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NSM Focus | Gerry van der Kamp-Alons (International Relations): ‘It’s valuable to already start exploring the professional field of a teacher’

Date of news: 25 June 2020

‘Teaching sounds attractive to me,’ is what Gerry van der Kamp-Alons hears each year from a number of Political Science students. But they usually don’t have a realistic idea of teaching at secondary school. The assistant professor of International Relations wrote a plan to change this.

That teachers have a demanding but satisfying job is widely known. But what are you really getting into if, after your studies, you register for a one- or two-year teacher training programme at the university? That many students don’t know is reflected by the number of them who drop out of the programme. About twenty percent of prospective teachers of social studies – the subject most closely related to Political Science – do not finish the programme. And of those who do start teaching, quite a few choose a different career in only a few years.

Sustainable choice

Van der Kamp-Alons is not simply trying to make more students enthusiastic about a job in education. “What I really want is for those who might be interested to be able to make a better informed and sustainable choice to become a teacher.” This seemed like a good idea to the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (part of the Dutch Research Council, NWO) that recently awarded her a Comenius Teaching Fellowship for her plan Een tweesnijdend zwaard: onderwijsgerelateerde beroepsoriëntatie in de bachelor Politicologie (‘A double-edged sword: education-related professional orientation in the Political Science Bachelor’s programme’).

“The idea is to gradually give students a taste of being a teacher. In each year of the Political Science Bachelor’s programme we add some orientation to teaching to one of the courses and focus on translating field-specific knowledge to a teaching and learning situation. For example, an assignment in which students make a lesson plan for secondary school classes about elections or citizenship in the time of COVID-19. This shows them how theory is formed and used in practice.”

Teaching experience

Students who enjoy this can also follow a teaching lab. In this elective they do research on education together with a secondary school teacher, a teacher of Political Science and a teacher from the Radboud Teachers Academy. “They concentrate on a theme connected to one of the subdisciplines in Political Science and to the final examination programme of the secondary school subject social studies so that the curriculum they develop with the secondary school teacher can be used immediately.” The implementation is done by the students. “The students themselves will teach the curriculum. Very exciting, but also very valuable to get to know the professional field of a teacher.”

Win-win

Van der Kamp has a lot of contact with teachers at various secondary schools and she thought of them when she typed the title Een tweesnijdend zwaard (‘A double-edged sword’) at the top of her fellowship application. “Working with our students is an interesting way for secondary school teachers to give content to their mandatory refresher courses and professionalisation. They help prospective teachers to develop and receive substantive knowledge in return, something they said they needed in my conversations with them. And they also acquire the latest didactic insights because they’re advised in this trajectory by teachers from the Radboud Teachers Academy. Win-win.”

Van der Kamp-Alons is currently working with Radboud colleagues and secondary school teachers to start the programme in the new academic year. “This corona time has complicated things. How can we eventually offer our package? But the enthusiasm hasn’t faded. I can’t wait. I’m really curious about the first experiences.”

Van der Kamp is not the only one who received a Comenius grant recently. Jana Vyrastekova was granted a Senior Comenius Teaching Fellowship to start a research project on academic innovation.