1959-1982 Hans Jordens, former student, former teacher

‘There were two worlds’

Hans Jordens (75) is internationally renowned in the world of physics education. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics in the UK, a Member of Merit of the Dutch Physics Society and an honorary member of the Physics-Mathematics Faculty Association of the RUG. In 1998, at the University of Groningen, he founded the STEM support centre for secondary school extended essays in the physical sciences and was president of the International Physics Olympiad from 2008-2018.
He is also a former teacher, former student, and son of one of the teachers who taught in the very first year of St Martin’s College in 1946.

I receive a friendly welcome at Rozengaard 5 in Haren, where Hans has lived since he was a physics teacher at St Martin’s College in the 1970s. On the wall many abstract paintings by the hand of his grandfather, who was a fine arts teacher at the Rijks HBS in Warffum (now Hogeland College) in northern Groningen. Later, grandfather moved to Groningen, where he became a prominent member of the artists’ group De Ploeg as well as a teacher. Grandson Hans has been making silver jewellery himself for many years, a mixture of artisanal skill (pulling silver threads) and artistic design. A clear creative vein runs through the family.
Hans tells of the founding of St Martin’s College in 1946, in which his father was involved as part of the very first batch of teachers. It went like this: his father, born in Groningen, had moved to Nijmegen after studying biology and had started work there as a young biology teacher at the Catholic Canisius College, a Jesuit school (which Ruud van Mieghem also attended as a , but that aside). It was then announced by the school management that a new Jesuit school would be established as the first in the North, close to Groningen, and Jordens senior was given the opportunity to move back to his native soil to help start this school as a biology teacher. The new school remained firmly connected to its Jesuit counterparts. Field hockey matches were played against other Jesuit schools such as the Aloysius in The Hague, the Ignatius in Amsterdam and, of course, the Canisius in Nijmegen.
Hans was born and joined St Martens himself in 1959 as a student of class 1a. He was taught that year in a villa (called Chateau Blanc) at Verlengde Hereweg 191, in the living room with a large fireplace and Hans remembers students hiding in the chimney and then emerging from it during class.

As a student, Hans was taught physics by Father Gerver, who was also involved in the new 1960 building (what is now the Old West building for us) as a building project manager. For his time, Father Gerver was very active with lab work, including with pendulums and standing waves. Later in his own career as a physics teacher, Hans still performed some experiments exactly as he had learned them from Father Gerver.

He was also taught by his own father, which he found less so. His father was strict and Hans was sometimes called on that by the other students, as if he could do anything about that as a son.
After his HBS final exams (which included the subject “cosmography”, see picture Class schedule), a study in physics and a short stay in Lebanon, Hans returned to Groningen in October 1971 with a first job as mathematics teacher in Winschoten in prospect from 1 January 1972. At that time, there also happened to be a reunion because of the 25th anniversary of St Martin’s College. Hans went there and was recruited at the reunion by Father Muskens to transfer from Winschoten to Sint-Maartens from the next school year. They were not happy about that in Winschoten but so, after the 1972 summer holidays, Hans started teaching at the school where he had also been a student. His father had transferred to the University of Groningen in the Department of Educational Studies, so they were not colleagues in the staff room at the same time.
“There were two worlds,” says Hans. On the one hand, you still had the strict old guard and, on the other, you had the hippies with the long beards who had occupied the Maagdenhuis. Hans was attracted to the rebels but fell a bit between the two groups. He took a two-year leave of absence to do development work in physics education in Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), returned in 1980, worked pleasantly with a budding amanuensis Cor Linstra, but kept feeling that he hadn’t quite arrived at his place yet, and two years later became a subject teacher in physics and university lecturer in physics at the RUG. That became a very successful career, which brings us back to the beginning of this piece.

Interview with Hans Jordens, 15 September 2022