13-year-old Marieke is seated at the kitchen table of Jeanet Meijs. Tomorrow she will have a written test of history. Jeanet gives her tutoring and points out a list of terms: the VOC, trade route, Columbus. “The VOC was founded in the seventeenth century. How many years are there in a century?”
“One hundred”, Marieke answers.
“Good,” says Jeanet. “Almost my age.”
Jeanet was 17 when she went to college. Very young, although she didn’t feel that way herself. “I came from Assen, it was boring there,” she says when she has said goodbye to Marieke. “The world was at my feet.”
“My parents had a flower business, my father died young, so my mother took over. At her funeral I said,” My mother accidentally became a feminist. “On the other hand, I was consciously feminist, everyone said I should get married, but I wanted to be able to keep my own pants on. “
She attended the training college in Groningen, then in 1961 she ended up in Amsterdam, where she taught, attended drama school and celebrated the ‘wild life’ (‘I will not elaborate on that’).
For love she moved to Breda, where she worked at two primary schools. On the latter, she left shortly before her retirement as deputy director with a ‘painful conflict’, because yes: “I say what I think. Not everyone benefits from that.”
Now she tutors in her large home in Breda to children who have difficulty coming to school. “They all come here through their grandmothers. They remember me from the past.”
Stomp, stomp, stomp
The word ‘formerly’ seems to be an incentive for Jeanet to get started. Because in the past, yes, everything was better then. “All those educational innovators of today believe that children should be in charge of their own learning process. The teacher should be the boss, not a coach. Education is now peppered with ideologies, it should all be fun. That is for some children who are good at it. Come along, great. But for a lot of children – the children I get at my kitchen table – not. “
And appropriate education? An ‘ordinary austerity measure’, according to Jeanet. “You can’t put children with special needs in ordinary, crowded classes.”
Jeanet takes a breath and continues. “Take a girl like Marieke. A smart child. The teacher said she had dyscalculia, which is why she couldn’t calculate. After two extra lessons I found out that she just didn’t know the tables. How can you miss that as a teacher? to have?”
Jeanet can give an answer: “There is always noise in the classes and little order. Schools have become glorified playgrounds. We can be a bit stricter. Teachers and masters are called by their first names. I don’t hear. I was just madam. Meijs. “
No time for questions
She lets her coffee get cold up to three times, she talks in a hurry, has no time for questions, goes from one subject to another. “My daughters always say, ‘Well, just finish your sentences!’ But it’s because of the adrenaline that rushes through my body when I talk about education. I hope you don’t find me unpleasant.
If a book about the 80-year life of Jeanet Meijs were to be published, it would Teacher on war path called. Her fighting spirit, purposefulness, fearlessness: constantly present.
In recent years she visited all state secretaries in The Hague and spent a day with the then Minister of Education Sander Dekker. She gives lectures throughout the Netherlands, was followed by a camera crew for the documentary Teacher for life and since 2010 is the oldest (and the first female) board member of the BON trade union, Beter Onderwijs Nederland.
She sends letters to politicians, to newspapers. She talks to teachers from all over the country, she tweets her opinion around the world. “I now have 1200 followers. It takes a long time to send such a tweet. And once I ended up at the shunting yard by train, because I was so in a tweet that I forgot to get out. “
But: she continues. Anyway. “When I die, I know at least it’s all been said.”
She is silent for a moment. Then the question: “Do you think I’m sour?” She does not wait for an answer. “I’m not bitter, you know. But I’ve been in the business for sixty years. Sixty years. I’ve seen all the changes with my own eyes and the consequences.”
It would be good, Jeanet thinks, if teachers could again focus on knowledge and teaching instead of administration.
Not that Jeanet puts the blame on the teachers. No, no, it is precisely the boards, the managers, the politicians, who she wants to address with her strict teacher look. “Directors are not even teachers themselves anymore. That’s bizarre, isn’t it? That the director of a biscuit factory, I just name it, can also run a school?”
“I did once an opinion piece sent to The Telegraph, and then a reader called me a “dear woman.” I was so happy to hear that! I’m kind too. For those kids. Oh. Yes. Those kids. “
She gets up, rummages in a drawer, returns with handwritten cards from her tutors. She always has a few boys and girls who often keep coming for years, until they go to high school. “Thank you for the good times, I will miss you.” And also: ‘We could always talk so well together’. “And then you have to let them go. That still hurts my teacher heart.”
You saw me
“People always think because I have so much criticism that I am unhappy. But I have such a good life. That is because of those students. I will never forget how I was sought by a student, she couldn’t find me because I took my maiden name after my husband’s death. She was 50 when she found me. “Why did you look for me?” I asked. She replied, “Because you were the first to really see me.” Then there are tears, you know. That’s how important you can be to a child. “
Jeanet has therefore always continued to work full-time, even when she had two small children – two daughters. “You are not a teacher for half the time. My husband was director of a bank, which was abroad a lot. My mother was with us a lot, and a help. My children at home were not short of anything. But my children in neither did the class. “
Now she can no longer work full time. The tutoring at home is ‘extremely excellent’, but only in the afternoons, and no longer very often.
Sometimes she also withdraws from her self-created school struggle. Then she goes to the Americain Hotel in Amsterdam – a place she has been coming to for years. And then she always goes to her favorite pub, café Welling, where she has a drink at the bar. Everyone knows her there.
“Amsterdam continues to attract. Recently there was a jazz concert in the Americain. I love jazz. Really a treat. Only when I came home again, here in Breda, I was exhausted. I only spent days in my slippers and bathrobe through the house shuffled. “
So be it
At this age she needs to crawl into her cocoon sometimes, she says. “Then I charge, and I can use it again. They will think, in The Hague, and perhaps also in the rest of the Netherlands: there you have her again. And I have never heard it, but maybe people think I’m an old fool. “
She shrugs. “So be it.”
She feels, she says, a certain haste. She is 80, and she still goes shopping by bike, but nothing is certain at Jeanet’s age. “If I can no longer fight this battle, if I no longer have the education, I will soon be over.” A grin. “Only then will I get sour.”