Independent journalism about VU Amsterdam | Since 1953

& Education

Teacher of the year wants to see his students grow

Lachezar Yanev was elected Teacher of the year. He uses clips from Hollywood movies and an escape room to engage his students.

Were you surprised by your nomination? “Yes, very much so. I didn’t know until quite late in the process I was nominated. We have set up this new bachelor programme Law in Society and the first years were hard work. Corona came on top of it, that didn’t make it easier with our very international group of students. And now this prize. I see this as a sign we’re on the right track.”

Lachezar Yanev
September 2022 – present Programme Co-Director, Law in Society

August 2022 – present Associate Professor, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology

January 2019 – July 2022 Assistant Professor, Department of Criminal Law and Criminology

January 2012 – October 2016 PhD, International Criminal Law (cum laude)Tilburg University

You received a beautiful nomination letter from a student. “For the national teacher award we had to send in a nomination letter from a student. I asked my student Merel Gerritse and she wrote the most beautiful letter for me. I was very moved by her praise, it means a lot to me, and said to myself: whatever happens, if I win or not, with such a nomination I am already a winner.”

‘I think we should find a way to value teaching more’

She writes you have a passionate way of teaching. Is teaching your passion? “Yes, it is. I like the interaction with students very much. It is not the way to get your name out in the academic world, and I think we should find a way to value teaching more. In the end we’re a university, not a research institute. We educate people. And I don’t say this as a winner of a teaching award only, since I have obtained research grants, too.”

What makes a good teacher in your opinion? “My primary goal as a teacher is to see my students grow. I teach a subject in the first period of the first year, when students have just arrived from high-school. And then I teach a third year course at the end of the curriculum. To see how much they have developed themselves within these years, gives me great joy.”

Which methods do you use to engage students? “I use clips from Hollywood movies and real world cases to illustrate rather dry material. When discussing the interaction between criminal law and tort law for example, we used the case of a Dutch person who said his boss had pressed him to have sexual intercourse, whereas his boss said the contact was voluntary and started a law suit for libel. Then we changed the storyline a bit: we had the victim physically assault the perpetrator, as to make a point how criminal and civil law can intertwine in different ways.

“Also, during the pandemic, students were locked up in a virtual escape room and needed to use their knowledge to crack the code of the lock.”

Enthuse students
Lachezar Yanev is for me the example of how a teacher should be. He knows how to motivate and enthuse students like no other. He takes the time to get to know students and challenge them to get the best out of themselves.
Excerpt from Merel Gerritse’s nomination letter, [translation: AV]

Do you think a teacher should be an entertainer? “No, I think there has to be a balance between the old fashioned, time proven ways of lecturing and new educational approaches. Playing the clown is not the way to go, students will only take you less seriously.”

What do you hope your students will take on from your courses? “In Law in Society is about half of the group students Western European, the rest comes from all over the world. I hope after their graduation they will have the knowledge they need for the next steps in their careers, but also have learned to think for themselves and become voices of critical thinking. In a world where all kinds of suspicion theories are growing, I hope our programme can contribute a little to counterbalance this dangerous development.”

What are you going to do with the 4000 euros of your prize? “Since Law in Society consists of researchers from all different groups located at different places on campus, we don’t get to socialize with each other a lot. I would like to use the money to establish an informal Film Night, on which we get together, watch a movie and order pizzas.”




Stick to the subject and show respect: commercial expressions, defamation, swearing and discrimination are not allowed. Comments with URLs in them are often mistaken for spam and then deleted. Editors do not discuss deleted comments.

Fields with * are obligated
** your email address will not be published and we will not share it with third parties. We only use it if we would like to contact you about your response. See also our privacy policy.