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Many primary school teachers just starting a job in a big city experience high levels of work pressure and stress. These are the findings of UvA researcher Lisa Gaikhorst, who will receive a doctorate from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) on Wednesday, 29 October 2014.

Lenie Kneppers
Photo: Lenie Kneppers

Gaikhorst's research explored how new teachers could be better equipped to teach in primary education in big-city settings. Amongst other things, she questioned teachers at different types of urban schools in Amsterdam and Utrecht about the problems they encounter.

Urban challenges in teaching

Lisa Gaikhorst worked as a primary school teacher in Amsterdam's Bijlmer district for several years herself. The urban challenges and problems she encountered eventually caused her to quit. 'In my situation, it was literally a case of becoming sick from frustration. I wanted to teach and help these children so badly but couldn't figure out how.' Aside from heavy work pressure and high stress, Gaikhorst also received insufficient guidance and support when starting out as a teacher. 'My research shows that this is by no means uncommon. The teachers I interviewed also regularly experienced problems, for instance in their contacts with parents, who range from highly critical university graduates to foreign immigrants.'

The problems encountered by new teachers at big-city schools are largely connected with their school's pupil population. At schools with children from predominantly lower socio-economic and culturally diverse backgrounds, the difficulties mainly related to the diversity of the pupil population. In other cases, teachers had problems applying a differentiated approach to higher and lower-achieving pupils.

Better preparation and guidance

Gaikhorst also studied the effects of the Meesterschap refresher programme that prepares teachers for teaching in a large city and guides them as they start out. This is a one-year programme comprised of modules whose focus extends beyond the individual teacher's classroom experience. Participating teachers attended seminars on urban themes and then applied what they learnt in their own classes.

'This programme had a positive effect on the competences and self-confidence of the teachers who took part. They especially valued having a network in which they could share experiences and insights with other beginners', explains Gaikhorst. But equally important is effective guidance at the schools where they teach. 'It's crucial to tailor support towards the specific urban challenges that new teachers may have to face. In my case, that was cultural diversity and unsafe situations in and around the school. Schools should also focus their guidance not only at support activities such as coaching, but also at investments in a good support culture.'


Ms L. Gaikhorst: Supporting Beginning Teachers in Urban Environments. Supervisors: Prof. M.L.L. Volman and Prof. J.J. Beishuizen (VU University Amsterdam).

Time and location

The graduation ceremony will take place on Wednesday, 29 October at 12:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231, Amsterdam.