Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
(Wo)man at work: Head tutor at Studiekring Check5
Roel Niemark/ 26/ third-year student of Law/ works about eight hours per week/ earning approximately 11 euros per hour
As usual, we begin the interview for this series of articles with some factual questions, just to get an idea of the kind of person in front of us. Roel Niemark: third-year student of Law and 26 years old. “I know what you’re thinking”, he says, laughing. “But I’m really not one of those students who takes ages to graduate. I went to the Police Academy before pursuing a law degree.”
Ah, a police officer. It’s funny. Niemark’s main task at tutoring centre Check5 is helping out the tutees. He helps them with homework planning and difficult assignments and tests their understanding of mathematical problems or their vocabulary knowledge. But he also keeps a watchful eye out, as police officers do: are the children keeping an eye on their diaries? Are they rushing through their schoolwork? Are they late? Are they stealthily playing games on their mobile phones? Every now and then, he has to issue a warning. He doesn’t issue any fines, though.
A boy of about fourteen years old is toying with his compass. He has finished his work for today, he tells one of Niemark’s colleague tutors, Lotte – “the children call us by our first names, no Miss or Sir”.
Lotte checks in with Niemark and her other colleagues. “He doesn’t have any upcoming tests and no other homework either. Can he go?” “Yeah, he’s been here for a while”, comes the reply. Lotte has pictures of the tutees who are present (or yet to arrive) on her laptop. She clicks on the tutee in question’s face. His planning and school timetable appear. “Oh, right, he’s been here since half past two,” she says. He’s free to go.
They speak in whispers. If a tutee has a question or would like to be quizzed on a subject, they indicate so by using the coloured card system on their desk. The red card is for quizzes, green is for STEM (“beta”) subjects, orange for so-called “delta” subjects, and so on. Wait, delta? Niemark: “Tutees often don’t know what this term means, either. Delta refers to subjects such as economics, civics and management & organisation.”
This Tuesday afternoon it’s quiet in the centre. “Always at the beginning of the year”, says Niemark. “It usually gets busier after the first test week. That’s when pupils get their first disappointing results.” Of course, he has also met parents who think tutors are miracle workers who can help turn all failing grades into good passing grades. That’s not how it works, stresses Niemark. “It takes time to improve a pupil’s school results. And of course it should be OK for them to have weak subjects; no one excels at everything.”
Niemark has to get to work. One of the girls would like to be quizzed on the French passé composé, the present perfect tense. Niemark asks his colleague and fellow law student: “Joost, you’re so good at French! Can you do the passé compose, please?” In exchange, Niemark quizzes a student on their maths homework.
You’d be mistaken to think that there are only unmotivated or underachieving students sitting at these desks. Some parents simply prefer to “outsource” homework supervision. Niemark. “Or take the girl in the corner over there: she’s incredibly smart, a gifted pupil. If we were open until midnight, she’d be here all evening. She needs to learn that enough is enough and that it’s also important to make time for other things.”
“Lotte, we need you for a biology question”, whispers Niemark. “Photosynthesis, inorganic compounds… I honestly have no idea.” Niemark prefers the humanities and social sciences. “History is my favorite subject. When I’d had my fill of the police, I enrolled in a programme to become a history teacher.” This turned out to be “somewhat tedious”, so he switched to Law after one year.
But what if a tutee has a question about, say, further mathematics or advanced geography, and no one at this centre knows the answer? “That very rarely happens”, chuckles Niemark. “But if it does, we get back to their question at a later moment or call another Check5 centre for help.”