Student - August 24, 2018

How to spot the best teachers?

Text:
Linda van der Nat

Did you find it difficult to say goodbye to your history teacher who told such fascinating stories about the Cold War? Do you fondly recall that maths teacher who taught you a love of calculus? Wageningen has dozens of inspirational teachers who talk so passionately about their subject that you will soon have forgotten your secondary school teachers.

Every year, Wageningen students choose one teacher as their Teacher of the Year. The winners often have one or more of the following traits.

1)    Good storytellers

Roel Dijksma © Sven Menschel
Roel Dijksma © Sven Menschel

Good teachers never tire of talking about their subject. They love their field of expertise and are keen to get students enthusiastic too. Roel Dijksma, a Hydrogeology lecturer who won the award in 2016, thinks nothing is more fun than talking about soil layers and water flows. ‘Hydrogeology is such a great field; I can’t imagine a better subject for myself than this. And I love talking about it.’

Prof. Dolf Weijers, who holds a personal chair in Biochemistry and won the prize in 2013, aims to pass on his enthusiasm for cell physiology to students. ‘I always stress how important a passion for understanding things is. That’s the recipe for success.’

2) That little bit further

Henry van den Brand © Guy Ackermans
Henry van den Brand © Guy Ackermans

Top teachers don’t just focus on teaching students the content. They are also personally interested in their students and are happy to go that little bit further. Animal Sciences associate professor Henry van den Brand, the winner in 2018, makes sure he gets to know the names of all his students before the course is completed, whether there are 10, 20 or over 100. He sees students as individuals, not just numbers. That also means that Van den Brand is willing to spend his free time helping a student get up to speed.

3)    Different from the rest

Jessica Duncan © Guy Ackermans
Jessica Duncan © Guy Ackermans

The best teachers are not afraid to do something unconventional if they think it will help their students. Taking a few minutes for gym exercises or acting crazy to fire the group up again if they are starting to doze off. Jessica Duncan, the winner in 2017 and assistant professor in Rural Sociology, does games and exercises after a difficult session to keep students fresh and motivated.

Professor of Cell Biology and Immunology Huub Savelkoul, who won the prize in 2014, is also known for his unusual lessons. Once he ran round the lecture hall pretending to be an antibody. And in his lectures on allergies, he gets students to talk about how they deal with their allergies. ‘The information becomes more vivid and tangible if you connect it to the students’ own experiences.’

4)    A look behind the scenes

Dolf Weijers © Sven Menschel
Dolf Weijers © Sven Menschel

Most top teachers are also researchers. They take that experience with them into the lecture hall, which brings the abstract facts to life for the students. Dolf Weijers regularly uses recent scientific articles instead of the course book to give students an idea of the latest developments in a field. Henry van den Brand has a farming background and refers to that practical experience in his lectures. Jessica Duncan goes even further. She travels all over the world for fieldwork and takes students with her whenever she can to let them get a taste of ‘real’ life.


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