I love teaching future teachers, and today, I realized that the love of teaching is a universal language.
This morning, we visited the Thomas More Hogeschool in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The institution, named after an Archibishop of Canterbury who became a Catholic saint after losing his head during the reign of Henry VIII, specializes in training teachers to teach in Dutch primary schools. In the Dutch system, there are essentially three categories of institutions: public, Catholic, and Christian. However, unlike in the United States, institutions from all three categories are funded by the government.
It took only minutes for me to fall in love with the Thomas More school. There are approximately 600 students there, and because I teach at an institution that isn't much bigger than that, I recognized and appreciated the small-campus feel. Several students related that they enjoyed knowing everyone, and for me, that sounded a whole lot like home.
The institution where I teach has a wonderful teacher-training program, and I teach future teachers every semester. As I said at the outset, teaching these future teachers is a part of my job that I really love. I was struck today at the differences in the way teachers are trained in the Dutch system as compared to the way we do it in the US. In the Netherlands, teachers in training begin internship work their first semester of college. From the earliest days of their higher education experience, they have opportunities to teach and to discern for sure that teaching is for them. At many institutions in the US, teacher education students have no exposure to classrooms until their third year of college. I have known of some who do not realize until that point that teaching isn't for them, and they are forced to choose a different path after having already invested time and effort into teacher education. Earlier exposure to internship experiences might help us to more properly prepare and advise teacher education students in the US.
At the Thomas More school, students are rotated between internship sites every six months. While the amount of time they spend teaching increases as their education progresses, they are exposed in some way every semester to primary school classrooms. They interact with students almost every week for the duration of their college experience. The Thomas More School is connected to the Rotterdam school district, so students are assigned to local schools nearby. By the time they earn their four-year degree, these teachers will have interned at eight different local schools, exposing them to a great deal of different types of educational institutions. Because the schools where they intern represent many different learning philosophies (Montessori, New School, and Steve Jobs Schools, to name a few), they are exposed to a number of teaching methods and learning systems.
While higher education in Europe is similar in many ways, one of the differences between the Dutch system and the Belgian system is cost. The cost to students in the Dutch system is consistent from institution to institution, meaning that colleges and universities do not compete for students based on pricing. Students pay €2,000 per year, which equates to approximately $2,340. What a deal.
As part of our visit, we got a tour of the campus. My group was led by Naomi, a second-year student, and she asked about the cost of higher education in the United States. She had heard that college was obscenely expensive in the US, and I confirmed that she had heard correctly. I think she was a bit shocked when I shared the amount of student loan debt I have accumulated personally in my own educational endeavors, and I have not had to borrow nearly as much as many students.
Toward the end of our visit to the Thomas More school today, we were able to visit a first-year pedagogy class. The students were bright and they asked wonderful questions. Even in their first year, they could articulate the link between theory and practice, and I was incredibly impressed by their ability to think through these important connections. It seemed pretty clear that most of them were there because they had a passion for teaching, and they reminded me in myriad ways of my own students.
In Holland as in the US, teaching is not a prestigious or well-paying profession. It has always seemed idiotic to me that we so underpay and undervalue educators given the vital role they play in advanced societies. As teachers take to the streets in protest and organize strikes in various parts of the US, people are beginning to pay attention to the realities of being an educator in the twenty-first century. As I interacted with those bright and passionate future teachers this morning in Rotterdam, I couldn't help but hope that they will inherit a world where teachers do not have to strike in order to be respected and paid respectable salaries. If these students are to inherit a world like that, it is up to us - those who are currently leaders in education - to fight to bring about that world. Let's get started.