What is a typical day like in a school in your home country? How many classes does a student have per week? Of which, are there core classes that need to be taken? Are there block sessions? And lastly, is your school year based on quarters or semesters?
In the US at a typical school, a student usually has 7-8 sessions a day, starting at 8:00 in the morning and ending at 3:00pm. Lunch is usually during the fourth or fifth periods, which falls at the same time as the fine arts classes, such as choir, band, orchestra, art, etc. Those not participating in these extra-curricular activities have the option of study hall or an elective course, pending on when the teacher eats lunch. After all, teachers usually have to teach the entire day- consisting of 60-70 minutes per session, with a session of down time for lunch and doing some preparations. Core classes vary from state to state. Speaking from experience during my time in high school, our core classes consisted of English, Social Studies and Mathematics, with three years of natural sciences, two years of physical education and health and two years of foreign languages (mostly Spanish, but some schools had French and German). While core courses take place either daily or three days a week, other courses take place 2-3 times a week pending on schedule. Grades for the classes are given out every quarter or semester, pending on the school. Sports are usually after school and many schools offer elective courses to prepare students for college, some of which are through cooperation with the universities. And while changes in the curriculum have taken place in the past decade to focus on international proficiency exams- which has placed the US in 10-15th place in reading, sciences, and math- there are some changes that could be made if politicians had the time and money to do so. One of them deals with bilingual teaching in different subjects, which will be discussed later on in the series.
German schools, more or less, follow a similar path to the American counterpart, but some exceptions should be noted. For instance, in a Gymnasium, each session is 45 minutes long, unless there is a block session, which is double the time. Students usually start class between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning and have an average of six sessions before leaving at 2:00pm. Exceptions to the rule are when they have sessions in the 7th or 8th session Instead of having one big break, Germans prefer their usual system of three smaller breaks, beginning with breakfast for 15 minutes after the second session, a 25-minute break after the fourth and another 25-minute break after the sixth session. Some schools divide students up into groups, pending on their abilities and their preferences for subjects. That means in a group, the students stick to their members through (almost) all of the classes throughout the year. So it is possible that a grade will have 4-6 different groups, pending on school size. This was what I’ve noticed with my Gymnasium so far, yet other schools organize their groups rather differently. The day usually starts off with the core classes and end with the electives. With a compact schedule as mentioned here, students can collect as much information as they can before the afternoon comes, and their Mittagstief (mental down-time) kicks in. Teaching schedules vary from teacher to teacher (and from school to school), and it is not surprising that some teach only half a day while others teach a couple days in the week. But overall a full 8-10 hour day does include many breaks in between, enabling them to take some down time to prepare, or cool off if a teacher had a rough class period because of rowdy students.
If one assumes that a German schedule is easier than the American one, think again. Of all the benefits teachers have over here, based on my observations, the job can be a chore, for despite helping the kids succeed, the preparation time and all the documentation that needs to be done on the classes and the issues students face, it can wear a person down to a point of burn-out. This sore topic will be discussed later in the series. And if a teacher is working at a school in big cities, like Hamburg, Berlin, Munich or Frankfurt, it can be even more difficult because of the language barrier. An example the dark sides of teaching can be seen in a documentary produced by German public TV station, NDR can be found here:
But having these issues does not mean one should give up on the profession, let alone avoid it altogether. When comparing the two country’s school systems, there is one similarity that should be kept in mind: the teachers love their job, not just because of the kids they are teaching, but because of the passion and their willingness to get them to learn something new each day. There are many new topics to talk about, let alone new methods to capture the students’ attention and get them to learn something. Some come out of the studies at the university, some through materials developed by publishers, and some through one’s own creativity. Of course one has to deal with setbacks with the two, but when a teacher finds the right formula to educate the youth, given the environment that he is in and the students he is teaching, then the teacher will be successful.
Keeping this in mind, I would like to end my entry with a little rule of thumb, based on the works of Pestalozzi. The Swiss pedagogue taught in various learning conditions, but was passionate enough to create his theory of oral learning, as a way of teaching his children the way of life, through communication, literacy and sciences. Despite the difference in teaching environments, in order to become a successful teacher, no matter where you are, one must follow the 4 Ps to success, which are: Patience, Passion, Perseverance and Persistence. Following those will help you a great deal as you enter and continuing to work in your profession.
FRAGE FÜR DAS FORUM:
While both school models are based on traditional systems that have existed for decades, many charter schools have sprung up over the past two decades in both the US and Germany. Therefore, the following questions:
- Describe your school. How is it structured in terms of curriculum and classes? Is it the same as what was mentioned here, or are there any differences?
- If the school is different than what was described above, tell us about your school: when it was established, who founded it and how classes are being taught. Is it a reform school or another school that is part of the system?
- Would you prefer teaching in a traditional school or a reform school? Why?
Some examples of reform schools will be mentioned later in the series, but in the meantime, place your stories and comments here or on the Files’ facebook or Twitter pages.