Q&A: Teacher Steven De Clercq on Antwerp's trouble with multicultural classes


Teachers in Antwerp who leave their post often cite multicultural classes as part of the problem. Steven De Clercq says more work is needed to support teachers in unfamiliar circumstances

Two-way street

Steven De Clercq is a primary school teacher who recently completed his Master’s thesis investigating why teachers leave Antwerp-based positions. One of his surprising findings was that multicultural classes are often the breaking point.

Is Antwerp different from other Flemish cities?

Practical factors were mentioned a lot by respondents. Issues such as a lack of parking, poor public transport links and a lack of quiet, pollution-free green spaces where teachers can take their classes were major concerns. But the major tipping point was the multicultural make-up of Antwerp classes.

Why are multicultural classes so difficult?

Many of Antwerp’s teachers come from smaller towns where the population is more homogenous. So they start with a low level of familiarity with other cultures. Compounding this is the fact that most teacher-training courses only deal with other cultures in a cursory way.

Is the situation improving?

Since the CAR system was implemented in 2011, things have become worse. Under this system, schools have less control over the students they admit. As a result, some schools have gone from having almost no students from other cultures to classes where more than 50% of students have a non-Flemish cultural background. This has put enormous pressure on teachers.

Is there a need for teachers from other cultures?

Definitely! These teachers have a better understanding of the difficulties students face at home and can act as a vital link between the school and these communities. Multicultural issues need to be addressed throughout the entire teacher-training programme and not dealt with as an isolated topic. For practising teachers, there needs to be more support from experienced colleagues. Unfortunately, economic cutbacks have stopped funding for formal mentor projects. However, I’m pleased to see that in many schools this is continuing on an informal basis.

What advice would you give to teachers struggling with this issue?

Follow me for a week in my class! When you have respect for these students, they respect you. Give them confidence that they can achieve, and in return they will work hard and show results.

Photo: Ingimage