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EMA alumna Caroline De Ryck speaks about her experiences

September is not only for our students at the Academy an exciting time, it's also the moment a lot of teachers, some of then for the first time, get ready for the start of a new and thrilling school year. How does it feel to stand in front of the classroom on the first of September? Are you nervous every time again or do the nerves get better the longer you have been teaching? And why have you chosen the teaching profession in the first place? All these questions and more I asked to two of alumni of our Educational Master Fine Arts at the Academy? Won't you read along?

You currently teach at a Steinerschool in Antwerp. Which classes do you teach this year and can you shortly tell us how you ended up there?

This is the fourth year that I am teaching and I am enormously happy with the place I managed to secure at the Steinerschool in Berchem. It’s the same school I taught in during my first year as a teacher, already more than three years ago. I could start there as teacher coppersmith & forging, wood sculpting and rock sculpting in the second and third grade ASO. After my first year teaching I changed schools and ended up in the Sint Romboutscollege and Berthoutinstitute – Klein Seminarie (or BimSem in short) in Mechelen. Here I taught esthetica to the fifth grade. The pedagogical project there was not the right fit for me, but more about that later.

I really wanted to return to the Steinerschool and when they asked me for a number of replacements, I answered the call immediately. That’s how I ended up teaching PO, textile and a couple of artistic and craft subjects in both the first and second grade. This school year is the first year that I have a fixed set of hours, which exists out of sculpting, drawing and artisanal woodworking. And this I combine with operating my very own jewellery atelier.

Why did you choose to complete the Educative Master at the Academy?

It’s now been two years since I started the course. Why I chose to do it is actually the direct result of a coincidental occurrence in 2018, namely that I broke my wrist. As an independent jewellery designer this is not the most ideal situation. And it put me before a dilemma of which both alternatives seemed inadequate and impossible to me: either I would be out as designer for a year which would cause my income to be a big question mark, or I could keep doing my job but not deliver the same results as I had before. And right at that moment a job opening for a teacher of fine arts was posted online and I just went for it. It seemed like a fun idea: I could pass along my knowledge ad passion, but not have to work with my hands too much myself, which was the perfect solution back then.

In hindsight I am so very happy with my decision, especially after I realized that teaching was really in my wheelhouse. You are doing something creative and at the same time feel a great sense of purpose, of giving something back to society. I got so much satisfaction from it that the decision to keep teaching was made very quickly, especially since the atmosphere of the Steinerschool was a perfect fit for me. And to give myself a solid base as a teacher, I eventually enrolled in the EMA course at the Academy.

What did the extra master mean for you and your job?

The aspect of teaching was and remains something that I am sure you can only learn by doing. It’s a skill that you have to build up by actually standing in front of a classroom, asking advice from colleagues and making your own by going through a process of trial and error. The best experiences I have had over the years and the lessons I learned (what to do and what not to do), all come from real-life classes I taught. In the EMA I mostly learned about what is still hiding behind the practice of teaching: how do you deal with curricula? How do you translate these into lesson preparations? How can you substantiate your lessons? The course actually teaches you to translate the theoretical component to practice in a purposeful and profound way. How you then tackle the  actual teaching part is something that you make your own, slow but steady.  

It’s September, the first month of the school year. How did you feel this first of September?

I still have a feeling of excitement to stand in front a class at the beginning of a new school year. There are always new students and it stays thrilling to find out what the dynamic in your class will be after the Summer holidays. This year, for example, I am co-titularis of a class I knew from last year. But even though that means there are a lot of familiar faces, the students as well are now a year older and have gone through some life-changing physical, mental and emotional changes. But in general I think it’s safe to say that each year I grow more and more confident in front of the classroom.

What’s so special about the Steinerschool that you went back there immediately after having taught somewhere else for a year?

The Steinerschool works with a pedagogical project that I fully support. That, plus the small scale of the school, in comparison to a great number of other institutions in Flanders, is simply a better fit for me. It gives me the opportunity to bond with students ánd colleagues. The mission of the Steinerschool is built up around the well-being of its students: what can we do to ensure that every kid feels good and can discover the best of itself in all courses? The emphasis here is not on performing and striving to reach a certain level of, often cognitive, excellence. “You can’t get your grade up? Than perhaps this is not the right place for you.” That does not fit in the vision I myself pursue when it comes to education.

I believe that children need the total package to figure out where their passions and talents lie. This goes further than only theoretical courses and also encompasses practical and creative ones. Overall, there are also less children in each class in the Steinerschool, which makes it possible to develop a good and strong bond with the students. You can truly see how each individual handles your assignments and are very proud when somebody goes all out, immerses him- or herself in the technique and ends up with a great result. They might not all be masterpieces, but an end result can be truly amazing on an individual level. If during reviews and discussions the students start complimenting each other and giving beautiful remarks, you can often noticeably see the pride and contentment in the face of the receiver of these compliments. These are the little successes that give me energy strengthen my belief that I’m in the right place.

The teaching profession is one that is often in the news lately, and not always in a positive way. How do you feel about that?

To be honest, I myself would not like to be in education 100% Everything you have to accomplish outside of your actual teaching hours is truly a lot and frankly very tough. I already noticed that in the EMA course: what is being put forward there as the all-encompassing role of a teacher does not seem attainable to me. You have to be a superhuman to make this possible. You have to keep close contact with parents, prepare your lessons, correct tasks and tests, participate in class councils, follow the operational side of the school group, just to name a few “extra” tasks. If all of that is part of the standard role of the teacher, that doesn’t seem right to me and something must have gone wrong in the past. Even without tests to correct or reports to read, which for my practical courses is a great advantage, I would not like to take on the full teacher package.

Last question: what place does art have in your life, apart from your profession?

If I have some extra time, I like to draw. Mostly sketches and interpretations that tend toward the illustrative. On holiday I also like to keep busy with art, especially photography. I then try to pay extra attention to the use of color and composition. I often take pictures with the idea: I will process this later. That “later” is and often stays hypothetical, but the good intentions are definitely there!