In School in Germany: 45 Minutes

45 minutes! That’s the amount of time it takes for a session in school here in Germany. While school starts at 7:45 in the morning and ends around 3:00 (in some cases, even an hour later), there are 7-8 sessions in a day, each one lasting 45 minutes. That’s half the session needed for a session at the university here in the US, 15 minutes less than a session at an American high school, and 25 minutes less than a session at an American university.  For the pupils, it is a blessing, as there is little to do for one class, despite having much to do for the others. For teachers, less to prepare despite having to try and fulfill the curriculum guidelines provided for them by the state. Yet in general, there is less to teach them despite the fact that there is more for them to learn, especially when entering the secondary level stages beginning in the fifth grade.

45 minutes can be a blessing and a curse all at once, especially if a teacher is used to the 90 minute session at the university, both as a student as well as a teacher or even professor. One can generalize the topics to be taught, yet some important ingredients are missing. One can deepen a topic and still miss some ingredients. But if one is given a choice between several 45 minute sessions and sacrificing some classes from the curriculum and have 60 minute sessions, then better to have the 45 minute session. After all, some classes meet 2-3 times a week, including foreign languages (Latin included), pending on the schedule, which is a relief for teachers and students alike.

An important lesson to learn from one’s own experience: Less is More. Prepare more but expect less. Prepare less but expect more. Teachers are there to provide the basic information for students to research more in detail about in their spare time. After all, with extra-curriculum activities not being as popular and stressed as in the US, they can afford it. Yet what is important is for students to process and share the information provided by the teacher to others, both in the classroom as well as outside school.  Therefore a session of between 45 and 60 minutes in the classroom should suffice in allowing students to learn something for the day.  What they do with it and how they manage their time in learning outside the classroom is up to them.  45 minutes for the teachers gives them an incentive to plan ahead so that they don’t have to worry about it later on. Something that schools in other countries should think about before writing core curricula, as is the case in the US at the moment.

Important note: While a typical day in a German school can be seen here, some points to compare the German schedule with that of the US are as follows:

  1. German high schools sometimes has 90-minute block sessions, meaning two 45-minute sessions in one. This is common in 11th and 12th grades, and the goal is to prepare them for their Abitur, the final exam taken at the end of the 12th grade year before graduating.
  2. Two 25- minute breaks are included in the plan for the Gymnasium, although the breaks vary from school to school. In US schools, there is only one break at lunch time.

Yet despite this, many teachers over in Germany are suffering the same problems as in the US: burnout syndrome. Reason: too much work and too little appreciation. How teaching is an underrated job that should be reformed and teachers can improve their health will be discussed later when the Files looks at Burnout Syndrome in School.

In School in Germany: Mock Debate- Result and Tips

This is a follow-up of an experiment done by the teacher in connection with bilingual Teaching, History in English and the theme: The Great Crash of 1929. To see part I, click here.

Previously in the article on Mock Debate, I provided some details about the theoretical aspects of a mock debate, including the two types of debates (open and closed), and provided a question pertaining to the topic that was done with my 9th grade class, which was whether Herbert Hoover was the man who caused the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, or if the Crash was inevitable because of his predecessors, Warren G. Harding (who was president from 1921 until his death in 1923) and Calvin Coolidge (who took over for Harding and governed the country until 1929, when he stepped down).

Now the results:

Content:  Despite limited information, the conclusion was that despite Hoover’s attempts to relieve the farmers and businesses through a series of bills, such as the Farm Board and the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1932, as well as public works projects, such as the Hoover Dam,  the responsibility was partially his for he supported a pro-business approach to the economy, something that was created and championed extensively by Coolidge when he took over the presidency after Harding’s death. More research is needed to find out how Hoover responded to the Great Crash of 1929, as the information found to date is cloudy.   A combination of allowing invisible hand run the economy combined with the ignorance of warning signs of a credit bubble because of excessive spending and lastly, the president’s inert response until after the Great Crash, resulted in the majority of Americans turning away from him and embracing the policies of Franklin Roosevelt, who overwhelmed Hoover in the 1932 elections and introduced the New Deal plan, which had been the largest recovery plan in American history until Barack Obama introduced his in 2009, in response to the Great Crash of 2008. This was the conclusion that was reached by the participants despite some credible arguments from those who were of the opinion that Hoover’s predecessors planted the seeds for a disaster that was potentially waiting to happen.

 

Tips:  In order to have an effective debate, this should be done in a forum fashion, which means a small group of up to eight to ten participants plus two moderators and the rest of the class being the audience. The debate was done in three large groups plus three moderators, which is doable if the participants have a chance to speak. The smaller the group, the better, for the participants can communicate more, and the audience has a chance to ask them questions.

In addition to that, a pair of helpers should oversee the debate to ensure that it runs effectively and that mistakes are identified, one of which should be the teacher holding it. In this debate, there were two observers, one of whom added a list of vocabulary and key words on the board, while the other observed the debate in terms of communication and made sure that no students were using their cell phones and paying attention to the debate.

And lastly, as in any meeting, one should construct a “meeting minutes” sheet, containing a summary, key words, and some comments from the teacher. This is useful in helping the students improve on their vocabulary skills as well as their knowledge of the topic given. This is especially important when presenting a topic, like the Great Crash of 1929, in a language that is not that of their own. As bilingual classes are being introduced more and more often in German classrooms, German students are expected to embrace English and other foreign languages more than ever before, and therefore it is important that they have the sufficient vocabulary needed to communicate, both in terms of general knowledge as well as in specific areas, like sciences and humanities.

Mock debates are very useful in the classroom, pending on the topic and the target language. Yet it can only be successful when it is arranged properly and both the teacher and the students benefit from the activity and the topic that is discussed. As mentioned in the first part, whether you introduce it in a closed or open fashion depends on the language knowledge of your students, the topic and tasks that are to be done, and lastly, the way it is done in the classroom, in terms of arranging it in the classroom, the time needed to prepare it and the time needed to complete the actual debate.  If done the right way, both the teacher and the students will win from the deal and be forthcoming in trying it again.

In School in Germany: Lehramt Studies at the University

The Library is your Home: Carnegie Library in Little Falls, Minnesota, built in 1909. Photo taken in 2011

Before going into the topic of teaching degrees, here is a question for you, which you can share in the Forum as well as under the facebook pages with the titles of either the Flensburg Files or Germany:

  1. How did you obtain your teaching degree at the university of your country? And for which subjects?
  2. What classes did you have to take, including the pedagogical courses?
  3. How many months of student teaching did you do, and did you do this under supervision or without?
  4. How long does it take to obtain your teaching degree in your country?
  5. If applicable to those teaching in Germany, were there any difficulties in having your teaching degree accredited?

There are many ways to teach at a German school, pending on which level (primary or secondary) and which type of secondary school (Realschule, Hauptschule or Gymnasium). The most traditional way to obtain a teaching degree, known to Germans as the Lehramt, is at a German university.  Yet this way of obtaining a degree can take 5-6 years and is a painstaking task, which if you decide to pursue the degree, it has to be all the way or none at all. Before starting, you have to ask yourself whether it is worth the trouble or if there is another way of doing it. Since the reforms of the German university system in 2007, in accordance to the Bologna Process, it is more difficult than ever to obtain any degree in Germany, which leads to the question of how student friendly or even how family friendly (if students have children) the university really is. From the writer’s point of view, as he is going through the process even as this article is posted, this is how a typical Lehramt program functions on average, using the subject of English and History:

 

Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts:

 

1.  Lehramt in two subjects of studies. Unlike the teaching program in the US, where you have the choice between primary and secondary education, as well as one subject to choose from (for example, music education, health and physical education,  or English), you have the choice of two subjects you can do your Lehramt degree in while at the university in Germany.  Yet, you have to be very careful as to which subjects the university can allow you to study, let alone the Numerus Klausus, which means that only a limited number of students are allowed in the program based on grades obtained in high school through the Abitur or your previous studies. Some exceptions may apply, such as language knowledge, work experience or close connections.

 

2.  Einführungspraktikum before Praxissemester. Almost all universities have adopted a policy, where students are expected to provide proof of doing an introductory internship (Einführungspraktikum), totaling 320 hours, before doing the six-month practical training (Praxissemester). This can be done by being involved in children’s organizations, tutoring, or even teaching. For those who taught before entering the Lehramt program, be disappointed as the people whom you taught have to be ages 18 years and younger. The purpose: to force the students to get acquainted to working with children and consider whether the profession is suitable for them.

 

3. Modules, Modules and More Modules. All courses are made up of modules, where there are certain classes pro module, pending on subject and the university.  There are obligatory modules that need to be completed before taking the state exam, as well as electives where you can select certain courses as long as you have sufficient credits in order to register for exams.  Example: English and Sprachpraxis (practical speaking). At the university in Jena for example, one is required to take a year of Linguistics and Grammar, plus a semester of translation, and two electives in order to fulfill the module. For literature, it is two obligatory introductory seminars plus two electives.  And then there is the cultural studies course, which is one semester. As you are expected to take the minimal requirements per semester, which is usually 7-8 classes, you are expected to take your classes seriously and almost literally put your private life on the wayside for the duration of the semester- an act that is sometimes worth it if you’re single and 20, but almost impossible if you have a family.

 

4. Your library is your home. Like in the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs, you will be loaded with readings and assignments you need to do every day for eight hours straight. And this in addition to the classes you have to attend.  If you are fresh out of high school and can handle the pressure, it is possible to pass all the courses. If you are older, pursuing a different path, and have a family, it can be a struggle to balance school and family life, especially if you need to earn some money to help your partner out.  In this case, sometimes studying part-time while working full time makes the best sense.  Therefore, try to balance, but take care of yourself and your loved ones, as they need you more than your studies. If the workload is too much, reduce or look for alternatives.

 

5. Two strikes and you’re out!  Since 2007, most German universities have centralized themselves, which includes the examiners offices taking full control over the administration of exams,  papers, and courses accredited from previous studies.  A relief for teachers who had had problems finding a place and time for exams, as well as dealing with students with conflicts that interfere with their exam dates. However it can be a nightmare if you are hanging by a string regarding subject you are studying.  Students, who want to take exams, have to register with the examiner’s office, and are obliged to keep to the scheduled exam dates. They have two attempts to pass an exam in the subject of studies. Failure to pass it on the two attempt means expulsion from the program and even the university. At some universities, a student has only one try and that’s it. There is the third attempt, but that has to be approved by the examiner’s office before it can be done.  Yet if all attempts are exhausted, that’s it.   Worse is if they are expelled from the program, students are automatically blacklisted, which means that they cannot study the same subject at another university in Germany for as long as they live.  A rather draconian policy (as it is impossible to enforce in the US and other countries), yet one with a purpose: to reduce the number of eternal students at the German university, which consists of only 3%  of the student population.

 

6. The student teaching semester is like doing your full-time studies. While students are required to do an average of five hours a day for 5-6 months at a school, assisting in preparing the materials and teaching the classes, that is not the only thing that is required. Students also have to take seminars dealing with teaching methods in the fields of study pursued, psychology, empirical research, and school life. The workload in terms of writing reports and preparing presentations is enormous- sometimes overexaggerated- yet the curriculum of the seminar teachers is different. Some love to communicate directly with the students and are open, others are closed and prefer the paper form.  While some universities’ policies regarding the Praxissemester are transparent, others are not, and it can frustrate the ordinary student who is already overly burdened with work being done at the school.

 

7. Take what’s assigned and be thankful for it. It is almost certain that students are assigned to certain groups and to a certain school for the duration of the semester. While there are some exceptions which can influence the office of student-teachers (Praktikumsamt für Lehrämter), like family and location preferences, for the most part, students are expected to take what is given and plan accordingly. After all, one can learn a lot from teaching at an assigned school, like I have done to date.

 

8. Praxis is of the essence. Prepare for the unexpected. Universities and schools have a fragile relationship regarding what the university and the students expect and what it really is in the school climate. Each teacher has a different method that works, but also the students, especially those who have taught. The theories provided on the academic front is totally different than in the praxis at school.  Therefore, compromise is the key. While it is expected that one has to learn more than ever before- a statement made by a university professor  recently, practical experience as a teacher in an educational environment is the only way to learn how to become a great teacher.

 

9. Big Teacher is Watching You. Students teaching a class during the Praxissemester will have a teacher watching them. This “babysitting” service can be annoying at first, but there are two reasons for it: 1. To keep the class in line and 2. To offer suggestions to better teach the class. Not a bad service, isn’t it?

 

10. Not working hard enough? If one thinks that teachers are not doing their work hard enough (the mentality that work requires physical force), then perhaps you can show him/her this link.  Speaking from experience, teaching is the most undervalued position in the job market food chain. This is especially clear in schools here in Germany, where the work is much harder than in academia. Therefore teachers are open to suggestions on the part of the intern. Work with them.

 

11. Will trumps Must. Students have quit their studies or switched programs after the Praxissemester at the school. There are many internal and external factors influencing their decision, but this fact has echoed in the lecture halls here in Germany.  Success as a teacher does not depend on whether it’s a must to complete your studies. It is based on your will to teach them something new every day, and put up with the elements that you do NOT see every day at the university. This includes the health aspect, which I’ll mention later in the series.

 

12. When you are down and almost out from your studies and Praxissemester, smile. The best is yet to come when you have your state exam under your belt and you have a chance to teach on your own for two years, before doing the second state exam. The first one will take you a year worth of writing and communicating with 6-8 different exams, pending on the subjects you want to teach. This includes that of education and psychology. But once you’re finished with your year in the exam torture chamber, you’ll be free with a diploma in your hand.  The two-year Referendariat will allow you to teach on your own for two years, while taking seminars at the same time. In the end, you have your exams based on your practical experience. Before you know it, despite a potential of waiting time, you will become a certified teacher, being allowed to teach at a state-financed school in a German state, a post that is considered a job for life, if all goes well as planned.

 

In the last 2-4 years, many universities have started introducing the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in education,  which last 3 and 2 years respectively. Yet the program serves as a title dressing for the workload and requirements are similar to that of the Lehramt degree.  But is it really necessary to get a Lehramt degree and become a teacher?  Some sources claim that you can do a 2-year Referendariat without such the hassle if you have done a Bachelor’s, Master’s and other studies beforehand- ideal for the Quereinsteiger, a person who comes from different fields of work despite not obtaining a degree in it. Other (private) institutions have taken on teachers with many years of experience without going through the Lehramt.

 

But really, for those who are teachers in Germany and had the opportunity to avoid the Lehramt studies, how did you do that? Did you obtain your degree at a university outside of Germany? Did you find a back door through a program as Quereinsteiger?  Let’s hear about it. Place your comments here or send me an e-mail at Flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com. Some examples will be added as articles separately with some details added.

In School in Germany: Mock Debate

The mock debate: a teaching method that is useful for both foreign languages, as well as subjects that deal with politics, history, culture and literature. Students involved in the debate can argue their opinions, using facts obtained through research, while at the same time, gain confidence in speaking. Even more so, when debating in a foreign language, students can learn new vocabulary through speaking and listening to others, while become as much at home with the language as with their native tongue.  In general, students can become acquainted with the process of Problem-Based Learning, a method created by Howard Barrows at McMasters University in Ontario (Canada), which puts the students in a simulated situation that is similar to reality.   PBL is especially useful for teaching/learning foreign languages, and the debate is part of this method that is used very often in the classroom, regardless of class size, age, language learning niveau, and educational institution where the foreign language is being taught.
There are two forms of a mock debate which can be introduced in a foreign language class: the closed version and the open version. In a closed version, each student is given a role to act out, in connection with a certain topic and situation. The arguments the students produce have to fit the roles that are given to them. Many foreign language books feature these types of roles, where a situation is given, the roles are provided, and the students have to act out a given role. Yet in some cases, you can create your own situation in connection with a current event and provide roles for them there.  I had done this with a couple themes during my time as a teacher at the Volkshochschule in Germany (Eng.: Institution of Continuing Education) a few years before the Flensburg  Files was created in 2010, where I had chosen the theme of healthy food in a fast food restaurant. This theme was in connection with the lawsuits against McDonald’s in 2002 for ill-informing customers of the ingredients in the burgers and making them fat. The scandal was documented further in Morgan Spurlock’s “Supersize Me,” produced in 2004.   Yet, as I had seen in the Sloppy Joe’s Restaurant debate, students receiving roles often feel constrained to produce arguments for the debate, even though they may be of a different opinion to the argument that was supposed to be made in accordance to the role. Therefore, it is advisable to provide sufficient time for them to prepare and allow them to choose the roles they want to play- a role that best fits their personal opinion of the subject , sometimes makes the mock debate more interesting to watch, let alone participate.
The other kind of mock debate is the open one, where there are no roles, and students are free to prepare their arguments in connection to the theme that is given to them.  Before starting the debate, you divide them into groups. Each group is given a task for them to complete, where they can come up with arguments in small groups, before presenting them to the other groups. In other words: preparing in small groups, presenting in a big group.  The downside of the open version is the competition to see who can speak the most. The unequal amount of time can be fatal for those whose knowledge of the language or subject is limited as well as those who have the ability to speak but not the confidence. There, incentives are needed so that every member has the chance speak during the debate. Also useful is a moderator, who introduces the topic, regulates the amount of speaking time, asks questions to each group after stating their arguments and closes the debate with questions and/or voting.
An example of such an open debate is the topic I’m doing at the present time: The Great Crash of 1929 and the Question: Was Herbert Hoover responsible for allowing the crash (and subsequentially, The Great Depression) to happen?  Herbert Hoover was President of the USA from 1929 until his landslide defeat at the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. While many sources and historians have claimed that Hoover allowed the economy to crash and did not help ease the pain of farmers losing their homes and businesses closing down, other sources have argued that Hoover tried to pass laws to encourage businesses to continue operating, but the Crash was the result of “The Invisible Hand” going wild, with no chance to control the destruction on Wall Street.  My father and I have argued about this topic for years (as he’s a Republican and I’m a Democrat), and I therefore decided to play the Devil’s Advocate and ask this question to my 9th grade history group at the German Gymnasium. They were divided up into three groups: Those presenting the facts about the Great Crash, those who claim that it was Hoover’s fault, and those who disagreed. Moderators were selected as well.  Preparation was needed for vocabulary words needed to be present, and students needed time to prepare and practice.
How you decide on the Mock Debate depends on the language knowledge of your students. If your students are weak in speaking, then perhaps it is not a bad idea to use the open debate, to encourage them to use their language knowledge and exchange ideas and vocabulary with other group members. If students are superb in their knowledge, and you want to challenge them on a topic, like the environment, food and nutrition, business topics, and the like, then the closed version is perhaps a good way of going about the topic, as they can learn new vocabulary through their own research and preparation for the debate. Yet one needs sufficient time to present the topic and prepare beforehand. An hour at least is needed for preparing and carrying out the debate.  Yet in the end, when the debate is finished, students can take comfort of the fact that they have learned to express themselves using new vocabulary and become more confident in their oral skills. As for the the teacher, if the mock debate is successful the first time around, he will most likely use this method again in another class.

 

This leads to my question for the readers, as we are about to present our debate in the next week: Was Herbert Hoover responsible for the Great Crash of 1929, or was he a lame duck already because the Crash was beyond his control? State your arguments and reasons here in the comment section, or on the Files’ facebook pages.  Deine Kommentare auf Deutsch sind herzlich wilkommen.
Author’s Note: If you are interested in the Closed Version example of the Mock Debate and Sloppy Joe’s Healthy Meal Plan for your class preparation, please send me a line at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com, and a copy will be sent to you, via e-mail and in PDF format.

In School in Germany: Graduation from School in Germany Part I

Confetti, make-up, dance music, competition between seniors and teachers. That is the subject of this blog entry for today is the last day of school for seniors at the Gymnasium, where I’m student-teaching, and we had the chance to say good-bye to them as they threw a party for all pupils and staff members alike. The celebration featured competition in the form of racing, Pictionary, and choosing the right medicine- which is all in connection with the graduating theme: medicine. All pupils were given make-up in red, and many classrooms were converted into areas of medicine (as a little sense of humor to start off the day).  Staff members were given awards for their hard work in assisting the class of 2014, wherever needed. And dance music, using the Top 40 songs of 2013/14 topped off the celebration , as the Class of 2014 received their diplomas and made their exit similar to a Mexican wedding.  Or did they?

Before going into graduation ceremonies in Germany in comparison to the US, I have a few statements for you, and you as the reader have to choose which ones are false. Select and answer in the Comment section of the Files below, or on the Files’ facebook pages.  Reasons and experiences on the part of Americans and Germans are more than welcome. In part II, which will be in a couple months, the answers will be revealed and will take you by surprise.

So without further ado, here we go:

  1. In German schools, there are informal graduation ceremonies similar to the ones mentioned, after the Abitur exam
  2. Germany and the US have formal graduation ceremonies, where graduates receive their diplomas.
  3. There are graduation dances (balls) in the US
  4. There are graduation speeches at both German and American high schools
  5. The Abitur exam in Germany features four topics pupils must prepare and pass.
  6. German graduates can decide between attending the university, university of applied sciences (Fachhochschule) or technical university with their diplomas.

If you need any hints or have any questions, please let the author know at flensburg.bridgehunter.av@googlemail.com.