Organisation - January 20, 2010

A cloak stand for students

On the morning after he was voted Teacher of the Year, André van Lammeren stands in front of a class of first years. Resource sits in at his lecture on the structure and function of plants.

Teacher Van Lammeren leading a practicum on the structure and function of plants'
In the big lecture theatre in the Forum, Van Lammeren tells the class that he has won the Teacher of the Year Award. The students applaud. He continues: 'Let's hope that I won't be a disappointment to you this year. Otherwise, you can mail me your comments anytime as part of the subject evaluation. By the way, there are splendid flowers in the bouquet which I received yesterday. Do you know the alstromeria, gerbera, eucalyptus and the African...what's its name again? Does anyone have any idea?' Van Lammeren then takes out a big cattail stalk and passes this round. 'Where does this plant get its sturdiness from? Right, sklerenchym.'

Cloud of interest
One of Van Lammeren's tactics is to start with something concrete. 'I'm always in search of some kind of link. What's suitable for today? I found the cattail in the ditch on my way to the Forum and I use that in my lecture. It's to bring out that element of surprise, something which can captivate the student. You can compare that to a hook on a cloak stand. You can keep hanging stuff on that cloak stand so that a kind of cloud of interest is formed.'
Van Lammeren is not someone who stands out. He jokes only now and then. And yet, despite his calm, he is inspiring and knows how to hold the attention of others. He keeps building bridges to knowledge acquired earlier: '...you know this from that practicum; ...we're reminded of the pumpkin.' He finds the personal approach most effective. 'If someone finds what you're doing special, then you'll also find it special yourself. I use positive energy to arouse interest in students. That's why I tell my students that I'm the Teacher of the Year. When they know that others consider me good, I hope that they will also look at me differently, so that I can teach them even more things.'

Evolution
Van Lammeren is in charge of a subject every term. Besides this, he still finds time for research into tree damage. 'It's hard work. Now that I've developed my career somewhat, I'm concentrating more on teaching. I know much about plants - from algae to seed plants. There's a structure in the subjects I lecture; they follow evolution. Everything is here for a reason, and that's the beauty of biology. As such, a student acquires a total picture, which can be termed a full cloak stand. The trick is how to get to that stage.'
The teacher of the year gets 2500 euros to make teaching more refreshing. Besides planning to get a video camera and microscopic preparations for teaching, Van Lammeren is also considering a sabbatical. 'I want to tear through the forests and get the experience. Some things need to be smelled, tasted and be a part of. I'll return with stories which can be excellent cloak stands for my students. Often better than what I can learn from books, or see on a screen. The will of students to learn is increased when I have nice stories. I want to set them thinking about my subject.'

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