Because school is more than just about lessons

Perfect knowledge of maths, physics and chemistry, very good knowledge of the German language – and yet it still doesn't really work out in the classroom. Teachers who have learned their profession abroad receive support from Kiel University through the InterTeach qualification programme.

Four women in a room with a world map
© Martin Geist

Claudia Fischer, Annedore Hänel, Katharina Pommerening and Jacqueline Wassing.

Career-related language courses for immigrants are nothing new, since the so-called Recognition Act (Anerkennungsgesetz) entered into force in 2012. This "Law to improve the assessment and recognition of professional and vocational education and training qualifications acquired abroad" states that all those concerned have a right to get their competencies determined and to compensate for possible deficits by means of tailor-made follow-up training. Although this also applies in principle to teachers, most of the language courses offered to date have hardly been based on their professional background. This means that the C2 certificate is taught, also known as the "Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom" (GDS) at the Goethe-Institut, and which certifies competencies at an academic level, irrespective of the desired career.

"However, this is often not enough," said Dr Annedore Hänel, who heads the German as a Foreign Language (DaF) team at Kiel University. And that is precisely why since the beginning of 2021, not only the C2 preparation and the corresponding examination have been offered there, but also lessons for the subsequent everyday life at schools. "School is more than just teaching lessons," explained project leader Katharina Pommerening from the Centre for Teacher Training (ZfL), citing the subject of English as an example. Although not a single word of German is required for teaching the subject, which usually takes place completely in English, the situation is different when it comes to conversations with parents or even communication in the schoolyard. The problem is similar for a teacher who has perfect mastery of the formulas and laws of physics, but not of the German language.

Kiel’s answer to this is the InterTeach programme for teacher qualification for grammar schools (Gymnasium). The programme provides participants with subject-specific, specialised didactics and pedagogical training, with the goal of ensuring optimal preparation for starting the career. According to Jacqueline Wassing, who is responsible for coordinating the language module, the programme includes theoretical and practical exercises on what happens at schools, in addition to the high-level German lessons. The participants play the role of the teacher, and use role-play to practice aspects such as dealing with conflicts between pupils or coping with a parents' evening. "Phonetics is also an important topic, because it is often the pronunciation that matters at school," added Dr Claudia Fischer, who is responsible for the new C2 exam. However, the full InterTeach programme is only open to those who teach subjects for which there are teacher shortages. At grammar schools these are maths, physics and chemistry. Teachers of these subjects who pass the German C2 course for the teaching profession will be given an opportunity to complete an adaptation period (Anpassungslehrgang). It lasts one to one and a half years and is roughly comparable to the conventional practical teacher training (Referendariat). Once this has been successfully completed, there are very good prospects for a permanent job at a school. In order to improve their language and communication skills, international teachers of other subjects can also participate in the German course. However, the other courses of the InterTeach programme are not open to them.

The response to InterTeach, which is offered at Flensburg University for teaching at primary schools and secondary schools (Gemeinschaftsschulen), is not too bad considering the significant hurdles. Since the beginning of 2021, approximately 20 men and women have joined. Because the courses can last up to a year and a half, depending on the prior knowledge, it is not yet possible to comment on the success rate. However, according to project leader Pommerening, it is clear that the final examination in the German C2 course for the teaching profession is by no means mundane, and a number of participants failed at the first attempt.

The interest in the Schleswig-Holstein model, which is otherwise only practised in a similar form in a few cities, is great. "We regularly receive inquiries from all over Germany," said Annedore Hänel. Therefore, in 2022, there will be a conference at which all comparable institutions will be able to share their experiences.

Author: Martin Geist

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