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.

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