Kirsten Cuppen

ROC Tilburg, Department Mechatronics, Tilburg, Netherlands

Kirsten  Cuppen

As a child, Kirsten’s own experience in school gave her a good sense of what pupils need to thrive. In a class of 39 children, she never felt teachers were seeing her. Her solution then was to make a lot of noise, which was not appreciated. Fortunately, Kirsten had one teacher who paid attention to all his students, didn’t judge and was very patient. He inspired her to be the best teacher she could be – one who sees all her students and always looks for what they can do instead of what they can’t.  

After eight years teaching at a primary school and two years at a high school, Kirsten currently works at an intermediate vocational college that prepares trainees for jobs related to a specific trade or occupation. When teaching older children and teenagers, she has often noticed that many students have low self-esteem and little motivation for theoretical subjects – because from the outset they have always been criticised and told what they can’t do instead of what they can.  

This is what has inspired Kirsten to develop students’ confidence and self-esteem throughout her teaching career. When studying for her master’s degree in education, Kirsten carried out research on student motivation with a particular focus on the self-determination theory of Deci & Ryan. Since putting this theory into practice, Kirsten has seen great results: students take more ownership of their own learning process, see the usefulness of the lessons, and are more motivated. Colleagues also started to ask her to give courses and live Facebook talks on the topic, so that other teachers could learn about it as well. 

In addition, Kirsten is working on the idea of a “Talent Passport” – a digital growth document in which students show who they really are and what they are good at. Kirsten believes that talents say more about someone than their grades, and that these talents can be revealed with the right tools and guidance. She believes that all students deserve to have such a record alongside their diploma. 

Last year, Kirsten was chosen by the Netherlands as one of three outstanding teachers to become ambassadors of education for the country. The award was covered with an interview in a national newspaper, where Kirsten explained the importance of smaller classes and how they make it easier to build a relationship with students and see what they need personally. If she wins the Global Teacher Prize, Kirsten will be able to develop the Talent Passport, translate it into further languages, and pitch it to other schools. However, she would also travel to meet the other finalists for the Prize – aiming to start a community of ideas with teachers from all over the world.