Thursday, 26 September 2013

German schools are different to British ones.

Two and a half years ago I thought I'd left school for good. But this week I've been back in the classroom, only not as a pupil but in my new role as an English Language Assistant.

That's not to say I haven't learnt anything though. I've learnt an awful lot actually, both subject matter (the awkward moment when you don't know the right answer in a multiple choice quiz for German teenagers about the UK) and about German school life.

And because I'm oh-so-generous, slash it might be useful to future language assistants, slash I think it's interesting (I'll keep the boring stuff to myself - see, I'm also thoughtful), I've decided to share some of my findings with you.

1. German schools have different timings.

The first lesson starts at 7.45am, which means the kids have to be there by 7.30am. It seems horrendously early, doesn't it? Well, it did to me at first, but then I realised that whilst first lesson at my school back in the UK wasn't until 8.40am, we had to be there by 8.15am, which is actually only 45 minutes later (can you tell I did maths AS-Level?)

In classic German fashion, the school day is meticulously and logically structured - every lesson last 45 minutes (at my school some were 35, others were 40... It was a down right MESS in comparison), and there's a break after every two.

But because school starts extra early, it also finishes extra early. And I mean extremely extraordinarily extra early. I'm working at two Gymnasiums which are types of secondary schools, and the younger kids there (from age 11) go home for the day at noon. NOON!

The older ones only stay a couple more hours too. Compared to my school days of finishing at 6pm and then having to go back to school on Saturday (ah, the life of a day girl in a boarding school), this seems totally cray cray.

Finishing so early, it makes me wonder how they manage to teach everything on the curriculum, especially seeing as until a couple of year ago, German teens went to school until the age of 19. They've only recently cut a year off to be in line with most other European countries, adding a few more early afternoon lessons to try and cram in that extra year.

I don't half feel for the parents. And by that I mean, most probably, the mothers. While the kids can stay under supervision at school during the afternoon, I'm not sure how many do, and having to look after your kids all afternoon mustn't half make it hard to have a career.

But for us language assistants, it's totally awesome. Afternoons off WHUT.

2. German classrooms are behind in the technology stakes.

I don't know about you, but every classroom in my school had at least one computer linked up to a projector and a whiteboard, if not a smartboard. Strangely enough, this is not the case here in Germany.

Despite their technological and engineering aptitude, ze Germans are still using chalk and blackboards in their schools. It seems odd to us, but I think it gives the classroom a more traditional vibe. It's quite sweet - in the younger classes, the kids all want to be the ones to wipe the board clean at the end of each lesson. The older kids, understandably, aren't so keen. They've got snapchats to send.

The classrooms have projectors for those clear, plastic sheet thingies, as well as DVD and CD players, but when I asked if there was wifi for showing YouTube clips and the like from my iPad, I discovered it was a no. Not necessarily a bad, thing, I just think it's interesting.

In fact, I just don't get why German classrooms don't have whiteboards, smartboards and computers. Oh, and I'm not just basing this on experience from one school - I work at two, and have been reliably informed this is the case all over Germany.

I do quite enjoy the fact that schools commonly have speakers in every classroom for announcements, just like in Grease. I bet that's what they were going for.

3. There's no school uniform.

I personally think school uniform is a great thing. That said, I've also noticed the teens generally dress very stylishly here. I think Zara is like the mothership for the girls. To be honest, I imagine their British counterparts would not be at the same level of chic-ness if they got to wear their own clothes every day. No offence, Brits. Love ya.

As an aside, I'm not sure German kids love us... I sat in on an English lesson with a class of 16-17 year old Germans, and when asked what they thought of as 'typically British', this is what they came up with:

Yeah. Not overly positive, is it? In case you can't read it, allow me to transcribe: Football hooligans, beer and alcohol troubles, getting sunburnt, rain, odd food, a dark sense of humour, queuing, CCTV, well-mowed front lawns and laziness. Oh, but at least they mentioned cream tea, THANK GOD.

I'm just going to have to change all that though. Bribery with scones may occur. And they think we're the big beer drinkers!? Pfft. I'll admit the UK has a binge drinking problem though. Fair play, Germans. In fact, it's, um, well... all mostly true, if focussing on negatives.

But I digress... Back to the German pupils. I've also realised there are practically zero overweight kids. It's quite noticeable compared to the UK. I mean, sure, I'm only in two schools, but it did strike me. Interesting, don'tcha think? Despite all their yummy German cakes, which brings me nicely on to...

4. There's free cake in the staff-room every day!

OK, that's not true. It only happened today because the trainee teachers made loads and brought them in as a welcome sort of thing. And oh my! There was so much and it was all so yummy.

It's quite common in German schools to have a fair few trainee teachers. One of my schools is actually a special teacher-training school so they have nearly 30 of them! But that's fun, because they're all in their 20s.

The schools seem to organise a lot for the teachers, and I think there's a nice community feel as a result. For example, there's a staff trip to Heidelberg coming up, and next week we're all going off on a hike with a dinner break in the middle. Warum nicht, eh? 

Woo I've got a pigeon hole! It's empty but that's by the by.
I do feel somewhat odd being in the staff-room though. When walking round school, I really think the teachers who haven't met me yet must think I'm one of the pupils. In fact, most of the kids probably think I'm one of them too. Or maybe I'm just known as the English girl. Maybe I'm not known at all. WHO KNOWS WHAT THEY COULD BE THINKING!?

Sorry, I should calm down.

All the staff and pupils I have met - actually pretty much every German person, end of - have been delightfully friendly and helpful. Just don't mention the war, eh? (Oops. I just did, didn't I?)

You see, I make that joke, but in the second class on my first day, the teacher actually did bring up the war. That was slightly awks. Laugh it off, Rachel, just laugh it off. There has been a lot of laughing when everyone else laughs over the past week.

I'm going to be taking on more responsibility soon, and I have to say I'm really looking forward to it. Naturally, I find language learning really interesting, so it's fascinating to see how German kids are taught English. It also makes you think about your own language in a new way.

You know how German handwriting is really distinctive? Well, if you didn't, you do now. I noticed that when the English teacher was writing in English, she changed her handwriting to the English way. Impressive, no?

Today I actually sat in on a French class too. A French class taught in German. That was confusing. But fun.

But I'm also looking forward to sharing my love for all things British. Slash really hoping I know the answers to their questions - so far they've included 'What's your name?' 'What's your favourite food?' and 'What's your favourite colour?' which I just about managed to answer. Lord only knows what the older children could ask though.

It's the languagey questions that are more difficult though. Often, they're things we know, but we don't quite know how to explain. For example, 'What's the difference between "sentiment" and "sensation"?' Seems simple. But then try and explain it to German teenagers. Yeah.

If I don't know the answer I'll just distract them by offering a slice of Victoria Sponge. Cake is always the answer.

So. To sum up. German school kids dress well and the trainees make good cake.


  1. This made me giggle a lot, and sounds all to familiar from my time going round Europe!


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