In School in Germany: Overture

Learning for the future. Unknown painting taken by the author.

8:00 in the morning on a Tuesday. Place: A German Gymnasium.

For all the readers wondering what I’m doing in a German high school, I have a confession to make. Even though I love writing, which is the primary reason why I run two online columns, I love teaching even more. For 13 years, I’ve been around the block teaching English to adults, college students, pupils with high school degrees that are pursuing their apprenticeships in the area of industry and technology, and even kids. This includes six years at three universities, eight years at three institutions of continuing education (German: Volkshochschule) and lastly many years as a freelancer at other independent institutions that are supported by the German Job Service Agency (German: Agentur für Arbeit).

Yet, like in the United States, teaching in Germany is a difficult job to keep for two reasons:

1. Educating the people, in particular students, can be an exhausting job- exhausting enough that many of the educators quit well before retirement to pursue another career. This can stem from having your authority be undermined by students and even staff members. It can also include losing interest because the demands of the students are different now than in the past. It could also be a physical problem, where you lose your voice or suffer from burn-out. In either case, teaching can be a chore but also a charm if you have the right ammunition full of creativity and materials to give to the students, and that they are very thankful for what you are giving them to learn.

2.  Many teachers at the university live off limited contracts ranging from a year to four years. In Germany, the average  amount of time an English teacher stays on at a university is only two years, with many states not allowing extension possibilities or even providing permanent contracts, even if you have a PhD degree.  While some states have clauses that keep people on even longer, others, like Bavaria, don’t even allow you to look for another job at another university in the state once your contract runs out, unless there are loopholes. This can be torture if your students are used to your teaching and enjoy every minute in class, only to have another teacher in your place for two years, with a “fresh set of ideas,” as one of my former colleagues put it, but whose teaching qualities are not to the students’ liking, most of the time that is.


Likewise pay at the university as well as the school is below what a person receives at a   corporation.  No wonder why teachers are high in demand and efforts are being taken to improve working conditions at all educational institutions from the bottom up.


After a two and a half-year stint at a university in Erfurt (which followed two years in Bavaria), it was time for me to find something permanent, instead of living a life as a nomadic lecturer living off limited contracts. Teaching is something I enjoy doing, and the safest place to get a permanent post is in a German high school. To do that, I had to go back to school to get a teaching degree, which I started pursuing last year.  At this time, right now in the present, I’m about to do a five-month teaching semester at a Gymnasium in the state of Thuringia (name and place are being kept anonymous for legal reasons).

In preparing for the Praxissemester (as Germans call it), I had a few questions that needed to be answered. First of all, how is teaching in a German school different than in the US?  Both countries have their own set of requirements for becoming a teacher and curriculum to be carried out in the classroom. Plus the mentality of the students in a German and American classroom is different in many ways.  Secondly, what are the people’s attitudes towards learning a foreign language in general? How can a person teach a foreign language to a group of 10-18 year-olds without having to lose them in the process? How important is history in the classroom, and how do people handle delicate topics?  What are the central themes that affect educators, parents and students today, which include psychological problems, like Burn-out Syndrome, or addiction to Smartphones, internet and video games?  And what makes a teacher an excellent teacher that is well-respected, appreciated of what he is doing and feels good about showing the students ways to their future of happiness and success?


Chapel at Cornell College in Iowa. Photo taken in 2011


In the next six months, the Files will go behind the scenes in a German school, uncovering some of the themes that are important in today’s educational environment, providing some tips on how to become a better teacher, and comparing the German and American educational systems and the changes that have been undertaken since 1996, the year yours truly graduated from high school in the state of Minnesota. For expatriates wanting to teach in Germany, some tips on how to obtain your teaching license and teach in German schools will be provided as well.  It is my goal to show the readers, like you, what life is like as a high school teacher, from multiple perspectives, but also show that teaching can be a great experience if you have the right tools to do the right job, the right support for feeling right about the profession, and the right frame of mind to help others make the right choices that are important in their lives.

My entries may not be daily, but the posts will come very often, and while there may be some people that will provide some articles as guest columnists, and interviews will definitely be carried out, almost all of the articles on this series will come from yours truly, who will be witnessing what school life is like live, for the first time since being a high school student 20 years ago, and in a country whose language is not English, but is screaming for native speakers to make the language fun to teach in Germany.

An outline of the themes to be covered can be found at the end of this article, but you can also provide me with some questions, either on the Files’ facebook page or via e-mail at


So without further ado, welcome to class everybody. Sit down and turn to the first article of the series…..




Education System in Germany and the USA

_ Structure

_ Training to become a teacher

_ Changing trends since 1996


Teaching methods/didactics (German: Fachdidaktik)





Teaching in a German school (experience, themes, etc.)

_Tips on becoming a successful teacher

_Pitfalls to avoid while in school

_Expectations of American expatriates

_Themes affecting students and teachers in Germany

_Burnout Syndrome

_Right-wing extremism

_Financial support from the state

_Other themes discovered during Praxissemester

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