Wendy Sanders op het Heerbeeck College. Foto | Bart van Overbeeke

"Yes, I am a school teacher”

Wendy Sanders spent years working as a researcher in Wageningen before she decided she might well have the makings of a chemistry teacher. She was right, and how: this past weekend she received the Teaching Award 2018 of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (KNCV). “I like to build elements of play into my lessons; an Escape Room with chemistry puzzles really boosts student motivation.”

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photo Bart van Overbeeke

As a teacher at Heerbeeck College in Best, Sanders is always looking to make her lessons as interesting as possible for her pupils, who are mainly in the upper classes of pre-university education (VWO). “Wherever I can, I try and find a context for the lesson content, to use real-life examples. And I want to look farther afield than 'the everyday chemistry hidden in our kitchen cupboards' - that's tired.”

Read on below the video.

Teaching Award 2018 of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society for Wendy Sanders (video is in Dutch).

Teaching Award 2018 of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society for Wendy Sanders (video is in Dutch).

I want to look farther afield than 'the everyday chemistry hidden in our kitchen cupboards

Wendy Sanders
Chemistry teacher of the year

So it's useful that she spends half her working week at TU/e's Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, where she is a teaching and learning expert for her school subject and responsible for the contacts between the department and chemistry teachers in the region, including continuing professional training. She draws inspiration from the latest developments at the university. “I enjoy basing lessons on themes that our student teams like Team FAST and Team SOLID are also working on (the application of formic acid and iron powder as fuel, respectively, TJ)”.

I enjoy basing lessons on themes that our student teams like Team FAST and Team SOLID

Wendy Sanders
Chemistry teacher of the year
Escape Room

In addition, Sanders likes to incorporate playful elements in her lessons, she explains. “Like an Escape Room inspired by the lesson content, as a sort of summary lesson. I make puzzles based on the assignments, disguising the lesson content so much that the pupils don't realize they are working on the questions in the textbook, and I link the answers to codes that will open padlocked chests or folders. A special feature of this kind of Escape Room is that first of all you have to look for the hidden questions: this forces the pupils to think about a chapter's learning aims.” Because you can't lock pupils in a classroom, in a lesson like this all the cell phones are placed in a big plastic container with a lock on it. “That really motivates them because no one wants to leave without their cell phone,” she laughs.

Wageningen

Before she decided to go into teaching, Sanders spent years working as a researcher in Wageningen, in the field of environmental technology. The Teaching Award is the ultimate proof that she has made a success of her career switch, but it seems that there was always a teacher lurking in her. “A few years after I made the switch I was at a reunion of my primary school friends. When I told people that I was a school teacher, no one was surprised. Everyone said that I'd always been a teacher by nature.” She was evidently the only one who didn't yet know it, she says.

Then, from the bottom of her heart: “Yes, I'm a school teacher.”

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