Teaching: A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds. Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students. In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.
Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay. This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.
And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉
But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.
You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel. And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉
If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, published in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.
So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:
Why do you want to be a teacher?
What aspects of teaching do you like?
As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?
For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job. 🙂
And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉
Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.
Author’s Note: This article contains some profanity that is not suitable for children under 13 as well as those who cannot understand the logic of this article. If you are one of those who dislikes profanity, you can skip to the next article. It’s better than complaining to the author about this. 😉
Before we go to the genre of the week, let me introduce you to a universal terminology known to everyone today as FAHCK! There are three definitions of this word: one has to do with Romeo and Juliet. Enough said! 🙂 Another is used as a stress test for a sentence in English, similar to the German word “doch.” Example, when a German says “Halt doch die Klappe!” it means in English: “Shut the FAHCK up!” Got the hint there? 😉 And lastly, as seen in the title of this film written and directed by Bora Datjekin and produced by Christian Becker and Lena Shömann, it means in diplomatic terms “Leave me alone with your crap!” 🙂
FACK JU GÖHTE (meaning FAHCK you Goethe) may be a film that has received many awards, including the Bambi Awards, the German Comedy Prize and probably many alternative awards for its excessive swearing. 😉 However, when watching the film for the first couple of times, the main idea is not necessarily school life and how teachers are underappreciated for their work. We saw Lisi Schnabelstedt be doused with ink in front of her eighth grade class, Ingrid Leimbach-Knorr try killing herself by jumping out the window and the main character Zeki Müller lose the seat of his pants because he was glued to the chair. A sign of disrespect by the students at a Gesamtschule bearing the famous German Goethe. A teacher’s nightmare, if he/she does not have the nerves of steel, speaking from personal experience.
The theme in this film has to do with redemption and a new chance at life. The protagonist, Zeki Müller, is released from prison for theft and applies for a job as a janitor for the Goethe Gesamtschule. Yet the primary reason behind the job is to retrieve the stolen money buried during the construction of a new gymnasium (or in German, Sporthalle), and pay up his debts he accrued prior to his incarceration. Because of the suicide attempt of Frau Leimbach-Knorr, Müller is roped into teaching a dysfunctional pupils with an attitude problem and no motivation for anything in school. Faced with the prospect of repeating the 10th grade, Müller gives the students a lesson on life they never forget, showing them the dangers of not finishing school with a tour through the slums, supporting them in what they are doing, and showing them the limits. All of them in an unorthodox way, as seen in the film clips below:
The beauty of this is despite Lisi finding out what Zeki was doing regarding the money, he wins her heart and his job as a teacher, despite not having the qualifications of a teacher (please see article on Lehramt studies). Most importantly, though, Zeki won the respect of his students, despite having to put up with their crap at the beginning.
Fack Ju Göhte satirically brings out the other side of the German education system which has been the focus of scrutiny because of the lack of quality of teaching, combined with outdated materials and lack of technical equipment. Furthermore, the relationship between the teacher and the students have been questionable, especially with regard to authority and responsibility (an example can be found here.) Yet the film should not serve as a scare tactic for future teachers. Although even yours truly (a veteran teacher of almost 15 years) sometimes had an itching to do what Zeki did in the film, I still love my job because of all the quotes and stories the students share every morning, and every single one that has since been stored away waiting to be told to my daughter who wants to be teacher, like Papa. 🙂 And for Zeki, despite all that he had endured, he loves his job in the end, setting the stage for a sequel that is coming out this month.
And if the satire is not enough, here’s a preview of what you can expect in Part II:
More trash talk in the film? Ja. More blunders in the school? You bet? And more fun with the teacher? Absolutely! It would not be surprising if Part II outdoes the original, not just because of the characters (and actors) in the film, but how the story unfolds further into chaos, with the students enjoying the ride. And with a cultural clash on the horizon, you can bet there will be plenty of discussion once the film is released and more accolades pile up, in addition to what the Files’ has given them for Part I. Stay tuned…..
FAST FACT: A German Gesamtschule is an American equivalent to a junior high school, where pupils between the ages of 11 and 18 attend, regardless of criteria, and basic education is provided with the goal of proceeding to either the Hauptschule or Realschule. A few manage to make it to a technical school or even the Gymnasium (German high school).
To start out this entry, here is a pop quiz for you to try:
Choose the situation where a person is NOT burned out and why?
SITUATION A: Tom has been teaching third graders for 15 years at a school in Cleveland, Ohio. His preference is working with kids with serious social issues, such as drug addiction, uncontrollable behaviors and aggression towards others, just to name a few. Yet one day, he submits his letter of resignation out of the blue. Reason: He had spent more time testing the kids and evaluating them than he had ever had time to create various activities, resulting in him being detached from his teaching duties and his private life but at the same time, doing work similar to a robot. He blames the Ohio State Legislature for these tests and the budget cuts that have affected the state school system.
SITUATION B: Katie teaches sixth grade music at a school in Madison, Wisconsin. She also has obligations as an organist and a choir director. Yet the last three years, she experienced a loss of energy, insomnia and a sense of negative energy towards her work that in the end, all she could do is recommend to others not to take up a career. When she resigns from her post, she is replaced by three people who shared her duties. She is now a substitute teacher but despite loving the job, she is looking for something different.
SITUATION C: Susan teaches high school English at a Gymnasium in Glauchau in the German state of Saxony. Coming off a divorce, she finds that her work was underappreciated and despite demanding for more pay, she still receives 1,600 Euros a month, barely enough to make ends meet, especially as she has to cover court costs including child support. One day, she ghosts the school, disappearing into the sunset without telling anyone, only to be found trying to take her own life on the peninsula of Holnis northeast of Flensburg by drowning herself in rum. Luckily for her, a stranger walking by stops her and helps her.
SITUATION D: James teaches Social Studies and History at an International School in Hamburg. In the past two weeks, he only had an average of four hours of sleep because of a project he and his class had been doing on immigration and integration in Germany. Suddenly, during the presentation of the topic and standing in front of a crowd of 250 people, he becomes dizzy and blacks out. The next thing he knew, he is in the hospital and is subsequentially assigned to rehabilitation for a sleeping disorder.
SITUATION E: It is the end of the semester at the university in Mannheim and Corrina has had it. After a rigorous semester where the assistant professor of civil and mechanical engineering had to contend with paperwork involving grants, a cheating scandal involving students in one of her seminars, and a horrendous workload involving 22 hours of teaching, combined with a break-up with her partner of 7 years, she decides to take three weeks off and engages in a long-distance bike tour entitled “Tour of Tears,” which she soaks in the experience of visiting towns between Basel and Emden and feels better after the trip.
While the answer will appear at the end of this article, each example inhibits the symptoms of a mental illness that has taken hold on our society, thanks to the changes in working environment where the quality of work is being trumped by the quantity put in. Burn-out syndrome was first diagnosed by Herbert Freudenberger in 1974, but despite the different symptoms discovered by doctors and scientists, Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson in 1981 narrowed them down to three key categories, namely physical exhaustion, depersonalization- meaning cynicism and dissociation from work and lastly, low personal accomplishment and appreciation. The same duo created the Maslach Burn-out inventory, which features 22 questions to determine if and to what degree the person has burn-out. The German scientific organization Arbeitsbezogener Verhaltens- und Erlebensmuster (AVEM) created four classes of burn-out syndrome, ranging from type G being a slight case (tiredness and agitation), to type A, which represents the worst case as severe depression, obsession compulsive disorder and suicidal thoughts and/or attempts are common. Burn-out syndrome is most commonly found in white-collar jobs, where people with office jobs work longer hours and have more demanding tasks than those working in the blue-collar jobs. Even more so are the teachers, police officers, administrators and government officials affected by this disorder, for the jobs demand human contact and a set of ethical rules to follow, something that is difficult to do, especially if one is a teacher.
Yet how is burn-out syndrome a serious problem among teachers? According to a survey conducted by German scientists Bauer, Unterbrink, Hack and others and involving questionnaires and observations, the teaching profession ranks number one as the most underappreciated job, number one as the job where a person can retire the earliest and sadly, number one on the list of professions where a person is most likely to develop psychological disorders, such as burn-out syndrome on the short scale, but on the long scale, the person can develop non-communicable diseases like cancer, stroke and/or even heart disease. In a survey conducted with 949 teachers in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, burn-out syndrome is more prevalent among those who are either single or divorced than those in a relationship or are married, yet the average person suffering from the disease has the second worst type of burn-out- type B, which features depression symptoms, lack of concentration and creativity, dissociation from the job, indifference, and unchecked aggression.
The causes of burn-out among teachers are numerous and unfortunately universal, no matter which country you plan to teach. If there was a top five of the causes, they would start out with the lack of funding and support for the education system as being problem numero uno. Budget cuts means less money for materials, including books and technical equipment and lower salaries and less job security among teachers. Right behind that is the increase in paperwork in terms of administering more tests than necessary, rewriting the curriculum, documenting the results of tests for each student and filling out forms that justify the ordering of materials for class. The end result is less preparatory time for classes, less time for students and less time to create one’s own activities for class. Number three is dealing with parents of delinquent pupils. This means instead of standing by the teachers in disciplining their kid, the parents are standing by the kids and cursing the teachers for not getting the job done. Schools have witnessed an increase in helicopter parents in the past 10 years, sometimes to a point where teachers have to handle not just the kids but also their parents in terms of discipline. Number four is the lack of appreciation for the work put in. This can not only happen in the school when staff criticizes the work. It is worse at home when you receive little or no support from your loved ones because their work and your work is totally different. This happens to even those who are student-teaching for even a limited time. And lastly, the problem of balancing work and family life has become a major problem even recently. That means teachers are competing with white collar workers at a financial or multi-national company for the most number of hours a week clocked in- between 50 and 60 hours a week to be exact. Normally, teachers are entitled to work between 35 and 40 hours a week, as their job is on the same level as a governmental official. This explains the reason behind an increase in protests in Germany in the past five years, as many states have attempted to reduce funding to their education system due to less income brought on by taxes.
During my practical training at a Gymnasium in Thuringia, I observed a wide spectrum of veteran teachers who were affected by burn-out in one way or another. A couple of them had recovered through treatment prior to my arrival in March 2014, yet others appeared to be frustrated by the workload that had increased. One of them had the cheek to use a Dr. McCoy- Star Trek line during a class while doing some office duties with the students, saying “Dammit! I’m a teacher, not an administrator!” Some of the frustration also stemmed from the delinquent behavior by the students, namely those between grades six and eight. Even some of the student teachers can get hammered by symptoms of burn-out for a combination of stress and long hours can result in the body not being able to fend off the unthinkable for viruses. This was the experience I had in the first month, where I was downed by a virus thanks to the lack of hours of rest plus getting adjusted to the working environment. Four weeks being bed-ridden, yet my colleague was nice to respond with this comment “Welcome to school. You survived the initiation ceremony!” Some initiation party I went through! :-/
But yet, there is a good point when it comes to being a teacher: one needs to have nerves of steel and a heart of metal alloy, ticking 24-7 in order to survive the profession. That means one needs the following four Ps in order to be a successful teacher: passion, persistence, perseverance and patience, followed by a wild card P, meaning pride. This means a dedicated teacher nowadays needs to survive the increase in bureaucracy and politics, the complaints from parents, the disinterest of the students and the dog-eat-dog competition from colleagues, while at the same time, walk one’s own line in terms of the curriculum, creating activities, teaching and keeping the students in line and knowing when to say when. Sometimes when one speaks softly he needs to carry a big stick- and use it too! Yet it is not easy if you find yourself feeling worn down, rejected and detached from your job, your family and even your own environment. Therefore while various forms of counseling and therapy are available, one has to sit down take stock at the situation, make a list of benefits and drawbacks to teaching, including the successes and problems in school, and make a plan where one says this is what I will do in addition to my teaching duties, but no more than that. It is hard to do that, but in the end, it is doable. This is why in SITUATION E, where Corrina decides to take a break from her job and do the bike tour, it was because she wanted nothing more than to avoid burn-out. And sometimes, a hobby like a long-distance bike tour can help a person reflect on the job and recover for the next round.
And so to end this segment on burn-out, here is a question to all the teachers out there: when was there a time when you had burn-out and how did it happen? How did you handle the problem and why? And lastly, did it affect your decision to remain a teacher? The Files would love to hear your stories about them, even if you keep your name anonymous.
While I had my whiff of burn-out during my practical training, it did not influence my decision to remain a teacher for one good reason: on my last day of class at the Gymnasium, a group of sixth graders, who were royal PITAs during my time teaching them, gave me a thank you card and a standing ovation! If a group of trouble-makers showing their appreciation towards your work does not convince you to remain a teacher, like mine did, what will? 🙂
Author’s note: The situations are partially made up but a couple instances were based on true stories and accounts by people known by the author. The names and places mentioned here are fictitious and are in no way connected to these stories.
First reaction from the audience: “Mr. Smith, can you please repeat that? I don’t know what you are saying.” (Typical reaction from a dedicated student from Denmark learning English for her job.”
Again: Don’t ya know, there was like an article on taking out stuff from the language, you know, English. It was like we cannot use these words because they are, you know, babylike…..
Second reaction from the audience: Basketball star Elena Delle Donne shakes her head in disbelief and puts on her headset listening to some iTune music, getting mentally prepared for the next WNBA basketball game. Yet at the same time, a hysterical mother of three stands up and says this as a third reaction:
“If you say one more like, I’m gonna pound you! Do you know how many likes you’ve said in a MINUTE?!!”
You can imagine, how many responses came out regarding the article that was posted in the Files’ facebook pages as well as the pages in the circles dealing with Anglo-Saxon and German cultures: in the short paragraph above, identify the words that probably made it to the list made by the newspaper and in the group circles.
While English is becoming more diluted with slangs and other expressions, which is making the language less sophisticated in both the oral and written senses, the German language unfortunately is suffering from a similar fate.
Take a look at the example that a former colleague from a German Hochschule where I taught for two years received from a student of civil engineering via e-mail:
Hi, ich hab mal ne frage zur presentation, wir sollen die ja schon 2 wochen vorher abgeben, was is aber wenn wir später noch was ändern wollen, ich glaub kaum das ich schon 2 wochen vorher die finale version der presentation hab und die 2 wochen lang für gut befinde und nichts mehr dran ändere, auserdem wollt ich wissen wann ich jez eigentlich meine presentation hab jez wies aussieht alles nach hinten verschoben und ich weis nich mehr wann meine dann ist…..
Hi! I have a question regarding my presentation. We should hand it in two weeks beforehand. However, what if we have to change something? We doubt our presentation will be done beforehand. In addition, I would like to know if it is possible to push my presentation date back and if so, when. (This is a shortened translation of the German text, by the way.)
If you are a German academic or an expatriate who has lived in Germany for more than ten years, like I have, you will see the mistakes in less than a second. Sadly, more and more e-mails, papers, documents and even theses are containing words that do not belong in the German language if a person wants to write like Goethe or Schiller- words like: geil, doch, noch, was and –ne, as well as some Denglish words, such as liken, downloaden, fischen, etc. While one could communicate them orally (but please, sparingly), they do not belong on paper.
So what is there to do about the erosion of the German language? It is a surefire fact that we need to eliminate some stuff from the German language in order to make it pure again, just like with the English language. And while Germans have adopted many words from English that can be used, and vice versa, there are some words that just do not belong in the vocabulary, period.
If you were a German teacher, which words would you like to see your pupils NOT use- both orally as well as written? Here are the English words that many people have listed that should be at least capped for use:
Whatever, like, awesome, umm, stuff, thing, honestly, irregardless, would of (instead of would have), actually, viral, addicting, just, maybe, really, very, went, that, literally, and absolutely.
Und du? Welche deutsche Wörter möchtest du zum Verwenden begrenzen, außer was erwähnt wurden? Her mit deiner Liste in the Flensburg Files Comment page, sowie in den anderen Seiten und wir freuen uns auf den Vergleich zwischen den englischen und den deutschen Wörten!
To start off this article, let’s play a bit of Truth or Dare, looking at the three scenarios below and daring you to do the following:
You have your students find a newspaper article and write a brief summary to be presented in a social studies class. One of them finds an article on the recent shooting of nine African Americans in a South Carolina and the plans of the southern states to retire the Confederate flag. After presenting the summary, you as the teacher, in an attempt to spark a discussion in class, jump in to speak about the importance of the Confederate flag in American history and the need to keep it flying, unaware of the fact that half of your class consist of African Americans plus one of your pupils comes from a white supremist family…..
You start off a debate about the question of wearing headscarves in the classroom of a predominantly Catholic school because of a debate in the Bavarian parliament about banning them in schools. This despite the fact that you have three Muslims and two Indians out of a total of 25 pupils in the classroom…..
You and your class just finished reading the book and watching the film “The Perils of Being a Wallflower,” and start a question for discussion about the question of homosexuality, stating the benefits of being gay. The catch: Three of your pupils are homosexual, four pupils are opposed to homosexuality for religious reasons, five pupils find the topic too sensitive to talk about and keep mum, while the rest of the 20 pupils in your group…..
It is really hard to start a discussion about controversial topics, like the ones mentioned above. This especially holds true in a foreign language classroom, like English. However, to play the Devil’s Advocate and state an argument in an attempt to start a discussion is like playing with matches. If you don’t strike it properly or near something flammable, and it produces a flame that you don’t want, you better hope you and your house are both properly insured. In other words, to start off a discussion by stating an opinion to the students in order to start a conversation could possibly result in you (as the teacher) coming under intense fire and later scrutiny by students, parents, and even the school principal.
It does not mean that you cannot play the Devil’s Advocate in the classroom. In fact, stating an opinion, be it your own or that taken from a source can provoke some form of discussion from the classroom, bringing out some ideas and thoughts from your fellow students and maybe even producing a few questions for further consideration. If you choose the right topic for the right audience, you may end up having one of the most productive sessions with your group. The right topics could include the ones mentioned above, the first of which is a current event that happened just recently. Current events would be the best brain food for such an activity. Yet a controversial topic based on a film or book, as mentioned in the third example would also be a good platform to take a side and spurn a discussion.
The caveats involved in being the Devil’s Advocate include these key elements:
1. The students: Your class will have a heterogeneous mixture of people coming from different ethnic, religious and socio-economic backgrounds as well as those who have certain preferences. You cannot introduce an activity like this without having gotten to know your group for a long period of time. And even then, you need to make a very careful judgement as to which topic you wish to provoke a discussion with, keeping the risk of a possible fall-out in mind. Therefore, as a teacher, I would wait a few months before even trying this activity out on them.
2. The environment: What is meant by environment is the school, the policies that are in place and the “unwritten” rules that you do not see on paper but that you have to be aware of. This ranges from the way teachers teach and discipline their students, to the apparel to be worn, to the mentality of both parties- meaning their views on topics deemed sensitive to the school. It is possible that there is a sense of inflexibility as to what topics should be talked about in the classroom. Sometimes conformity is the safest way to avoid confrontation, so choosing a topic and deciding whether the Devil’s Advocate is appropriate is one to be taken quite seriously.
3. The materials available for use: This is even trickier, especially if you are teaching in an American school, because of a wide array of ever-growing number of books and films that have made it to the Red List- namely those not to be used in the classroom. While it is sometimes necessary to use certain materials to cover a topic before trying to be the Devil’s Advocate, you as the teacher have to be careful as to using the materials that are approved by the school. Sometimes in order to play it safe, I go by the rule of “When in doubt, check it out.” That means ask your colleagues if the materials you plan to use for this particular exercise is ok or not.
4. You as the teacher: There are two types of passion to be aware of while standing in front of the board presenting new topics. There is the passionate type, where the teacher loves to work with the topic and the students. Then there’s the passionate type where the teacher has an opinionated topic to enforce on the class. This is the danger of playin the Devil’s Advocate- one gets too carried away with the topic. This has been seen too many times in school and even at the university. When you force your ideas onto someone, you will certainly have a stampede on your hands when the majority opposes it forcefully. In my humble opinion, playing the Devil’s Advocate is not suitable for these types of teachers if they cannot keep their passionate opinions to themselves.
To make it short and concise, being the Devil’s Advocate in order to start a conversation on a controversial topic is possible to do, but it takes a balance of a good student-teacher relationship, a good multi-cultural environment, a good but controversial topic to discuss, a good piece of literature and/or film (if necessary) and a good enough information about the school and its sets of guidelines- written and non-written, in order to pull it off. Even if you don’t play the Devil’s Advocate and state two different arguments to a controversial theme while allowing the students in groups to discuss among themselves, you are also running the risk of having some heated debates in the staff room. The risks are high, but the risks are even higher if you don’t try this in your classroom.
Because school is a place for personal development, allowing students to grow beyond their limits. If we are obsessed with manual learning, testing them constantly, students will become robots as adults- programmed to do what was taught in school. We should allow the students to progress at their own pace, think for themselves and allow them to be creative in their own environment, challenge what is not right and what they think is in the right, and lastly, be themselves. Activities like these should serve as thought-provoking and challenging. Not to enforce one’s opinion on another. To to close, I would like to ask the teachers when they should play the Devil’s Advocate in the classroom and which topic is suitable for this activity. If they have done this already, what were the results and why?
Any stories, place them here or in the Files’ facebook pages.