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  • Writer's pictureDaria Danila

“Teaching is my plan B.” Young teachers grapple with precarious working environments

© Daria Danila

Teachers early in their careers are struggling to cope with the pressure arising from staff shortages and wage uncertainty.

The academic year had a rocky start as teachers in the Netherlands faced multiple challenges related to large numbers of vacant teaching positions, negotiations for an increase in wages, and the threat of a strike. While progress has been made, with educators set to receive a 10 percent increase in pay, these conditions have taken a toll on young teacher’s experiences in schools.

“I feel like people are behind on their work, and we’re just getting started with the year,” says Marco Bakker, who is starting his third year as a Biology teacher at a secondary school in Winsum, north of Groningen.

Bakker explains that teaching children is only a small part of his work. Preparing lessons and projects for the children takes additional time outside of the classroom. “Behind the scenes, there are a lot of extra hours that I have to work, and that makes it really stressful,” he says.

Marianne Westerhof, a student at the University of Groningen who completed the Teaching Minor by teaching Physics in a secondary school, also echoes this opinion. “The hours you get paid for are not the hours you put in,” She says.

She describes that preparing lessons, and grading students’ work can take just as much time as that spent in the classroom. “As a beginner teacher, you definitely need [more time], because you haven’t collected materials from previous years, and you don’t know how to deal with difficult cases. It’s a bit overwhelming.”

Even so, Bakker and Westerhof agree that interacting and helping the kids in the most fulfilling part of the job. “You have to work with a lot of intense stuff, but on the other side you get to see the kids flourish,” says Bakker.

‘Crying in the hallway’

Both Bakker and Westerhof say that, as young educators, the responsibilities are a heavy burden, and while they were both able to seek support from colleagues, that can only go so far. “Other teachers are strong for me as a new teacher, but a week later I see them crying in the hallway as well,” says Bakker.

Time is not the only issue. Westerhof says that current discussions about teacher’s wages have impacted her decision to pursue a career in secondary teaching. She explained that the scheme based on which a teacher’s wage is determine, taking into account the teacher’s experience and type of school they work in, is limiting. “It’s not easy to advance and grow. I think a lot of people feel stuck,” says Westerhoff, who is currently working towards becoming a university professor. She believes that this restriction discourages teachers from being more creative in their teaching.

Bakker, on the other hand, has already made up his mind about his future in education. He has decided to return to university and pursue a career in medicine. “I don’t want to deal with all this stuff when I’m fifty,” he says.

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