Thursday, August 30, 2007


Listen. What's that sound?

That's the sound of my adorable kids NOT running up and down the stairs trying to punch each other's lights out or asking for something to eat every 10 minutes. Because...because...they went back to school today! I can actually hear myself think again.

Going back to school has its good and bad sides, of course. These past few weeks I've spent a total of €190 on text books and work books for my little darlings. Yikes. And then there's the myriad notebooks, binders, pens, pencils etc. etc. that still need to be bought. Yesterday I read the results of a recent survey stating that 42% of Germans would prefer that textbooks be provided by the schools free of charge. What a surprise. It used to be like that. Lernmittelfreiheit, they called it. Somewhere along the line someone decided it was a bad idea and now we're stuck with forking out big bucks for books that sometimes don't even get used because many of them are outdated or poorly written.

970,000 students in Lower Saxony headed off to school again today and our jolly minister for education assures us that this year there will be no huge classes and missed lessons due to teacher shortages. Uh huh. We'll believe that when we see it. Some schools had to scrap entire subjects in the past few years because there was no one to teach them - Latin, Physics and Music are just a few examples.

An extra 2000 teachers were apparently hired this year to fill the gaps, BUT because of German bureaucracy, their training and final exams extend beyond the start of the school year and they cannot offically begin teaching until November 1, leaving a space of two whole months to be filled in however the schools see fit. More missed class hours and busy work. Please explain that one to furious parents who only want the best for their children.

In addition to the above fuss and bother, this year also marks the start of the Eigenverantwortliche Schule, basically a school responsible for itself. That means that each school is free to set its own school hours and the length of class periods. That sounds OK, but since the kids are only attending school for 12 years now (not including kindergarten) instead of 13, it might mean that some schools, especially the Gymnasium, the type my boys attend, may introduce Saturday classes, making for a 6-day week for the little nippers. I can just see the sparks flying if that one goes through.

Anyway, you know I could rant on and on about the German school system but I'll stop now because I need to go make lunch for my two brilliant scholars who will be home any minute now to give me a first hand account of their day.

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At August 30, 2007 2:29 p.m., Blogger Martina said...

School starts on a Thursday in Niedersachsen? It started last Monday here in Hessen.

Hessen, thankfully, has Lernmittelfreiheit; all we have to buy is an English workbook for €7,40. Well, and tons of Hefte, Umschläge, Schnellhefter, Geodreiecke, etc. etc.

Hessen is switching over from 13 to 12 years for my daughter's year; what it boils down to is that my son will finish 13th grade at the same time that she finishes 12th, so they will graduate together.

At August 30, 2007 2:50 p.m., Blogger Alison said...

Aw... who needs physics anyway... ;)

At August 30, 2007 4:10 p.m., Blogger christina said...

martina - Yep, the school year in Niedersachsen always ends on a Wednesday and starts on a Thursday and I haven't a clue why.:-) Wow, I didn't know there were still states with Lernmittelfreiheit - you're so lucky. And Boy14's year (he's in 9th grade now) will be the first one to only do 12 years at the school. Should be interesting since they're pusing them really hard.

Alison - You're so right! Both physics and chemistry were my downfall in high school.

At August 30, 2007 4:30 p.m., Blogger Lesley said...

It's wonderful isn't it? Mine went back yesterday: I think that even they were getting a bit fed up of the holiday.
France is going to lay off 22000 teachers and admin staff in the school system this year - how's that for an education policy that invests in the future?

At August 30, 2007 6:17 p.m., Blogger Carol said...

That's right! They come home for lunch -- and STAY! Nice... or not?!


At August 30, 2007 7:13 p.m., Blogger Maribeth said...

Our kids here in New Hampshire go back on Sept. 4th. Most of the kids I will not miss, but a few of the nice neighborhood kids that come and play with the dogs I will miss terribly!

At August 30, 2007 9:08 p.m., Blogger J said...

I know what you mean about missing lessons. One of the apprentices in my class of 17 year olds missed an entire year of English due to the fact that the teacher was ill for the year.

At August 30, 2007 9:28 p.m., Blogger christina said...

lesley - Yes, I am quite enjoying myself. :-) Incredible that they'd let that many teachers go in France.

carol - Well, yes and no. I feel they should stay at school longer and have proper breaks and then maybe they'd be able to get through all the material they're supposed to know. Some kids do have to stay longer and they only have a 2O minute break for lunch which is ridiculous.

maribeth - Well, some kids are nicer to have around than others. :-)

J - I know, I've seen it happen too. Unbelievable, really. I don't get why they have so much trouble finding substitutes.

At August 31, 2007 12:24 a.m., Blogger Marsha said...

At least the house is quiet.

At August 31, 2007 4:06 a.m., Blogger Runaway Rubber Duckie said...

Somehow I though the education system would be really great there.

At August 31, 2007 4:22 a.m., Blogger susan d said...

I assumed the education in Germany superior, too, what with inventing Kindergarten and all...

At August 31, 2007 9:33 a.m., Blogger Betsy said...

Don't forget the mandatory EUR 135+ for a backpack for first graders! I'm still reeling for the sticker shock!

I tried to find something cheaper, but then by the time you fill it with the sports bag and the regulation pencil case you come out at the same price! And I actually bought one of the cheaper models!

The Germans explain it by saying that the kids use it through 4th grade but I'm not sure I fully believe that theory... Mine will be, though. I don't care if it falls apart in tatters on his shoulders... ;-)

At August 31, 2007 2:13 p.m., Blogger Betty said...

Your boys tell you what happened at school???

It's so frustrating when people get in the way of what your children need. (preparation for the future)

At August 31, 2007 4:17 p.m., Blogger EuroTrippen said...

Hmmm, maybe the international school's not so bad after all...

At September 02, 2007 4:45 p.m., Blogger Bek said...

In Austria schoolbooks used to be for free to. In my last few schoolyears they changed it to pay only a small amount - I think it was 10% of the price. I am not sure if that's still the same.
My sister just started her student teaching year. There are no teaching jobs in Austria. She was told to expect to wait up to 7 years, and then there might only be a part time position available.

At September 03, 2007 9:11 a.m., Blogger kate said...

Here you pay for all textbooks, and you can't reuse them from year to year with another kid because they put out new editions (and because a lot of them are workbook-type things. It's super expensive (My son's books cost 90 euros last year, and he was only 4!) and people complain but it's a huge racket for the textbook companies, so I don't see a change any time soon. Sigh.

At September 03, 2007 11:52 a.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

Man! What is the German world coming to, Christina! I sure hope things end up better than you think. What a pain.

At September 04, 2007 1:54 a.m., Blogger Expat Traveler said...

Ok - please explain to me why there are 13 years of school, and at what age that ends?

(I personally did pre-k, kinder, then 1st, etc.)

How is it different than the 12 years?

And I know actually in Switzerland one can end even earlier..

Very interesting stuff actually.

and the boys come home for lunch???

At September 04, 2007 9:31 a.m., Blogger christina said...

marsha - Very quiet. Except for the voices in my head, of course. :-)

rubber ducky - Noooo, it's very archaic. They're working on reforms, but it's going to take a long time.

susand - Nope, unfortunately Germany ranks at the bottom of industrialized nations for the quality of the school system.

Betsy - I know! Those backpacks and other supplies break the bank. Our kids got through grades 1-4 with their first backpacks but they were SO ratty and dirty at the end. Boy11's new one will hopefully last him a couple of year longer. Ds14 now has a second hand one that's falling apart so we're going to have to bite the bullet and shell out for a pricey one so he can make it to grade 12 without embarassing himself.

Betty - Well, they do now, but I know that that won't last forever. Yes, some people (=ministry of education, politicians etc) don't seem to realize that these children are Germany's future and are going to represent the country later on.

Eurotrippen - It's pretty bad, B. I know the international schools aren't perfect either, but you're pretty lucky to be able to send your girls there.

bek - As it stands now we can borrow some of the books from the school for a hefty fee and then buy the rest full price. Don't know how it is in Austria these days. Your sister should come to Germany and teach physics!

kate - Wow, EUR 90 for a 4 yr old. It's really such a rip off. They do the new addition thing here too. And when you borrow the books from the school you have to give them back and then pay for the next kid to borrow them again if it's the same family.

ginnie - Well, everyone just muddles along but it's not an ideal situation and the kids are the victims of the whole system. The minister for education in our state is just not really in touch with what the parents and students want and need right now and he's been receiving a lot of criticism. Hopefully he'll start listening.

Expat - Kindergarten, where the kids go from age 3 to 6, is a separate entity here and not attached to the public school system, so those years don't count. The university-track schools in our state used to go from grade 1 - 13 but since they switched to 1 - 12 a couple of years ago they now have to cram all the material from the missed year in there somewhere. In the other two school forms you can leave after grade 10 if you choose.

And yeah, the boys come home for lunch and STAY home because school only goes until early afternoon. They're home by 2 p.m. on most days. That's one of the problems with the German system - that the kids have fewer school hours per year than in almost any other country.

At September 06, 2007 4:26 a.m., Anonymous kiwi_kath said...

Wow, things are certainly different everywhere. Interesting that they are trending toward schools running themselves -- the opposite is true in the U.S.; teachers in many areas are not allowed to teach anything not written out in a state teaching plan.

Here in Maine, the schools buy almost all the books, and in fact teachers shell out a lot of their own money in pencils and paper because a lot of kids come to school without anything!
Locally, they now care more about "security" than about actually educating the kids. They put in place a new policy that no one can bring a backpack or other bag to school unless it is clear or see-through mesh. Ridiculous -- everyone is having to buy new backpacks, none of which are adequate (who'd want a see-through bag for their belongings anyway?).
That's what happens when educators aren't allowed to set policy.

At September 18, 2007 5:44 p.m., Blogger Jo said...

Hi Christina,
My name is Jo. I stumbled on your blog via Betty Carlson's blog (and so forth). I'm a very good friend of Betty's sister. I loved reading your blog, it brought back so many memories... I was, emphasis on was, married to a German for 13 years and lived in Hamburg. My son, Nicholas was born there in 1992. I lived there from 1984 until the summer of 1995, when we came back to WA state. (I spent a year in Bonn, too as an exchange student) I am soooo envious / jealous that you all have the internet to stay connected with one another. When I lived in Germany before the internet boom, I was a completely isolated American with no network of support from fellow ex-pats. I wonder how different my life would have been had I had that connection?
Since my son has duel citizenship and grandparents who don't speak English, I applied for and got a Fulbright teaching exchange and ended up in the godforsaken "town" of Soltau last year. Nicholas went straight into Gymnasium there. It was a nightmare. He was so freaking miserable in that provincial setting with a Klassenlehrerin who was a total Schnepfe and kids who bullied him on a daily basis that he ended up becoming physically ill and we had to cut our stay short and come home in February. Luckily he got fluent in German before we left! If I had known there was another ex-pat with kids the same age that closevby, I would have called you right away.
Anyway, it's been fun reading through your blogs...especially this one. I have a million things to say about the German education system, now that I have worked in it myself as a teacher and had a child subjected to it! My ex-husband was a Gymnasiallehrer but I just didn't have the close-up look then that I got last year.
Well, I hope you don't mind if I read your blog from time to time and comment, even if you don't know me.


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