School Days- My experience with German classrooms

As a teacher, one of the things I was most excited to do on this trip was to visit German classrooms to compare their educational experience to our own.  Teachers rarely get to travel beyond their own bubble to understand how learning happens in other parts of the world, so learning the German educational model would provide another valuable opportunity to improve my own classroom experience as well as my community.

Here are several interesting differences that I noted between German schools and our own:

  • In Germany- they hold year-round school with month-long breaks during traditional holiday times (Winter, Spring, Summer)
  • All schooling is state-funded- from elementary through UNIVERSITY!
  • No separation of church from public schooling- students take theology classes or ethics if they do not have their religion available
  • Home schooling is not an option unless the student is too sick to attend school
  • School days can end as early as noon at the lower grades, but may go as late as 6 in the upper grades, especially for students attending Gymnasium
  • Classrooms appear similar to America, with class sizes averaging around 25-30 students
  • Teachers move from class to class while students stay in their same home room all day
  • All classes run 45 minutes long, with a 5-minute break in between
  • School lunches are not common, but all-day school and school lunches are starting to catch on as parents stay at work longer and adopt a more American approach to their schedule
  • No sports teams or therefore cheerleading squads, etc. are affiliated with school- all after-school sports are run through town or city leagues
  • No AC or fans in German schools (90-100 degrees when we visited!)  Open a window or close the shutters if its too warm
  • Hallways have much less decoration than most American schools but are extremely clean
  • Much higher emphasis on foreign language curriculum than in America- particularly in English, where they offer core subjects in English as well so they can practice in other settings
  • Students go to school for roughly the same time as Americans, but they break up their high school systems into 3 different choices based on achievement and teacher feedback: Hauptschule, Realschule, and Gymnasium
    • Hauptschule – lower achieving students, focus on remedial curriculum and service industry jobs
    • Realschule – middle level students or people interested in trade careers – AMAZING dual vocational system which I will explain better in a later post, but essentially they spend half-time at school and half-time working in their chosen industry
    • Gymnasium – Highest level school (not Gym class!) where students who attend plan on going to University for higher level careers such as teaching, medicine, or law

Albertus-Magnus Gymnasium

The first school we were able to visit on our trip was the Albertus-Magnus Gymnasium in Regensburg.  Here, the students presented to us in English on the topic of refugees in Germany and the project they created to fight against xenophobia and discrimination.

Refugees from the Middle East are a major issue facing Germany today.  As a part of the German Constitution that was created following WWII, Germany promised to offer asylum to any refugees who were being politically persecuted in their home country.  Currently, there are a large number of refugees entering Germany from the Middle East, and there is beginning to be a backlash on this issue as Germany struggles to find ways to best integrate these victims into their society.

The students at Albertus-Magnus decided to create a program helping refugees better assimilate in their community.  On their own time, the students would visit the refugee housing in their community and spend time with immigrant students their own age.  Activities include friendship building exercises, sports, games, and even simply spending time with one another comparing cultures and experiences in their lives.  Basically the group felt that when people don’t have contact with a different group, they do not understand their plight and are more negative to them as a response.  This activity enabled the students to get closer with the other children and help to dispel many of the stereotypes and fears, both in the refugee camp but also in their own community by spreading awareness about their issue.  Overall it was an incredible presentation by the students and very impressive that they took such lengths to help other people at their young ages.

Another interesting policy at the school was their ‘No Blame’ program to combat bullying in their school.  Basically when someone reports bullying behavior, the principal creates a group of positive role model students, including the original bully, to help support the student, without naming names to avoid further discipline and the risk of retaliation.  Generally the results are extremely positive, with the original perpetrator changing their ways and in some cases befriending the original victim.

To see children this enthusiastic and excited about their class was very impressive.  Though the students who presented were likely the strongest examples of this program, it was easy to understand that a culture of inclusion was strongly emphasized at the Albertus-Magnus Gymnasium.  Equally impressive was the level of skill the students demonstrated through their flawless use of the English language to a group of 20 native English-speaking teachers.  I couldn’t imagine to have that same level of confidence as a junior in high school even if I presented in my own tongue.  Keeping in mind as well that this was a very hot day towards the end of the school term and it was even more impressive how well-behaved and respectful the students were.  Lastly, the students we met were very interested in our society, and had a high understanding of current events in America as well as its history as a nation.  Where American media and education tends to look inward- Germany emphasizes a more international approach.  How much more could our students learn from looking outside of their own culture?  In the end, the visit to the Gymnasium was incredible and I couldn’t wait to bring back some great ideas for my own classroom as well.

Staatliche Realschule für Mädchen

Our second visit was to the Staatliche Realschule für Mädchen in Neumarkt (State School for Girls in the city of Neumarkt).

This was an incredible experience because we could directly compare the differences between the Gymnasium school format and the Realschule, which was aimed for middle performing students.  For our activity, we had a chance to visit a 9th grade second language English History class where the students presented (in English) about the  unique history of this school.

While most German schools include boys and girls together, this particular school is an all girls school.  It was originally built in 1937 for the Hitler Youth movement under the Third Reich.  One of Hitler’s core ideas for building a lasting empire in Germany was to reach the students directly so that they would grow up following his ideology.  The Hitler Youth program was a Nazi program similar to boy or girl scouts in America.  On the surface, boys and girls would go through their own programs to learn valuable life skills, but they would also be indoctrinated with Nazi propaganda in order to develop their support for the regime.  The ultimate goal for these programs would be for boys to eventually become trained Nazi soldiers while girls would become supportive housewives of the movement.

After the war the school eventually was put back into the hands of the city of Neumarkt and it became a school for girls.  Rather than shying away from their difficult past however, they use it as a lesson in history to help students understand the importance of true education.  One of the objectives for the school today is to produce students who are global citizens, so they approach all subjects with an international focus, even teaching a number of core classes in English so that students can practice their language skills in different situations and contexts.  This practice helps students to learn their second language faster and enables them to be more confident in regular conversations with an English speaker.  The geography class we visited covered American geography and was taught in English, so when students presented on the history of the school, they had to use English to communicate the presentation to us as well.

We also were able to tour the building, here are a few pictures from the experience below:

View from the interior courtyard of the Realschule

View from the interior courtyard of the Realschule

The view of the pond connected to the school

The view of the pond connected to the school

Computer lab

Computer lab

Music room

Music room

Indoor inflatable planetarium!

Indoor inflatable planetarium!

Notice how bare the walls are...

Notice how bare the walls are…

Gym/Theater space

Gym/Theater space

Kitchen - all equipment supplied by Siemens- German school/German products

Kitchen – all equipment supplied by Siemens- German school/German products

Finally, we spent time talking about our impressions of each other.  Each teacher visitor took a turn saying something that they used to think about Germany, and what they think now, and we also opened up the same questions back to the students regarding their impressions of America without having ever visited.  Many were able to describe some of our most famous landmarks, including the White House or the Statue of Liberty.  Others noted that Americans were the leaders in trendy fashions, something I think we typically would say about the Europeans themselves.  Another student mentioned how we were the fast food nation, a sad but true statement.

But my favorite?  One student asked if we saw celebrities every day, as in their country all of the latest movies, music, and television typically comes from an American broadcast.  It just goes to show the misconceptions we can have about unfamiliar people or places. Though it was in a slightly staged setting, I really did believe that the Germans felt positively about us.  It was a reassuring feeling, given that we usually are so negatively portrayed in other parts of the world.  But this was one of the best experiences of the trip for exactly that idea.  We are from two different worlds, and the only way to truly connect and understand other cultures is to communicate with one another.  Who knows how many of our problems today could be solved by lending a hand or in taking the time to talk to someone different from ourselves?

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One thought on “School Days- My experience with German classrooms

  1. Reading this makes me consider so many things. I had no idea how much this trip would influence me and how many fellow American teachers, German students and teachers, and so many others I’d meet along the way. Thank you for putting this experience into words!
    -Trisha Hanus, Chicago Public Schools.

    Liked by 1 person

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