An Ode to Teachers

The New York Times, carrying the article In Honor of Teachers by Charles M. Blow, made me remember my favorite teacher at the German Gymnasium – Frau Feinbier, our native French teacher. She was married to a German, hence the very German name.

It was her teaching in my very first year of French, which helped me develop a life-long passion for the language. She made the language and the subject come alive and even today in business, I still benefit from it.

On the other hand,  Mr. Blow writes about the drawbacks of being a teacher. Among those is the fairly low pay for this  academic position. About 20 years ago, I saw an  unforgettable advertisement at a local department store in  the U.S.A., which read:      Help wanted! Ideal for students, housewives and teachers.

In contrast to teachers in the German system, taking on any paid employment outside their teaching job is strictly forbidden ( allowances are made in special cases). Many  public school teachers are government employees and fairly well reimbursed for their work.

In addition, add on a general public resentment of teachers based on a preconception of short working hours, good pay, long breaks, etc. Just the other day, I was at a German get-together, where one of the women complained about the laziness of her daughter’s German teachers. All eyes were on my when one of the friends pointed out I was a teacher. I was excused from this tribunal when I said I was a private teacher.

I don’t know when this all started. In the 60s, attending Volksschule (elementary school), teachers still carried a high status and earned a lot of respect. In the early 70s,  starting Gymnasium (prep college school), I heard the first complaints about German teachers.

German teachers generally do not have a work desk at school. They do their outside-of- the- classroom work at home. So walking your dog in broad daylight lets Germans assume you are done working for the day, when the teacher might just be taking a break.

It might be a good idea to give teachers in the German system a regular desk at school to work after-hours. It would also be good to make teachers more accessible to parents, when contact between parents and teachers is strictly limited to parent-teacher conferences (in general).

I would not want to be a teacher in the German school system – there is very little appreciation, the teachers can or have to be as rigid as the system, and both sides – parents and teachers alike – are often on the defensive side.

There is no ode for German teachers.

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A Teacher’s Position in Germany

Many Christmases ago,  while hosting a dinner party in my Franconian home town, our five-year-old was asked by a relative what future job he was dreaming of. He  had to take a few moments to think about his new ambition as he had just buried the one about becoming a surgeon.

Of course, the adults were eager to supply him with ideas, such as Möchtest du mal Rennfahrer werden?, and Möchtest Du mal Astronaut werden?. Our little one just shook his head, but when he was asked Möchtest Du mal Lehrer werden?, he replied: Nein, ich möchte mal einen richtigen Job! (No, I want to get a real job!) which left our German family hollering with laughter.

For our son, going to primary school was a lot of fun. His teachers at the private school were motivated, outgoing and cheerful. To him schooling must have seemed more like entertainment. There were days, when he was misbehaving at home, I could stop him with I won’t let you go to school tomorrow! Of course, going to a private school, while learning in small classes, was a lot of fun. In his young mind, teaching could not be a job where one has to work hard.

Anyway, there we had it – the old and negative cliché of teachers in the German school system. Even today among adults, some teachers are seen as holding an easy job, with long vacations, and good pay.

The teaching job looks easy when the neighbor spots the nice elementary school teacher walking her dog around noon. Additionally, some would assume all the work was done for the day, with government pay. Very little is known about the continuing work outside the classroom. Based on my observations in Germany, teachers are not much respected.

Among my own relatives, I got to hear this statement once from a teenager “Ach, die Lehrer sind doch alle zu faul!” (Teachers are too lazy!). I used wisdom and politeness to ignore it.

I have been told that students in the German system cannot contact the teacher at home. There is neither e-mail nor telephone connection. When a student misses a school day, no assignments are sent out. There seems to be a strong division between work and free time.

Das Schicksal einer Gesellschaft wird dadurch bestimmt, wie sie ihre Lehrer achtet.

The fate of a society is determined by how it respects its teachers.

– Karl Jaspers –

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