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From obtaining a Master in Child Law to a lateral entry in teaching

This month we interview alumna Dominique Mars who made an interesting career choice: she tells us how she chose to be a teacher at a primary school whilst having obtained her Master in Child Law.

What did you study and when? And why did you choose Leiden University? 

I did a bachelor’s degree in Law, followed by a master’s degree in Child Law, from 2014 to 2019. The choice for Leiden was easy. I wanted to do a master’s in Child Law and Leiden University was the only place that offered it. To get accepted for Child Law I had to have a degree in Law, and so it seemed logical to choose Leiden.  

Did it meet your expectations? What did, and what didn’t? What were you like as a student? 

The degree programme was what I expected, but I did enjoy it more towards the end. We had to write more papers then, do research, and take part in the moot court. These type of activities suited me better. What was I like as a student? I think most people would have seen me as a good, serious student who went to lectures, tutorials and passed exams ….  

Do you have one memorable moment when you were a student that you would like to share? 

I really enjoyed the masterclass at the Court of The Hague which I was allowed to do as part of the Honours College Law. Eight days of watching various judges at work. Meetings, deliberations, attending court hearings – seeing everything first hand. I thought it was a great extra for my degree.  

What was your favourite place in Leiden back then? 

Oh, that’s a difficult question. There are so many fantastic places in Leiden! I always enjoyed studying at the KOG library. And I enjoyed having lectures at the Old Observatory. Roos was my favourite for coffee, and for lunch I’d go to the French bakery.  

In hindsight, is there something extra you would have liked to study during your degree? 

If I could do everything again, I would choose the bachelor’s degree in Notarial Law. I only realised later that I found the subjects in that programme really interesting, and I was good at them. If I regret it? Perhaps, because I admire the profession and I would like to be a civil-law notary. But I’m not sure I want it hard enough to redo part of the bachelor’s degree. That said, where there’s a will, there’s a way – and I haven’t yet made up my mind definitely.   

How did you make the switch to teaching?  

I was keen to do a gap year after graduating, having done both degrees back-to-back. But I wanted to do something useful in my gap year. The shortage of school teachers at the time made me decide to take that route. I could start at this school as a lateral-entry teacher and was allowed to teach from day one. I didn't feel like continuing my own studies. Three years on, I'm still teaching and enjoying it very much. 

Can you explain what it’s like to train to be a teacher via lateral entry and to teach subsequently?  

After a test to see if you are suitable that you need to pass, you can start as a lateral-entry teacher. In principle, you can even start teaching straight away (with supervision). At the primary school where I teach, I started teaching year 7 – four days a week, and one day to study. I soon dropped the one day for studying and was teaching five days a week at school. I found I was learning more on the job.

I really like teaching! It sounds odd, but it comes very naturally to me and it doesn’t feel like an effort at all. What I enjoy most is how unpredictable children can be. You can prepare your day really well, and within five minutes everything has changed. To me, the way children think about things and perceive the world is fantastic. Of course, there are also lots of challenges. Try to keep a class of 30 children focussed and motivated all the time. Finding out what makes every pupil tick motivates me in my work.  

I think that teaching in the coronavirus era must be quite a challenge. Can you share your thoughts on that? 

Yes, teaching in these times has definitely been a challenge and very hard. But we’ve learnt a lot from it and have become increasingly flexible over time. The first time the schools closed, teaching online seemed impossible. But the last time it happened, we knew straight away what we had to do. Hand out the Chromebooks to take home, and share the links for Meet/Teams/Zoom.

Do you still use your law degree somehow in your current work? If so, what and how? 

The actual content, hardly. But I do use skills I learnt. What I use most is what I want to pass on to my pupils. How do you research something? What’s important when writing a piece? Besides this, I start every day by talking about the news so that pupils are more aware of what’s going on in society.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?  

That’s always a tricky question, and I don’t have an answer. My life motto is more ‘let’s just see what comes on my path’. Now I’m thinking about returning to the legal world. I’ve always still done legal assignments on a self-employed basis and still enjoy that a lot. But I might decide to stay in teaching, perhaps more on the management level or as an education specialist.  


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