819DJ0MmiqLI have been browsing through a German education book by a former secondary school teacher who has taught in three German länder, Sigrid Wagner. It is called Das Problem sind die Lehrer – The problem is the teachers.

It gives a modern view of teaching in present day Germany from an experienced teacher and teacher educator and I am looking forward to being competent enough in German to tackle it. The bits I have managed so far indicate it is extremely anecdotal, with stories right from the heart of the classroom. She worries about the effect of not combatting gender inequality and social inequity, and believes that staffrooms are places of power plays, arbitrariness, envy and incompetence and that this leads to a climate of fear that “thwarts sustainable learning….so that independent thinking, debating ability and imagination” are less and less desirable. That the success of students is determined by teachers, rather than methods or materials, she sees as self evident.

Mmm. Glad she said it. Only a teacher can be that forthright. I am not sure I would dare, as a school leader, no matter what I thought of my teachers privately. I would be interested if Fr. Wagner had taught in Anglo-Saxon countries and how that compared for her. We hold the German teaching profession in high esteem, because of its high level of training, its insistence on a strong level of competence and the thoroughness and purposefulness of the bildung approach to didaktik. To hear that there are levels of incompetence and power play, as there must be in any profession, is sad.

However, I skimmed the book after a good discussion in our German class this morning about the characteristics of good teachers. Bear in mind that in the class I am the only Brit, and the other folk are from New Zealand, Romania, Syria, Iran, Iraq and South Korea. This is what they came up with:

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As a list, this is not a bad start. If we did a character assessment at interview, asking teachers to demonstrate particular competencies against this list, we would weed out a few. I might never have got into the profession in the first place. The “attractive” we decided was about being attractive enough as a character to our children that they would want to learn from us and that we could be a model for their character. Mmmm. Again, not sure that every teacher I know has a character to be aspired to. Our group was very firm that serious (ernst), purposeful (zielgerichtet)  teachers were vital for children, as they are of the best ones I know.

This kind of teacher is clearly one that our group (none of whom except me and Margarete, our tutor, are in the profession) would want as their own teacher and this is why it is always important to listen to teachers and parents when thinking about what kind of teacher we employ.

I am now a third of the way through this intensive course – 15 sessions out of the 45, three days out of the 9. Some folk are staying here for a full month, and others doing a 3 month course. There are a number of repeat offenders (met a lady this morning who is on her fifth 2 week course), and I can see why. The learning is addictive (once I have put this up I have two-three hours Hausaufgaben to complete), and the teaching style and intensity takes us as learners, and German as a language, highly seriously and respectfully. We are expected to, and we comply in, speaking German to each other as a language of social intercourse and friendship. Thus it was that last night I was in a group of people from Bangladesh, Cameroun, India, Ukraine, Catalunya, Romania and Peru, and all of us were speaking German, with no huge skill level, but so we could understand each other, but also with no reservations.

And to do all this in a city of such wonderful beauty, at the start of the Christmas season (the Weihnachtsmarkt begins tonight) is a privilege, and makes the learning of German, hitherto done within an English language environment, feel completely different. These give you some idea:

About Huw Humphreys

I am a headteacher by profession, now working as an educational researcher, in the city of Milton Keynes, where I have been since April 2011. My work looks to make education effective for the whole child and keeps a distant relationship with the powers that be and their narrowing approach to education... but most of all I am looking to find out what it means to be both a follower of Jesus Christ and a passionate educator in the midst of an unsettled community. I am also a part time musician, amateur printmaker, part time linguist and lover of history and literature...committed both to freedom to learn and depth of learning for children. The views on this blog are all my own.

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