Interview | Shortage of teachers in Berlin schools
“Teachers are given too much work”
Berlin schools complain about the shortage of teachers. The reasons for this are the high rates of illness, but also the lack of skilled workers and more part-time teachers. Director Beate Maedebach mainly blames the overload.
rbb | 24: Mrs. Maedebach, you are the principal of the Kopernikus-Oberschule in Steglitz-Zehlendorf. As a director, have you ever had to step in and take a lesson?
Mrs. Maedebach: We always do. But even school leaders don’t have the omniscience gene. Of course I can take a chemistry class in the second semester of high school, but the students and I don’t get anything out of it.
According to a table of the Berlin Education Administration, the hours at the Kopernikus School are covered for 98%. Is there a shortage of teachers in your school?
This is true internally when looking at the planning of the school year. In fact, it is always different because some facts are not reported in this table. We had 20 percent sick leave from the fall holidays and eight colleagues fell ill today alone. For example, we have two pregnant coworkers who have been banned from working. Or we have a colleague who has been sick for a long time. This portal does not show it. These are situations that arise – during the school year.
What role do substitutes play in the daily life of your school?
We have a lot of them. How well the substitute can integrate always depends a lot on the person and also on what he has to replace. The idea that technique is always in the foreground is not entirely true. A teacher is first of all an important interlocutor and personality is very important. Sometimes this works well with alternates. But sometimes not and then problems arise: it’s hard when I have no idea how to teach math, but it’s also hard when I know a lot about math but don’t know how 14-year-old students work. They both have to come together. Good teaching actually comes when good relationship work has been done. You can’t get it all at once.
What does it especially mean for students if there are not enough teachers in school or someone suddenly drops out?
In principle, it boils down to the fact that the lessons are canceled. Students first say: Hurray, the math is cleared! However, this also creates gaps in daily school life. So a student comes to school and finds that there is no class in the fourth period. We also have offers there: educators, social workers and even a recreation area where students can then be assisted. First of all, this is a help. But in the end it happens that the continuous work in the subject stops. It’s always bad.
How does the fact that there are not enough teachers in the school affect other teachers? How is the atmosphere in the staff room?
Diseases cannot be planned. We receive reports of illness every morning. And every morning, the colleague who does the cover plan opens the door at 7:15, and it’s always like a kind of travel bag: who’s not here today, who should I replace today? For example, a teacher comes to school on Tuesdays and actually has the first three hours of class, then two hours off and then another two hours of class. In these free hours she would actually be free, but a replacement may be required during these hours. So she cannot prepare for the next lesson or carry out proofreading work. Currently, our teachers teach up to five of these additional hours.
This is not fun for teachers. The worst part is that they go to a class they don’t even know, a lesson that they might not even be able to teach because they’re not even math teachers, and then they are confronted with students who actually thought they were free now. And those are the hours my colleagues find most difficult, that is the worst part of the day for them. And these are also the times when most conflicts arise.
According to the education administration, more and more teachers are going part-time. What do you think is the reason for this development?
Yes, this is also the case with us. We have just over half of our colleagues working part-time for us. Some have a half stitch, others cut the tips a little. I see the reasons very clearly in the overload and the generational change. We’ve replaced more than half of college in the past five years. As a rule, we have replaced older people with younger ones. As a result, we have a staff that is very suitable for families with children of school and nursery age, which is why many work part-time. But there are hardly any newcomers starting full time. In the second stage of the training, everyone finds out how much work it is and claims that they cannot perform the full range of services.
You are not alone with the problem of teacher shortages, it is a Berlin-wide phenomenon. What do you think can solve the problem?
The first successes are recorded in the discussion on civil servants, as the first colleagues return from Brandenburg or do not emigrate at all, because there is also the possibility of becoming civil servants in Berlin. From my point of view, you need to rely more on multi-professional teams so that pedagogical and other work can be spread across multiple shoulders. We have good experience in involving educators and social workers in pedagogical work. There must be more. More work is needed so that teachers can focus more on the core business. Core business often refers to specialist teaching, and that is correct.
However, we must not forget how important relational work is. Especially in schools – ours is one of them – where there are students who come from poorly educated families, who need a more personal approach – the teacher is a person of enormous importance.
I have also been a German teacher for a long time. I offered a theater group and the kids really enjoyed going there. They got to know me there in a different way. This was very valuable in building trust. We now no longer have the option to add a study group as an assignment to a teacher. We are pleased that half of the German lessons can be covered. This is at the expense of the important relationship work.
In your opinion, what needs to happen for the teaching profession in Berlin schools to become attractive and for more people to decide to study teaching?
Working conditions must change. I don’t think it’s about paying more. I think teaching is a relatively high-paying job. It’s just the workload that needs to be organized differently. Especially in schools where you have to look after children the most, we’re seeing how important it is for colleagues to have the time to take care of them too. Too much workload is imposed on teachers, which they cannot afford and this makes them dissatisfied.
Thanks for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Anna Bordel for rbb | 24. This text is a modified version.
Broadcast: Inforadio, March 21, 2022, 11:32 am