News - April 24, 2013

Classroom experience

Keeping a class full of secondary school kids under control and trying to teach them something as well is no picnic. But the job appeals to many Wageningen students. The successful Education Minor is set to grow over the next few years, thanks to a stimulus from the government. There is no shortage of enthusiasm among students. 'I have never felt so completely in my element. I stood in front of the class full of confidence.'

There has been a growing shortage of teachers in the Netherlands for more than 10 years, while during the same period the number of graduates has been rising. This has been a source of frustration among policymakers, prompting the Ministry of Education to make a move in 2008 to exploit that potential by making it possible for students to qualify as teachers relatively fast. The Education Minor was born.  
Wageningen seized this chance with both hands and launched its Education Minor in 2010. After a traning programme of one and a half years, Bachelor's students can then teach lower secondary school classes in the more academic streams (HAVO and VWO) and all the classes in a more vocational stream (VMBO-TL). Since then, the university has been training teachers of Biology, Geography, Chemistry, Physics and Economics.
The Education Minor felt like a logical step for Wageningen to take, says Piety Runhaar, lecturer at Education and Competence Studies, who coordinates the minor. 'The minor fits into the Wageningen tradition of working closely together with secondary education. Up until the nineteen eighties we had a full teacher training programme in fact.'
The minor attracts an average of 18 candidates per year, with a peak of 28 participants in the academic year 2011/2012. Good numbers, but they could be improved. An average of 30 should be achievable, thinks the university. So Wageningen grabbed the opportunity when the ministry of Education recently made more funding available for getting still more students interested in a teaching job.
Runhaar wants to use the funding to increase the number of degree programmes on which students can gain this 'grade two' teaching qualification ('grade one' being a post-Master's qualification to teach up to the sixth year of secondary school). She also wants to use it to publicize the minor better among students. She feels students need to get a better idea of the possibilities after taking this minor. 'For example, how does it work with exemptions if they want to go on to the 'grade one' teacher training?'
Either way, she says it is a mistaken belief that you can only take the minor if you definitely want to go into teaching. 'It is a learning experience that you can get now, and which will benefit you for the rest of your career.'
Teaching qualification
The minor is not available to students from all the degree programmes. Bach­elor's students of Biology, Plant Sciences, Animal Sciences, Economics and Policy, Soil, Water & Atmosphere, Landscape Architecture and Planning, International Land and Water Manage­ment, and Molecular Life Sciences gain their 'grade two' qualification on completion of the minor. Students from other degree programmes who follow the course only receive a certificate of course completion. In many cases they are then allowed to teach in a school but will have to take some in-service courses in their subject to meet the standards of the profession.

Inge Beukema
BSc in Soil, Water and Atmosphere
Taught: Physics
Now: Doing a Master's

'I was always adamant that whatever I did I certainly wouldn't teach. It didn't appeal to me at all. I still remember my own class at secondary school. They could be pretty dreadful and I didn't fancy that one bit. On the Soil, Water and Atmosphere programme you don't learn how to put information across to other people. That was a reason for me to opt for the Education Minor. I thought, it is just for six months and if I can't cope I'll just stop.
I ended up doing my teaching practice at my old secondary school in Zwolle. That was a nice experience. The last time I was there I was sitting in the hall with the other pupils, so it was familiar territory. Now I suddenly found myself in the staffroom next to my old teachers - somewhere you were never allowed as a pupil.  
I taught HAVO and VWO classes. The first day was quite tense and I was quite nervous about standing in front of a class like that. At the start it was difficult to have an aura of authority because the age difference was quite small. But at some point you realize you do know a lot more than they do and you have more life experience. Once you start seeing that, you start to put it across. The pupils called me 'Mevrouw' and used the polite form 'u'.
Of course there were some bad moments too. The HAVO pupils really tested me. They looked shocked when I suddenly sent people out of the class. The VWO classes were quite different. They really took to me. It helped that I was the only female physics teacher at the school. That worked in my favour, especially for the girls. They thought: yuck, physics is for boys. And then suddenly there is a young woman teacher and that gets their attention. I see teaching as a nice second string to my bow. I am now doing a Master's and I still have to do an internship. Maybe after that I will think: teaching was a lot nicer. In that case I can always get my grade one qualification. I have noticed there is quite a big shortage of physics teachers. The Pantarijn school in Wageningen has already asked me twice if I could stand in for someone. And I was the first person to qualify to teach physics at the university.'
Marlies Bunte
BSc International Development Studies
Taught: Geography
Now: finishing off her Bachelor's

'I was already interested in education at secondary school. It appealed to me. But I nevertheless chose to go to university because it seemed so final to go straight into teaching.
During the Minors Market I saw that there was an Education Minor here and I thought: that's the one for me. I felt like doing something completely different. I thought it would be nice to work on something practical and during the minor you are on teaching practice three days a week almost from the start.
The minor is very intensive. In six months you learn teaching skills that you would have four years for learning at teacher training college. They expect a lot of you. You have to reflect on your own behaviour, set new learning goals and identify and work on your strong and weak points. For some people, including myself, it was difficult and challenging to put that in black and white. But it was useful because you learn from it what you are doing wrong and what is going well. I taught geography at a secondary school in Veenendaal. It was my favourite subject at secondary school too. It is a broad subject, about the whole world. My degree is like that too, so they have something in common.
I really enjoyed my teaching practice. There you are all of a sudden, in front of a class of 12- to 15-year-olds and you get to transfer your knowledge on a subject you are very enthusiastic about yourself. To illustrate the subject of the brain drain I told a story about two Ghanaian boys I met during my trip through Africa. The pupils were getting dozy but they woke up when I started to talk about that. "How come you've been to Africa? Cool, we want to do that too!"
I loved the contact with pupils. At that age they are tremendously honest. I come from Twente and have an accent. On my first day a girl asked, 'Miss, do you come from the countryside or something?' I nearly split my sides laughing.
In the autumn I am going to start a Master's in Wageningen but after that I want to get my grade one qualification. In my subject it's difficult to get a job so it's handy to have more than one string to your bow.'
Bas Adelerhof
BSc Landscape Architecture and Planning
Taught: Geography and Drama
Now: Finishing his BSc before going into teaching

'I always knew teaching would be my thing. But I didn't opt for teacher training straightaway. I had to work very hard for my VWO so I wanted to do something with it.
When we had to choose a minor, the Education Minor was the only option for me. And it was one of the best decisions I made during my studies. I find theory interesting but practice appeals to me much more. The Education Minor is a very creative and practical course: less academic, which I enjoyed. I found it a very relaxed experience even though it was pretty intensive. You are always working on understanding yourself, there is always a mirror being held up to you and you reflect on it all until you are blue in the face. I learned that I did not have to be so perfectionist. You don't have everything 100 percent under your own control, however much you might wish to.
Teaching practice was - in a word - fantastic. I really gave it all I've got.  I have never felt so completely in my element and I stood in front of the class full of confidence. I taught at all levels at the Pantarijn. I liked the variety very much because the differences between classes are huge. In the vocational streams it's very important to build up a relationship with the pupils and tell them a lot about yourself. I've done a lot of street theatre in Holland and abroad, for instance. After the weekend they would always ask whether I had performed and how it went. They were very direct and they always have something to say. The more academic gymnasium pupils, on the other hand, are more interested in the facts. Whenever I explained something they always had more questions. There was no end to it. You just couldn't prepare those lessons thoroughly enough.
After the summer I will have my BSc and then I want to go into teaching. I can't motivate myself to go on to a Master's at the university. In my internship report I wrote, "Go jump in the canal with your assignments and let me go and have fun teaching." In a few years' time I would like to get my grade one qualification to increase my chances of a job. But for the time being I'm OK with being a grade two teacher.'