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About the University

Olmo van der Mast

Olmo van der Mast

Who? Olmo van der Mast (1995)
Studied: Academic PABO Amsterdam (UPvA) and Research Master's in Child Development and Education
First job: Paper round
Favourite spot at the UvA: The building of the Academic PABO Amserdam on the Roeterseiland Campus
Essential: Good lecturers

Academic PABO Amsterdam (UPvA)

'I was not really concerned with my choice of degree programme during my final year of pre-university education. My exams were my main focus. When the time to choose a degree programme was drawing nearer and I really had to figure out my options, I just started Googling. As a football coach and tutor, I knew I enjoyed working with children. Plus, my family has always been heavily involved in education. One of my aunts started a day-care centre and my other aunt is the headmistress of a primary school. My mother works in education, too; she teaches painting. Who's to say whether this influenced me, but consciously or unconsciously, my search led me to the UPvA. I attended various open days, including for other programmes, and ultimately decided to go here.'

Research and practise

'The option to combine the teacher-training degree programme with a university degree programme appealed to me. These two aspects are fairly independent of each other at some universities, but they are nicely integrated at the UvA. That is the reason why I decided to study here. We even have our own place at the UvA, so we don't have to go back and forth between the university of applied sciences and the research university. During the four-year programme, you take not only teacher-training courses, but also Pedagogical Sciences courses. These two components come together in the work placements that you do throughout the entire programme. During your work placement, you learn how teaching works in practice and you do a little research every six months. For example, you compile questionnaires that you administer to the students, or you develop an observation tool that you subsequently apply. This combination of research and practical application is a core component of the UPvA.'

The combination of research and practical application is a core component of the UPvA

Insight into child development

'You are trained to be a primary school teacher at the UPvA. I enrolled thinking that I would become a teacher and go on to teach at a primary school. Pupils between the ages of 4 and 12 tend to be much more eager to learn than teens in secondary school. Consequently, I wanted to specifically focus on this young target group and not on secondary school students. However, I also knew that more options were available to me thanks to the combination with the research university. Because you are studying Pedagogical Sciences, you acquire a tremendous amount of knowledge about the general and atypical development of pupils. To me, that is a major added value of the UPvA. As a result, graduates often become in-house supervisors at schools, to help children with special needs. Another added value is the inquisitive attitude we are taught; we always look at why something works or does not work and how we can do things differently.'

Work placements

'You are sent on a work placement as soon as the second week of the programme starts. You then spend one day each week at the school where you are doing your work placement. The work placements are an important part of the degree programme and build up nicely over the course of four years. You just observe at first, but start teaching occasional classes over the course of the first year. During the second year, you teach for half a day, which then becomes a full day of teaching in the third year. In the fourth year, you do a LIO work placement. "LIO" stands for "Leraar In Opleiding", or teacher in training. You teach two days entirely on your own, which means you are truly responsible for a class. From then on, your mentor only checks on you occasionally. Although you do start teaching fairly quickly, this is always in combination with theory. I like that, because you cannot learn everything from books. You can read about how to handle difficult students, but it is something that you also have to experience. Especially in the beginning, these work placement days provide a good idea of what your workplace will look like later.'

As a teacher, you play a major role in children's development

Influence on pupils

'Every class has pupils that make you question how you should handle them. I had one Year 2 class, where there was a boy who was very aggressive and never listened. He did whatever he pleased and his parents never disciplined him. In such cases, your role as teacher is not substantial enough to truly change such behaviour. Sometimes, there are too many factors that you cannot influence. However, I do believe that, as a teacher, you play a major role in children's development. Just look at how many hours you spend with your pupils as a primary school teacher. You see these kids five days a week for at least a year. These are long days, in which you have a lot of time to establish a connection. Obviously, you have considerable influence on the pupils' behaviour and knowledge. In reality, it is a ridiculously difficult job. You have to teach many different subjects whilst simultaneously managing the class and monitoring the pupils' behaviour. On top of all that, you also have to communicate with the parents.'

Teacher shortage

'There is a huge shortage of teachers; in response, every effort is made to attract and train more teachers. This is great for us, of course; you can start working immediately wherever you want. Unfortunately, it is not so great for the primary schools or society as a whole: many school administrators are at their wit's end. This is a shame, because that small influx also impacts the diversity in teams. In the past, primary school teacher was really a man's job; over the years, however, that changed, and women now outnumber men in the field. Although this is not bad in itself, young men may be inclined to think: oh, that is a woman's profession, so it is not for me. This is nonsense, of course; it is a fantastic profession and it is good to have a lot of diversity in teaching teams. Everyone looks at things from a different perspective, which is how you keep each other on your toes.'

The Master's in Child Development and Education trains you to be a researcher in the field of education

Child Development and Education

'Ik denk dat ongeveer de helft van de UPvA-studenten na de opleiding meteen het onderwijs in gaat. De andere helft doet nog een master. Zelf merkte ik in mijn vierde jaar dat ik het doen van onderzoek ontzettend leuk vind. Mijn stage rondde ik dat jaar met moeite af, terwijl ik voor mijn scriptie een hoog cijfer haalde. Daarom ben ik na de UPvA de onderzoeksmaster Child Development and Education gaan doen. Daarin word je opgeleid om onderzoek te gaan doen in het onderwijsveld. We kijken bijvoorbeeld naar de effectiviteit van lesmethodes, naar wat de invloed kan zijn van diversiteit op leeruitkomsten en op leerkracht-leerlingrelaties en in hoeverre het bijvoorbeeld uitmaakt als je thuis een andere taal spreekt dan op school. Ik heb dus een stapje opzij gedaan van het lesgeven, maar ben wel nog bezig met het onderwijs en hoe dat kan worden verbeterd. We krijgen meer statistiek en onderzoeksmethoden, precies de dingen die ik leuk vind. De master duurt twee jaar, als het goed is studeer ik in juli af.'

Improving educational practise

'I think it would be fun to participate in research projects in which theory and practise are closely linked. I do not want to produce studies that are only read by other academics; I want to improve educational practise through my research. You actually have to write two theses in the Research Master's programme. Last year, I conducted a study in which I did not collect the data myself; I have to do it this year, though. I am currently working on a wide-ranging project involving both the UvA and the AUAS. Basically, the question is how to tackle controversial social topics in class. Examples include racism, sexism and homosexuality. This is an extremely interesting theme to me. Teachers find it difficult to discuss these topics and sometimes even avoid them altogether. This research project trains them to discuss these topics. I subsequently talk to them about whether and how the training helped them. Hopefully, our research will contribute to improving educational practise.'

Student Assistant

'Last year, I became a student assistant at the UPvA. I teach research courses to first and second year Bachelor's students. These are courses I personally enjoyed, so I get a lot of satisfaction from teaching students how to design a scientific study, formulate a research question or conduct a literature survey. I also teach them how to do empirical studies in which they develop their own observation tools and questionnaires and apply them in practise. Teaching university students is very different from teaching primary school pupils, of course. I actually really like it. To me, the advantage of this target group is that you are always focused on the content. You truly help the students advance and can engage them in discussions about the topics you cover. I can see myself as a university professor teaching research skills or statistics.'