Have you ever failed a test? Let’s be honest, as students, we’ve all failed at least one test in our lives. Whether it’s Biology, English or even gym. We’ve all been there. Yet, do we ever wonder what the people who grade us, mentor us; our teachers, were like as students? Did they ever fail a test in the subject that they are teaching us now? For a very long time, I thought of professors as having been always amazing at the subject they teach. That is why when I found out the whole program’s favourite teacher, Fam te Poel, actually failed her first statistics test, it provided me with a form of strength and plain humanness.
Born and raised in the very south of The Netherlands, Fam te Poel is a lecturer of Methods of Communication Research and Statistics at the Department of Communication Science. We at Medium Magazine got the honour to interview her beyond her subject.
The popular statistics teacher lived five minutes from the German border and similar to many of us, hated statistics, until according to her ‘the penny dropped’, while she was working on her Master’s thesis, and she realized it was actually sparking her interest. Fam started her career as a lecturer at Maastricht University and eventually moved to Amsterdam after four years of teaching and research. Surprisingly, she didn’t opt to work as a professor there but worked for an NGO, designing content for websites on safe sex. However, three years down the road, she realized that she missed teaching and here we are today. As her student, I can say it without a doubt that I’m lucky she joined as a professor at UvA.
Here’s a glimpse of her life as a teacher, asked by Medium.
Teaching and statistics
Upon inquiring how she got into the field of teaching, she told us how, throughout her undergraduate program, she was a student assistant in some of her courses and eventually had to teach during her research too. She knew it was what she wanted when she taught her first lecture.
“It was a huge lecture hall and I was given a microphone, many faces were staring at me and I thought this is exciting, it’s happening, and I loved every moment of it.”
As quite the hit within all MCRS students, of all the years, Fam thinks that not everyone understands her method. According to her, most students are not big fans of cats (who she refers to as examples in her classes), the course is dry material, and most students don’t want to invest that much effort, that is why her goal is to let students see the importance of it.
Her teaching style includes giving personal anecdotes, which students get confidence from. She realizes how hard it is and does her best to constantly improve. She wants to be approachable, to make sure that her students don’t feel afraid to ask her any questions!
Being awarded Best Lecturer in Communication Science, Fam realized how much her students appreciate her. Putting aside her career, I wanted to know more of who Fam is as a person and what her hobbies and interests are. It was very interesting to see how her interests radiate in the lecture slides. For instance, Fam loves surfing. When she taught the first-ever English class of MCRS in 2016, she was exhausted after the first exam and decided to give herself a small break. That is when she accidentally booked to go to a surfing town in Portugal. This is what she had to say about it.
“I ran into a super handsome surf dude, who convinced me to surf then and I fell in love with surfing. I’ve been there five times already now and look forward to going again!”
Fam and her students
The next question asked was about any memory she had with a student over the years she has taught. In answer to this, she told me that every year in MCRS, there are always a few students who she connects with. Just recently, a student from her first batch in 2016 visited her for her birthday. Last year, there was a student who would always correct her during the lectures. It was very sweet according to her, he would always sit in the front row. There are more students who still contact her; they tell her how they have a job now and had to use statistics.
Another thing that probably the whole of Communication Science students love about Fam, is that she gives snacks during the break. So, I had to know if this was the key to keep her students engaged at 9 am. According to Fam, it’s not for engagement but to show how she is not only there to just talk about statistics, it is to develop a comfortable environment. To engage her students, she usually tries to make jokes about herself throughout. She understands it’s very hard to listen to someone for two hours, but is very happy a lot of the students show up to the lecture, as it really helps.
The story of Pip and Bobbie
We couldn’t interview Fam and not ask her about her lovely cats. So, the best was saved for last and here’s what we found out about Pip and Bobbie!
Pip was three and a half weeks when he was found abandoned on the highway by Fam’s friends. This was in 2010 July. He was very tiny back then and is still very scared of other people, but he loves Fam! Bobbie was also found in 2010. When Fam bought her apartment, Bobbie would always be there on the street. She was a stray cat and people were feeding her. It’s safe to say she was living in the statistics teacher’s apartment even before Fam moved there herself.
Moreover, Fam told me how Bobbie and Pip used to get along, but they don’t anymore. At least once a day there’s a fight and some days it’s bigger than usual, but in the end they are siblings. She tells them that she is not going to get rid of any one of them, so they just have to make up.
This concluded the interview with Fam, and we are left with snippets of who she is: more than just our teacher.
Cover: Gaby Rialland