Q&A: Joke De Backer on being crowned Teacher of the Year

Summary

Joke De Backer, a 27-year-old teacher at primary school GILO in the East Flemish town of Scheldewindeke, was elected Teacher of the Year by readers of education magazine Klasse

First years on the job tough but instructive

This year, the Klasse Teacher of the Year competition focused on new teachers in Flanders, who often struggle to find steady employment.

How hard is it to start a career as a teacher in Flanders?

It can be tough since you have very little job security until you have worked at a school for at least three years. I’ve been a teacher for five years, and this was the first year I had my own class. Before that, I always carried out temporary assignments at different schools, often substituting for teachers who were permanently appointed and could return at any time, such as after sick leave. I also feel I didn’t get enough individual guidance at the start of my career. On the other hand, doing many different jobs at various schools gives you a lot of useful experience and ensures that you become very flexible.

How did your experiences in those first few years help you?

It helps that I have worked in both regular and alternative education, so I can use the best of two worlds. In alternative education, such as a leefschool (live school), I acquired certain techniques to follow up on the well-being of children and to assist them in beginning to make plans independently. But I also learned that it is useful to have certain guidelines in terms of which skills children should master, which are more common in regular education. I also have experience as a remedial teacher, which now helps me support children with physical disabilities and learning problems.

You introduced several special activities in your class

At the end of every week, I sit down with all the children in a circle and ask them to give someone else a compliment. This way, I get an idea of the general atmosphere of the class and of the personal relationships between the children. I also work a lot with music, dancing and storytelling. To keep children focused throughout the day, I regularly give them a time-out moment to move about freely. 

Photo courtesy Klasse voor Leraren

Q&A: Joke De Backer on being crowned Flanders' Teacher of the Year

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Educational system

The Flemish educational system is divided into two levels: primary (age six to 12) and secondary school (12 to 18). Education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and 18.
Types - There are three educational networks in Flanders: the Flemish Community’s GO! network, and publicly funded education – either publicly or privately run.
Not enough space - In recent years, Flemish schools have been struggling with persistent teacher shortages and a growing lack of school spaces.
No tuition fees - Nursery, primary and secondary school are free in Flanders.
1

million school-going children in 2013

30

million euros Flemish education budget for new school infrastructures in 2013

11

percent of boys leaving secondary school without a diploma