Jasper Rijpma wants teachers to improve education themselves
Last spring, history teacher Jasper Rijpma, along with others, collected 300 million euros for education from the National Growth Fund's pot. He may no longer experience what this money brings about. “This project should not become just another thing from The Hague.”
Five days before the appointment, Jasper Rijpma sends an app: "I notice that I get a little jitters at the idea of the interview, especially at the thought of getting publicity about my illness." When asked what he is afraid of, he answers: “Two things I think. I definitely don't want to show off that I'm sick. And I also don't want Developing Power to be linked too strongly to the fact that I may no longer be there.”
This spring, Rijpma points out his health situation for the first time in a podcast with education colleague Jan van de Ven. It is just after more than 300 million euros from the National Growth Fund was awarded to Development Power, Rijpma's idea to have teachers work on educational improvement together and on the basis of research. The National Growth Fund is an initiative of the Rutte IV cabinet that invests 20 billion euros in the 'sustainable earning capacity of the Netherlands'. Rijpma has been working on his plans for about a year and a half and a impressive list*Jasper Rijpma, together with the Leraren Ontwikkelingfonds (LOF), NRO, Education Lab, Groeikracht, OCW, CAOP, Stichting Leerkracht and Meesters met Dromen, devised four goals for the Development Power Fund: 1. Develop a knowledge (sub)culture at every school. 2. Guidelines from the National Education Agency (NRO) on what works in the classroom. Inspired by the guidance reports from England. 3. Education Lab, the field of activity of professor of education systems Inge de Wolf, where researchers work with teachers and school leaders to find answers to educational questions. 4. Forming a number of training and development schools, inspired by the English research schools. know how to connect partners to Developing Power (see box).
In the podcast, Van de Ven jokingly calls him 'the man of 300 million'. But the presenter also knows about the shadow over Rijpma's life that started in the form of a melanoma that was found in his neck about two years ago. The tumor was removed, but treatments did not stop the metastases. Rijpma has been living 'from extension to extension' for over a year, as he puts it himself. A scan every three months. And drugs that inhibit the cancer, but do not cure it.
During our conversation in the flowery garden of his ground floor flat in Amsterdam East, he regularly clears his throat. Or that worries him? “That's difficult, yes. With every cough I think: oh shit.”
The interview is in the morning, when Rijpma has the most energy. “I can live very well with my medicines. I'm feeling good. However, as the day progresses, I suffer more from fatigue and I am less able to process stimuli.” Rijpma tells about the bizarre school year 2020-2021 in which he became ill, taught 'just' and started Developing Power. “I taught from the hospital, while I was on the IV and on my way to the hospital. Really, haha. It was of course distance learning, because of corona. But zero dropout, that was disturbed afterwards.”
When it becomes clear around the May holidays of 2021 that treatments are not working, he stops working at school. “It was no longer possible to take full responsibility for a class. I focused on healthy living. Exercising hard, eating protein, sleeping a lot.” This step also increased the will to make an impact in a different way, through Development Power. “I found it difficult to deal with that situation, from being officially ill and how do I relate to my professional self, to the teaching profession?”
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By the way, Rijpma decided to go back to teaching this school year. It is an exception to 'not making longer term plans'. A construction has been devised with his employer, the Hyperion Lyceum in Amsterdam, and when the Education magazine goes to press, he will regularly give history lessons again. “Official are the hours of a colleague. I am not included in the formation.” His colleague also does parent contact, tests and the lessons in the afternoon: "Actually, I'm back to square one, like a kind of intern."
While someone else might close the work door permanently, Rijpma smiles broadly at the idea. "I'm a teacher. That is now part of my identity. Of course I am also a father, and a surfer. But the teaching, the conversations with the students about the world around us, that remains fantastic.”
Rijpma's path to teaching is not an average one. It arose from a love for history, but also from a difficult childhood. “Think about wrong friends, hanging out on the street and ending up in the wrong drawer of the Youth Care Agency.” The regular reception also had a lack of space at the time, so that a juvenile prison follows an out-of-home placement. Rijpma stays there as a teenager for 2,5 years. This experience changes his view of high school students. “As a teacher, you can reach those who like to pay attention. But how do you get the boy who actually no longer has any affinity with school at all?”
Rijpma knows that the path of least resistance is to isolate that student. “You regularly hear: 'I still have 28. If I give all my attention to Pietje…' And that is also legitimate, isn't it, because of work pressure, and so on. But it's also one of the reasons why I didn't finish high school at the time. How do you, as an ordinary teacher, get a view of the Jaspers of fifteen? That question fascinates me.”
He describes himself as ambitious, but not in the classic way. “Ambition is sometimes misinterpreted: as coming up higher. But what is that? For example, I never had the desire to become a school leader, a director and then join the secondary education council. But I really want to practice a versatile and interesting profession. Part of that, the core, continues to teach. And part of that is developing myself professionally.” And then Development Power comes around the corner again. Because the money from the National Growth Fund must provide space for this, for many more teaching colleagues.
An example. At Rijpma's school, human and social subjects are combined: that is, geography, history, economics and citizenship education. “The temptation is great to reinvent the wheel. To think: that what we are going to do is so unique, that's what we have to do from scratch. But it saves a lot of pain to explore what is happening in other schools and see what science has to say about it.”
What do you mean pain?
“Pain in the sense that teachers are doing that work on weekends, evenings and holidays. Or that they try something in class only to find out that it doesn't work. While you could have known that in advance.” Rijpma approached a school that made the same choices with the question whether they wanted to share materials and knowledge. “And then they said 'no'.”
“Yeah, you say huh, but there is still so much to learn between schools.”
Why did they say 'no'?
“That's an interesting question. It will undoubtedly have to do with work pressure. But then I fill it in. They just emailed back: we've discussed it with the section and we're not going to do it. Development power wants to stimulate this knowledge sharing. But it should not become the umpteenth thing from The Hague. It can only fly if teachers say: this is ours. This has to be bottom-up. They are resources for teachers, for school leaders, for the classroom. Development Power wants to facilitate you and your entire team, offer you a network. I want to shout that from the rooftops.”
Rijpma continues: “How often have I experienced a colleague at the end of the year saying: yes, but what we do here doesn't work either. Many teachers know exactly where the problem is: why something is going well or not for certain students. However, many schools lack an improvement culture. The system is such that teachers do not have the time and position to improve education.”
The bulk of the Development Power money goes to teachers to schedule free time for educational development. Is that realistic in times of a teacher shortage?
“In the longer term, Developing Power can be part of the solution. Teaching has been a solitary profession for too long. The way of working as we advocate it means that teachers do much more together. I believe that ultimately helps to prevent dropouts and make the profession more attractive.”
And your role?
“If I am given the time and energy, I would like to call on politicians to make the classes smaller and to lower the standard annual task. Now too often valuable teaching time is wasted because you don't reach all students. And lessons can be taken to a higher level. Development Power offers tools – in the form of time, skills and a network – to get exactly that done.”
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