Organisatie - 31 oktober 2013

‘I must be getting some thing right'

Linda van der Nat

In the runup to the 2014 Teacher of the Year elections, Resource called on a few illustrious former winners. What effect does a prize like this have on them? And how did they spend the prize money?

Frits Claassen – Teacher of the Year 2012
What he’s known for
: Decision science, Food Production Chains

How he used the money: it went into the kitty at his chair group. ‘So it’s out of my reach, just as my modest salary is managed by others at home. I hasten to add that I have been happily married for years.’

An honour or an embarassment? ‘It is a mark of recognition for your work. But it does make you feel a bit uncomfortable as well. I’m the kind of person who would rather stay anonymous. Suddenly you hear people talking about you: “I think that’s him!” Part of the unease is about the prize too. You can measure who is the fastest runner, but you cannot measure good teaching in the same way. Why would I be the best? There are loads of good teachers.’

Are you a Wageningen celebrity now?
‘For the first few days my inbox was full of spontaneous, warm reactions, including some from people I hadn’t spoken to for years. But it soon went back to business as usual. Since then I have been asked for various things but you can’t be sure that’s related to the nomination.’

Is the award a good idea? ‘The money isn’t necessary in my view; a bunch of flowers would be enough. But an award like this draws attention to the quality of education and I do think that’s important. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t advise young people to put all their efforts into education. They won’t be doing themselves any favours, as it is research that comes in for all the appreciation and recognition. The career prospects in education are nil, it’s as simple as that.’

From left to right:Gert Peek, Dolf Weijers and Huub Savelkoul
From left to right:Gert Peek, Dolf Weijers and Huub Savelkoul
Gert Peek - Teacher of the Year 2000 and 2011

What he’s known for: the ‘Peek week’, Soil & Water, Soil and Landscapes of the Netherlands

How he used the money: Course-related extra activities for students, such as excursions or material.

An honour or an embarrassment? ‘A real honour. Especially the award in 2011, because that was purely a student election. In 2000, the prize was awarded as part of Founders’ Day and there were hardly any students present. In 2011 the ceremony was turned into a big event. All five nominees were on the podium, which made it very exciting. You got much more of a feeling of “I really have won something”.’

Are you a Wageningen celebrity now? ‘I was practically inundated with invitations for talks, excursions and guest lectures. I felt like some kind of celebrity, because they are asked onto all kinds of quiz shows on TV, too. I had to be selective because I teach fulltime.’

Is the award a good idea? ‘Our chair group often scores well for education bonuses and the Teacher of the Year because we place a high value on inspiration, motivation, enthusiasm and commitment. We get 10 percent of the total amount in education bonuses. That is quite striking, because people do compare notes in Wageningen. Colleagues and other chair groups look at you with new respect when you can earn money with good teaching and not just with research.’

Dolf Weijers – Teacher of the Year 2013
What he’s known for
: Cell Physiology & Genetics, Systems at Work, Bio- Informatics Technology

How he used the money: For an academic gown

An honour or an embarrassment? ‘I thought it was an amazing experience. Especially because I got the prize not just for my teaching but also for my extracurricular activities such as the Science Café, at which we debate current academic issues. Apparently that is much appreciated. I did feel a sense of responsibility to keep up my standards. To make sure my classes remained lively and interesting.’

Are you a Wageningen celebrity now? ‘I was already pretty much in the public eye as a scientist because of my personal chair and as a member of the Young Academy. Now I suddenly started to get invitations from new quarters. I was asked to be on committees, to give talks, to be involved in the Science Support Desk. At first I thought, “Why me?” but then I realized I was keen to talk about what I considered good education. Who knows, someone might get something out of it.’

Is the award a good idea? ‘As a mark of honour I think the Teacher of the Year Award is a very good idea. Fortunately, Wageningen sets great store by the quality of its teaching, and in this respect I think the prize is an excellent initiative. I do think the form it takes, a money prize, is debatable.’

Huub Savelkoul - Most nominated (6x) as Teacher of the Year
What he’s known for
: Cell Biology & Health, Development & Healthy Aging, Food Allergies

How he used the money: a fund for formulating a coherent vision on education in the Cell Biology & Immunology chair group.

An honour or an embarrassment? ‘Of course it’s fantastic that students express their appreciation of your way of teaching like this; I must be getting something right. I try to fire up the first years. I do that through interaction, being up to date and relating the subject matter to their experience.’

Are you a Wageningen celebrity now? ‘As a chair group we grab every excuse for a celebration. But beyond that I hear surprisingly little about it in the organization. I am not bitter about that but I do think it’s a pity. Education tends to trail in the wake of research. And when I gain a research grant I do get congratulated.’

Is the award a good idea? ‘More than half of all the teachers are very good, whereas only a couple of them get rewarded in the end. My idea would be to use the money not to reward the best but to improve the performance of those who are not doing so well. Like that you could raise the average level of education.’

Photo's: Sven Menschel