Scientists in Schools--Vertical Take-Off for Lateral Entries?


The Dutch schools are screaming out for teachers, and scientists might help to fill the gap. So, although the shortage of teaching staff is a serious concern for the Dutch education system, the situation also implies a golden job market for researchers currently considering a career transition.

The Netherlands? schools have difficulties recruiting new teaching staff, a situation that is unlikely to change in the coming years. In fact, recent estimates suggest that teacher-training programs will crank out fewer than half of the 19,000 teachers required by 2006.

PhD students (AiOs/OiOs) might help to fill the gap, Minister of Education Loek Hermans suggested during a recent interview with KuZien, an alumni publication from Nijmegen University. This would not only bring relief to the schools but also would be beneficial for young researchers. Currently, universities often lack the money to employ PhD students on a full-time basis. However, teaching 1 or 2 days a week would not only provide additional income for Dutch PhD students but might at the same time get them interested in a challenging alternative career path.

Although it is rarely the first choice for the majority of AiOs, teaching has provided extremely rewarding experiences for an increasing number of ex-researchers, as well as other professionals without a teaching background. "Nothing is as inspiring as passing on knowledge from your experience to young people," says Johan van der Plas, who became an economics teacher at a secondary school after working as an accountant for 10 years. "I got the urgent feeling that I should try something new," he recalls at "". And he is not the only one: More than 40,000 nonteaching professionals inquired about vertical entries into the education system last year.

A teaching career is appealing for several reasons. Few jobs are as many-sided--being a teacher involves considerably more than just teaching. Preparing and organizing lessons, engaging in extracurricular activities, and participating in school management are just a few other activities in a teacher's working day.

The introduction of new education forms ("studiehuis") has changed teachers? positions noticeably. With the individual pupil now much more the center of education efforts, coaching, challenging, and motivating the pupils entrusted to the teacher demands even more dedication to his/her work. A certain set of personal characteristics helps young teachers meet these high demands and can make your life as a teacher much easier (see box).

Is Teaching for You?

Here are some helpful traits:

  • Expertise

  • Empathy

  • Energy

  • Explicitness

  • Geniality

  • Organizational skills

Especially attractive for vertical entries is the opportunity to start teaching immediately, in parallel with a teacher-training program. These part-time programs for teachers at a secondary school ("Eerstegraads leraar Voortgezet Onderwijs") are usually held at universities? teacher-training centers and last less than 2 years for attendants with a university degree and professional expertise in their teaching subject.

The quick-start into a teaching career has its challenges, Van der Plas recalls. "The beginning was quite difficult. Fortunately I was not given the most obstinate class. Also I found excellent mentors among my colleagues." And, combining the teaching job with the training program requires discipline: "To get a regular position, I?m studying one afternoon and two nights. It takes me about 30 hours a week, including lesson preparation." All in all, teaching seems an attractive alternative to the bench, with doors wide open for vertical hires. Says Van der Plas: "It is not an easy, but an interesting and satisfying way."

If you think you might like to go back to school, here is what you should do:

  • Apply for a job vacancy at a school or contact a mediating organization, such as De Onderwijs BV or

  • Participate in a formal assessment (paid for by the school) that will yield two documents: an appraisal of aptitude ("geschiktheidsverklaring") and a suggested schedule ("scholingsadvies") for your training to become a fully approved teacher ("Eerstegraads leraar Voortgezet Onderwijs").

  • The latter will form the basis of your training contract signed by the school, the training center, and you. Tuition fees for the training will usually be covered by the school, which can claim financial support from the Ministry of Education (OcenW).

  • Depending on the assessment report, you can immediately start teaching, paralleled by an individual teachers? training program.

  • You may even teach without any formal certificate if you are teaching just a few hours a week, which is an ideal way to get a clear picture of the reality of school life from a teacher?s perspective. In this case, the school of your choice will have to apply for a temporary relief from the license to teach.

    If you imagine that you would enjoy coaching, challenging, and motivating the pupils entrusted to you, teaching may be a demanding, many-sided and highly satisfying job for you. For more firsthand stories read the contributions to our global feature on Scientists at Schools!

    Further reading; helpful links: OCenW initiative "Je groeit in het onderwijs" Mediating initiative from Expectra HR Management Mediating initiative from Manpower en Kliq Employability Initiative from and for students interested in teaching jobs NL school internet Information on Professional and Adults education

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