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Germany

Teaching Profession

In 1990 the nationwide Conference of State Ministers of Education established new standards for teacher education. Those planning to teach in elementary and general secondary schools must study for at three or four years - depending on their state - at the university; those destined for the Realschule, Gymnasium, vocational schools, or special schools study for five years. Teachers at the elementary level and those in the secondary general school (Hauptschule) may study at one of the country's Colleges of Education (Pädagogische Hochschulen). In recent years the trend has been to incorporate these institutions into universities, except for Baden-Württemberg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Saxony-Anhalt, where they remain separate. Teachers at the elementary and general secondary schools are required to specialize in German, mathematics, and an additional subject. Those planning to teach in the Realschule, Gymnasium, or special schools usually specialize in at least two subjects, with relatively less training in pedagogy than is required in the United States. All prospective teachers take a qualifying examination after university study, followed by two years of supervised practice teaching (the Referendariat), and then a second state examination. Teachers in vocational schools must have completed an apprenticeship in addition to their academic training. Requirements for teacher education differ among the 16 federal states in length of study, number of specialty subjects, periods of practical experience, and the type of school where one wishes to teach. The result is an inflexible system in which a person prepared to teach at a comprehensive school in Hesse would not be qualified to teach at a Gymnasium in Bavaria.

After a three-year probationary period, during which they are further supervised and evaluated, teachers apply to the regional district office for employment. Since 1872 public school teachers in the West have enjoyed lifetime tenure as Beamtenstatus (civil servants), a privilege opposed by the Social Democrats. After unification, veteran East German teachers were required to re-apply for their positions and undergo two years of observation and evaluation before receiving the status of Angestellte (salaried employees). Since citizens of other countries belonging to the European Union can also work in Germany, they may become salaried employees, but not civil servants, a rank open only to German citizens. Teachers in the Gymnasium become eligible for promotion to Studienrat (study advisor) and Oberstudienrat (head study advisor) and then to assistant principal and principal. An increase in salary accompanies promotion. Most teachers earn between $35,000 and $50,000 per year; however, those in the East still earn around 15 percent less than teachers in the West, although their teaching loads may be heavier and class sizes larger due to school consolidations. Principals continue to teach and come from the ranks of experienced teachers, rather than receiving specialized training. Their salaries are not significantly higher than those of teachers. They observe and evaluate teachers, schedule classes, and organize meetings with parents' councils, but seldom intervene to enforce classroom discipline. Detention or suspension from school are not common disciplinary measures. Few schools employ guidance counselors in the American model; rather, teachers who have received extra training may deal with drug problems or personal issues. Relatively little academic or career counseling occurs in German schools.

Most teachers conduct around 25 classes a week, averaging 45 minutes apiece. At the upper levels, two class periods may be combined for laboratory sessions. Those who supervise student teachers or head departments teach a reduced load, as do those over 55. Teachers retire at 65, or earlier, if they have taught 35 years (5 years of university study may be counted toward that period of service). The largest teachers' union, the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, enrolls about 65 percent of teachers, followed by smaller unions. Teachers' unions campaign for equal pay for East Germans, reduced teaching loads, and better pay. Because of their civil servant status, teachers may not strike.

Germany's teacher training system has come under scrutiny because of its generally conservative nature. Particularly at the level of the Realschule and Gymnasium, teachers concentrate on subject matter, the theory being that good scholars will be able to transmit their knowledge effectively. However, as these schools have lost their selectivity and experienced increased enrollments from more diverse and less academically prepared pupils, teachers have sometimes found themselves over-whelmed. Those who have achieved civil servant status may be evaluated every four to six years, but are not obliged to participate in further in-service training, nor does it raise their salaries unless they qualify for teaching at a higher level. It is difficult to remove or dismiss a poor teacher. Teacher training has been slow to respond to changes in the needs of teachers to be familiar with new instructional media and computer technology. In-service training offers teachers many opportunities to up-date their qualifications in methods and instructional media. These retraining courses usually take place during the school day and teachers are excused to participate. Because of the absence of substitutes, however, their participation places hardships on their co-workers. Summer courses for teachers are less common than in the United States.

Because curriculum and textbooks must receive state approval, there is less incentive or opportunity for innovative teaching than in many U.S. schools. It may be difficult to adapt a given text to the abilities of a particular class. And given the secure status of teachers' employment, not all can be motivated to cooperate with their colleagues in creating change. Those who have been promoted to the highest rank have little incentive to further their education or to adopt innovative techniques. Most teachers do not have a "homeroom," but rely on space in a teachers' lounge to prepare classes and do paperwork. Because few schools have cafeterias, most teachers also leave the building when the school day ends around one o'clock, and find little time to compare notes, talk shop, or cooperate with their peers.

Gender imbalance remains in the country's teaching faculties. About three-fourths of all elementary teachers are women. As the educational level rises, the number of males in the classroom increases also. Male kindergarten teachers are virtually unknown, but men and women teach in about equal proportions at the Gymnasium. As is true worldwide, women tend to be concentrated in the humanities and social sciences. However, the East German states boast more women teachers of math and science than the West, evidence that the Marxist-socialist education system did achieve some success in overturning gender stereotypes. Unemployment among teachers affects more women than men.

Because of demographics and tight budgets, relatively few new teachers entered the profession in the 1990s. A sharp decline in the birthrate between 1990 and 1994 caused an oversupply of teachers at the elementary level, and this effect is slowly making its way upward through the age cohorts, so that tenured positions have become increasingly difficult to obtain. In the new federal states, school enrollments are expected to remain low through 2010; while in the West they are expected to peak in 2005 and then fall again. In 2000 only 16 percent of Germany's residents were under the age of 15. The greatest oversupply of teachers exists at the Gymnasium level. In the East there is an oversupply of elementary teachers, teachers of Russian, humanities, and any social studies areas tainted by Marxism-Leninism. There is a scarcity of teachers in English, French, Latin (which replaced Russian), ethics, and the arts. Class sizes can run as high as 30 pupils; in Saxony in the late 1990s the limit for elementary classes was 32. The birthrate began to rise again in 1994, creating a greater demand for elementary teachers by 2000, but an oversupply of teachers at the secondary level persists. Young teachers who have spent five or more years at the university are often in their late twenties when they begin teaching. As a result, only about one-fifth of the country's teachers are under 35. Since West German teachers hold civil servant status, they cannot be dismissed nor can they be easily displaced from one school to another.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceGermany - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education