? So now, I’ve been about two years in Sweden, but I feel like I just got here. But if I hadn’t done anything in two years, I would think “Oh, what a life, why did I come here?!” So I had to forget these thoughts about why I came to this country, why I didn’t stay. It’s difficult to leave your family and everything. But you have to forget everything and then focus on your goal, that I will be a teacher, maybe after ten years or five years, I will be someone in this society, and influence society in some way. (Teacher B).
Consequently, the difference in time perspectives affects how an individual’s perception of the training course is portrayed. Once established on the labour market, the individual teacher is able to see the re-qualification process as worthwhile, in the sense of it leading to the desired goal. However, during re-qualification, even if the information in the course is portrayed as useful, the course is seen as too time-consuming, with being able to work as a teacher prioritised over the training.
But even if I am a bit annoyed about studying, and studying the same things, the only thing that annoys me is that I have to study something I have already studied. But other than that, I am beginning to kind of enjoy the course, in the sense that it is bringing me back to why I became a teacher in the first place, but also … I am doing right now the course “To Be a Teacher in Sweden”, and as part of that, I am studying “contrastive perspectives in English and Swedish”. And I understand a little bit more, and now I can really compare with my background as a teacher and my … the background I am building as a teacher in Sweden, and I can see the different roles. And I can see … then I can see what can I bring to the table, what should I get out of my … So, it is okay. It is good. If I could do this in six months, that would be lovely. Not in two years. (Teacher A).
For this participant, the time it takes to complete the course overshadows the learning perspectives. Moreover, this teacher considers the process as unjust in light of his/her previous education and experience, which is here seen as overlooked. In this sense, the teacher expresses a feeling of discrimination that is tied to what is perceived as unjust expectations in relation to validation of previous educational skills, as well as a devaluation of the practical teaching skills.