“The teacher position is the most important job in the world” - Carita Prokki on redefining the teacher’s role

“The teacher position is the most important job in the world” - Carita Prokki on redefining the teacher’s role

Carita Prokki, Director of Business Operations at TAMK EDU, has earned herself a distinguished status over the past 19 years spent with Tampere University of Applied Sciences; a durable "marriage" that would cause envy amongst most academic experts. Seen as a bit of an "Iron Lady" due to her flawless business look and "ready to seal the deal" attitude, Carita impresses with a staggering knowledge in the field of Finnish education and pleasantly surprising, a warmhearted personality.

Her first contact with TAMK happened during a teacher training she attended at Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences. Carita was searching for a place to do her traineeship hence she approached TAMK.

- I was studying German as my Master's and Business and Adult Education as side courses. I can't recall why I chose those three disciplines but if you consider my work nowadays, everything comes together: language, business and adult education.

Becoming a teacher was never at the top of her agenda. The recession of the early 90s shook the whole Finland but in those troubled times, Carita started working in education. She spent half a year commuting between Tampere and Järvenpää to teach business and discovered she liked it.

Not long after, Carita received a phone call from TAMK with a job offer and over the next decade, her subsequent career advanced quickly. Her big breakthrough came later on when she was appointed dean of School of Business. Additionally, she continued with adult teaching despite earlier confessing she couldn't see herself as a teacher.

- In my soul, I'm a teacher. But I'm also a leader. I have many souls.

Leading with knowledge and generosity

What made her step out of the dean role and the institution she regards so highly then? Cool, measured and elegant, Carita answers she had a strong feeling she needed to do something different.

- I knew my faculty so well. I knew my students, their boyfriends and girlfriends and all staff members. I thought: what else can I give to my people at this point?

Carita shifted her attention on a PhD, which she successfully completed in the autumn of 2013. A couple of months later, TAMK presented her an exciting opportunity in the area of global education, a new and fresh concept dedicated to making Finnish education available worldwide. Carita and her team became responsible for all business activities, whether domestic or global.

- The main business is in Finland, and our customers are companies and individuals interested in further training and tailor-made courses. It has a stable foundation and everything goes smoothly. Without the domestic side working independently and trustfully, I don't think we could do so well globally.

Outside the country, Carita's focus is equally divided between Latin America and Chinese markets, yet wouldn't decline any enquiries coming from other countries. Visibly moved, she tells me the three most interesting hours of her life were spent in Saudi Arabia.

- We had a seminar there and organisers said men and women cannot be in the same group. I had to make a quick decision so I took a group of ten women to a separate room. Behind the locked doors, a whole new world opened up to me.

She puts forward these bold statements.

- I tell people talking about the lack of oil in the country: there is a new oil. It's not under the ground. It's already on top of it. These women are the oil of the Arabic countries.

International life begins with speaking more

When I ask about a life-changing moment that occurred across her teenage years, Carita says her international life began at the age of 16.

- We had an exchange student over from Brazil. I remember sitting in the backseat of our car with her, she looks at me saying: "Speak more". That moment changed my life. Her English was not perfect, mine was far from it, but we had to communicate somehow. I had the best year in my life and it led to a lifelong friendship.

Brazil is one of the countries the global education department is doing business with, and teachers there are eager to adopt the Finnish education model. Carita recalls a valuable lesson given by a 60-year-old teacher.

- He has already been teaching for over 30 years when he was chosen to visit TAMK. When you've been teaching for so long, why would you change a thing? However, great things can happen if your mind is open. Later, we went to Brazil for a final seminar and afterwards, he came to us and said: "I'm an old dog, but you changed my life." What else can you hear from someone that is more rewarding? In those moments, you think: this is why I'm working. This is the purpose of life.

Finnish education through a two lens system

Seeing how well Finnish education is perceived from an outsider's eye was a game-changer for Carita.

- Before working within the global education, I never thought Finnish education was something special. We grew up with this, this is how we do it and we want what's best for the system. My team and I have to know everything about it, from kindergarten to vocational teacher education because questions come from all sides. It has made me understand the system works so well as a result of its foundation.

It's really hard to get into teacher training in Finland, and only the best ones do. This way, it brings the country the most devoted teachers, who put their hearts into it. Sadly, many other countries still see the teacher's role as the lowest job in the society. Carita and her team want to step in to underline the importance of a competent and dedicated teacher. She feels her mission is to promote good teacher qualifications in a world that has taken this role for granted.

- Teachers are the key to our society. If you think how much time we spend with our teachers from childhood to teenage years, it's a lot. Governments and societies worldwide need to understand it's crucial to have qualified and good teachers, with love for children.

With all recognition given to Finnish education, selling it to international markets is a totally different story. There are unseen challenges like understanding the context and quickly adapt to it, the number of hours spent on long flights and patiently building the trust needed in this kind of business. It takes a lot of time to get any deal, small or big. Exceptionally, Carita is no stranger to this tough environment.

- Many people don't know that in my late 20's I worked in Germany as a sales representative for a company selling luxury cars. It wasn't always easy but I learned a lot during that time.

Unpredictable and sophisticated, I can imagine Carita as a prominent spokesperson, inspiring women leaders all over the world. Has this possibility ever crossed her mind? Her reply is open-ended.

- TAMK is a good place to work but I still have to figure out what I'll do when I'm an adult. I want to carry on travelling and talking about what TAMK and Finland can do. Not from organisation to organisation, or business to business. Everything is from human to human.

Text: Andruta Ilie
Photo: Tiina Suvanto

Expert: Carita Prokki – LinkedIn

TAMK Global Education

•    TAMK Global Education makes Finnish education available worldwide.
•    TAMK Global Education was introduced in 2011.
•    TAMK Global Education also provides tailor-made courses and trainings to individuals and companies
•    Read more:

Published 09.06.2017