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It has just happened. Just the way I suspected. But it wasn’t a self-fulfilling prediction. It had to happen on the basis of the laws of the land. I knew it.

My father used to say in the old ‘communist’ era that laws are worth as much as they are upheld. But what about bad laws? Or about flexibility often demanded by life?

What happened was the following. As I have been an English teacher all my professional life, which is to say over thirty years, I have tried to get an official permission to teach here as well. I got my degree, along with a degree in Geography, 33 years ago, which means that I haven’t been able to teach during the three years I’ve been in the Netherlands. I let out some steam, did some other things, and then looked for a job. In vain, as those reading my first post will already have known.

I have always taught students in secondary schools in Hungary, then sometimes above, trained trainee teachers for nine of those years, for which I received additional training, and I did all these a little bit more in China too. I tried teaching young kids too, but I felt I wasn’t really cut out for that. During my training years, I also visited a few primary classes, and then I knew more exactly why I wasn’t. In short, it’s a different psychological and intellectual world. The teacher should behave and do things quite differently as a result with kids below 14.

A few weeks ago I applied for the acceptance of my degree in the Netherlands. Fair enough, they didn’t take very long to answer. The only problem is that they let me know I can’t get the same kind of acceptance as back in Hungary. Just as I had supposed.

To make it understandable what the possibilities are, let me explain. In the Netherlands, a secondary teacher can have ‘erste graads’, that is ‘first-degree’, or ‘twede graads’, that is ‘second-degree’ level qualification (or competence, depending on how you like to translate). In the reality of secondary education, this means that the second group of teachers can teach the lower intermediate classes between the ages of 12 and 16, the first-level qualification holders can teach the upper intermediate classes, from age 16 and above. A holder of this qualification can also teach in some classes of higher education, though not at universities.

The answer I was given states that because I received university education not only in English but also in Geography during the same five-year period, I can’t have received the same depth of training as Dutch students with only one degree, that in English, receive. I can either re-apply for a second-degree acceptance, or I can ask for an additional ‘stage’, that is, training, if I still want a first-degree qualification. Fair enough, one could say, and that’s what I’d half-heartedly expected too. Though I had also hope for something better. In a way I got something a bit better with this offer of an additional training period. But I still have my strong reservations.

My first reservation is that no education below the 850 hours received count towards qualification. On paper, my 120-hour teacher-training course and 100-hour CELTA training is nothing here. Never mind that with the latter I could teach English to adults and young adults anywhere in the world. Never mind that I was able to use the first for nine years to train university students who wanted to get a teaching qualification. These count nothing in the eye of the law, all I could do is to go back to a school and get training as if I were my own trainee. It sounds ridiculous.

My second reservation is that by sticking to the word of the law, my experience of 30 years is neglected and negated. I count as if I was still sitting at university and haven’t finished. I am worth as much as I was around 35 years ago, except that I’ve become that much older.

Third, I could qualify, if I wanted, as a second-degree holder. In Hungarian terms, I count as if I had only studied those two subjects at a teacher-training college for three years, as all primary teachers did and still do in Hungary. It doesn’t make a difference that all university students received enough education to enable them to teach at and sometimes above secondary level. Back in the old days, all university students were only allowed to study two subjects, for the sake of their more flexible practical value, and there was no education above that level.

Next, it seems as if all those studies of the English and American literature, syntax, phonetics and the like were also for nothing. Or as if a Dutch second-degree-holder also gets that much and besides, uses literature for 12-year-olds. My guess is that the real difference is in the methodological preparation and that first-degree-holders are the only ones required to do what I did. As for methodology, no preparation is better than long-term practice, which, in my case, is neglected. Also neglected is the fact that I’ve never received proper methodological preparation for young students, yet I could get a second-degree licence to teach them if I wanted. But if I do, say, a half-year practice, I may get enough preparation to be declared a first-degree teacher. Which counts more: half a year of undergoing mentoring the way I did to others, or 30 years of doing teaching and 9 years of mentoring?

I think, after all, that the most important difference between the teachers who are considered first-level and second-level teachers is that the latter should be trained to do what helps young teenagers, and first-level teachers should be trained and equipped to do what suits older teenagers. There is a world of difference between a 12-year-old’s needs and interests and those of a 16-year-old, and the ability and skills to accommodate and adjust to them can only be acquired through practice, not by attending more or fewer classes at university. The latter fast becomes irrelevant. I think I must insert a quote I already used in one of my earlier posts, but this one, out of a Guardian article, is most highly relevant here:

In recent years a very dangerous idea seems to have been accepted by the decision-makers around the education system that the best teachers are the best qualified teachers, leading to a sliding scale of funding that financially disadvantages those without high-class degrees from the classroom. The reality is very different. A good teacher has to be an exceptional communicator, with patience, common sense, focus, more than a little belligerence and vast reserves of tolerance and empathy. Many prospective teachers simply do not possess these qualities and yet are accepted on to teacher training and even passed despite every indication that they do not have what it takes. The most fantastic academic background cannot make up for a lack of these qualities, but a great communicator with a third-class degree has far more than the necessary knowledge to inspire a class of teenagers.

To neglect these points is what seriously counts as shortsightedness. Cling to the letter of the law and neglect the person with experience. Is this Eastern-Europe after all?

However, it must be said to all people with an older degree from Hungary, and very possibly to all those of my friends and acquaintances from Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Serbia, or Croatia who have been doing a great job in their respective countries, that if they would like to come to the Netherlands to try teaching, they will have to undergo the same procedure. Rules are rules, we have to obey them if we want to make a living in the West. Equal opportunity may reach the younger generations, those masses who I trained too, but not those few who received their degrees in times when only a few were able and allowed to. Hours of education received counts, hours of education provided since then does not. We are equal in the EU, but still, there are some who are more equal …

by P.S.