photo: Marcia van Oers

PHILIPSBURG – “Teacher shortages are a worldwide problem”, says Angela Richards-Huggins, HR manager at the Stichting Voortgezet Onderwijs Bovenwindse Eilanden (SVOBE). But it has only gotten worse on Sint Maarten since hurricane Irma.

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By Tim van Dijk and Marcia van Oers (English subtitles available)

“We didn’t immediately notice that the teachers were leaving directly after Irma. It was only a year later, at the beginning of the new school year, when we started looking for new candidates that we noticed that a lot of people had reconsidered. We think that the beginning of the new hurricane season might have played a role in their decisions to leave. They might have thought that it wasn’t a good decision to stay after all.

“After the hurricane, a few teachers fled the island, but all of them returned”, according to Wim de Visser, general director of the Milton Peters College and the Sundial School.

According to HR manager Peter Suwijn, 40 people left the schools run by the Stichting Katholiek Onderwijs St. Maarten (SKOS). “Luckily 32 people returned. It’s not just Dutch teachers, but also locals, individuals from the neighboring islands, and people from Surinam.” He does however confirm that a few teachers tendered their resignation at the end of the schoolyear, just before the 2018 hurricane season started: “A lot of individuals left at the end of the school year.”

The consequences of the teachers shortage is noticeable. Both for the teachers and the students. “It means that teachers have to work longer hours and that some courses are taught in fewer hours,” says Anke Hoopman. She teaches Dutch at the Milton Peters College and is one of the teachers who decided to stay after hurricane Irma. “I had only been on Sint Maarten for six weeks when hurricane Irma ravaged the island. I didn’t see the point in going back to the Netherlands. I had just found my house and still had a job.”

According to Wim de Visser the students at the Milton Peters College and the Sundial School aren’t all too affected by the shortage of teachers. “They might have to work more independently. And they might see some new faces. But some teachers still ask some students to come to school on Saturday morning for extra lessons.”

The biggest shortage
The biggest shortages can be found in the chemistry and physics departments, according to both Angela Richards-Huggins and Wim de Visser. Wim de Visser: “We have a teacher in that department who’s returning to the Netherlands after 12 years. But that has nothing to do with the consequences of Irma. It’s because his wife needs specialized medical attention which can’t be provided to her on the island.”

“Teachers are in high demand on the island. And those who feel so inclined, should definitely apply,” says Angela Richards-Huggins. “Being able to speak Dutch is a special trait here.”

Wim de Visser: “I’ve been the director at several schools in the Netherlands. Those individuals who had experience working abroad always had a leg up when they applied for a job at one of my schools. It also allows you to develop yourself.” Anke Hoopman doesn’t regret her decision to work as a teacher on Sint Maarten. She likes it a lot. “I don’t plan to return to the Netherlands any time soon.”