After graduation

'I want to help kids find their place in society'

Sisi Foto: Robin Alysha Clemens
Photos: Robin Alysha Clemens

Isn't it challenging to have two jobs at the same time?
“Yes, it is. It took me a while to find the right balance, but I seem to have found it. So far, I haven't regretted doing things this way. I’ve always been interested in developmental psychology and curious about the influence of psychological disorders on children's development. At the same time, when I was in my first year at university, I realised that I love interacting with children in practice. After graduating, both jobs came my way pretty quickly and they represented the two worlds I was dedicating my time to. That’s why I went for both. When opportunities come my way, I grab them with both hands. That’s just the way I am. I don't spend too much time thinking about it. After all, you can always change things later. Maybe one of the reasons I am like this is that both my parents come from the Chinese countryside. They didn’t get a lot of opportunities in life.”

Does your interest in the influence of socioeconomic status on pupils have to do with your background?
“Yes, I think it has. When you have a different ethnic background, you tend to be curious about the impact of said background on your experiences and relationships. My supervisor advised me to make socioeconomic a theme in the research for my Master's thesis, so I started investigating whether and how ethnicity and socioeconomic status influence social relationships in the classroom. It turns out that children with a higher socioeconomic status are more liked than children with a lower status. That is pretty shocking. We have to do something about that.”

Your thesis won the Vliegenthart Thesis Award. Were you surprised?
“Yes, completely! I didn’t even know I was nominated for the award in the first place. I was there because I was nominated for something else, which I didn’t win. So, there I was, still recovering from the excitement, when I suddenly realised that the person on stage was talking about my thesis. All I could do was look at my fellow nominees in amazement. Luckily, by the time I found out I had won, I was sitting there fairly relaxed. I didn't get the chance to get nervous, which was nice."

Sisi Foto: Robin Alysha Clemens

Do you get nervous easily?
“I’m a perfectionist, which is something that often gets in the way. During my studies, I worked as hard as I could for everything. I always tried to get high grades. And if I didn’t, I got bummed out. I am the same way at my job too.

“I want to teach kids in my school that everyone has a talent, that they should not be afraid to fail, and that it’s okay to make mistakes. I always ask them if they understood what I just explained to them and then I talk to them about this. Because you cannot understand everything. You can't get everything right away. So, I want to teach them how to ask for help. Lately, I've been asking for help a lot more myself too. From colleagues, for example. They help me put things into perspective.”

Is that the perk of working life? That you gain more experience and confidence?
At my publishing job, I've noticed that I can distance myself from it more easily. Once the working day is over, I close the door behind me and I’m done. It's a bit more difficult to do that at school, where I put theory into practice every day and see the results immediately, which is nice but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Students report to me. They become familiar with me and behave accordingly. It's all very visible. But I learn from that and it feels good. the only thing I miss now is having more access to recent research and literature. It's a lot easier to find that as a student."

What are your goals for the near future?
“I aim to help kids find their place in society, and make sure that they enjoy school and learning. I also want to follow up on an initiative I started with a friend, an old classmate of mine, last year. She works in Spain and we’ve set up a collaborative project in English between our primary schools. The students are thrilled about it. Maybe I would like to get a PhD as well. I applied for a PhD after graduating but it was not the right step for me at the time because I preferred to be in the classroom. But the desire to get s PhD is starting to itch again a little bit. So, who knows? As for my personal life, I’m going to dedicate more time to my hobbies. I am looking to be able to dance en pointe before the end of the year and also pick up piano and painting again. All of those things were a little bit neglected during my studies."

Sisi Chen (24) obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Academic Primary School Teaching from Utrecht University in 2021. She got a Master’s degree in Educational Sciences one year later, for which she was awarded the Vliegenthart Thesis Award in September 2023. Since 2022, Sisi has been working part-time as a teacher at WereldKidz Primary School in Veenendaal, where she teaches the seventh grade. As of 2023, she is also a part-time developer of teaching material at the educational publisher Delubas.