Relentless enthusiasm

| Rense Kuipers

What makes a teacher good? Where does the passion for passing on knowledge come from? In the series ‘Meet the teacher’ we focus on people who are truly dedicated to education. This first episode: Ipek Seyran Topan.

Photo by: RIKKERT HARINK

Ipek Seyran Topan is the current holder of the title ‘UT teacher of the year’. She won the Central Education Award last summer, but it was a close call or she had never been in the final. After earlier encouragements by colleagues Elke van der Veen and Erwin Hans, her four-year-old daughter gave the decisive push when she played with the huge cup her mother won for the decentral education award at International Business Administration. The message: a cup needs to be added, preferably an even bigger one. Busy as she was, Seyran Topan didn’t feel that she had the time to write an essay and prepare mini lectures, in order to have a shot at the title of ‘teacher of the year’. But on the way back from a Berlin city trip, she changed her mind and went for it. The rest is, as they say, history.

Good education starts, according to Seyran Topan, by putting yourself in someone else's shoes. You must know who your audience is. That shy student in the back of the lecture hall won't say anything, but nevertheless asks for a different approach than that assertive student in the front row. So the teacher makes sure that she gets to know the background of students. And that she makes the material she has to transfer as tangible as possible, for everyone.

This particularly applies to one of the courses she gives: quantitative modeling. Complicated mathematics, which is generally easier to handle for the average IEM student than for colleagues at IBA, because of their math background in middle school. According to her, her Powerpoint slides are just like books; lots of visual help and practical examples, in combination with the much-needed theoretical basis. And above all, she finds it important not to go overboard with the theory, which is rarely more fascinating than the practical side of things. It's a balancing act.

One of her other ‘weapons’ in the lecture hall is her relentless enthusiasm. Seyran Topan admits to being a major source of energy. It is trapped in her personality, so she tries to use it to her advantage. Especially in combination with humour and pleasure. Taking photos of students during exams, which she then sends to them? That is part of the routine. She had once also exhausted herself, at the end of a long lecture. She let her students know her energy was depleted and she was starving. They offered sandwiches and snacks, but suddenly she found a chocolate. She continued her lecture, speaking with her mouth full. That too is part of her routine, having fun.

All energy, humour, empathy and pleasure come together in the greatest good for Seyran Topan: trust. Trust from her in the student and vice versa. And above all, the student's own trust and self-confidence. This also requires a quid pro quo: the teacher expects her students to be at least present – for which she keeps personal attendance statistics. In return, her students can expect that she will go not one, but several extra miles. Test results? Returned within three days. She removes questions or uncertainties even faster. If something is vague, it causes unwanted stress. According to the teacher, students must be able to be students, as carefree as possible.

Even though she sometimes teaches to 160 students at the same time, students are more than just a number for Ipek Seyran Topan. They always look for appreciation. And the teacher feels unquestionably responsible for appreciating them. With the Central Education Award she received a bit of appreciation - and a check worth 2500 euros. That prize money will go to her daughter's account. A little appreciation for the big catalyst of her success.