My German Wife Is Grateful for the Opportunity to Teach Older Students

“Thank goodness I got that second master’s degree! Now, don’t poke your eyes out, Dieter.” — Photo by Gerry Thomasen (

My wife is a Gymnasium teacher here in Germany, which means she has the training and education to teach high school students — not the little smelly ones who stick raisins up their noses. And Gymnasium teachers don’t just teach 5th through 12th graders; they teach the ones who show real academic promise. Get this: if you aren’t smart enough to go to a Gymnasium, you aren’t allowed to attend a university after graduation. You have to go to a trade school and learn how to repair cars for all the uppity nerds who got better grades than you. Can you imagine? I like to think of a young German man — let’s call him Horst — slaving away beneath some fancy BMW. He’s fixing it the best he can, turning the cranks and tightening the screws, when a shot of oil hits him in the eye like the money shot in a porno. That’s the moment when Fancypants Schillinger, the former high school valedictorian, strolls into the auto shop:

FANCYPANTS: “Well hello there, Horst! I haven’t seen you since you flunked out of our Gymnasium! What have you been up to?”

HORST: “Fixing your car, obviously.”

FANCYPANTS: “Hah hah, good ol’ Horst. Remember how popular you were in school? How you went to all the parties and chased all the girls? I used to be so envious…”

HORST: *Jabbing his hand into the toolbox* “Yup..”

FANCYPANTS: “But then you flunked one too many classes and wound up in a Hauptschule with all the other knuckle draggers. I bet that was a real trip to the zoo, wasn’t it? Hah hah!

… and that’s how Horst wound up serving life in prison for beating a nerd to death with a monkeywrench.

Anyway, my point is the German educational system — while highly effective — can be a tad elitist. You can imagine why a smart, well-educated Gymnasium teacher might not relish the idea of teaching little kids, especially little American kids. But that’s exactly what my wife did back in 2012, when she spent a year in the United States at a primary school. She did this on a J1 work visa in order to give us the chance to live together as a couple. It was a sacrifice on her part, and I respect the hell out of her for making it. I had to laugh, however, when she was about to leave the States and begin her job as a full-blown Gymnasium teacher in Germany, explaining to me (with no small amount of relief ) how old her future students would be:

THE WIFE: “They are older. I will have 5th through 12th graders. They are not thigh-biters.”*

*3 seconds later: “… I mean ankle-biters.”

24 thoughts

  1. Falling out of my chair laughing at this one. I will send it to my two girlfriends who are “basisschool” teachers here in NL– “thigh biters”—heheheehee


  2. I always think of the little ones as nose wipers. They hug you at the knees…ick! I love my 7 year old. But she’s mine. Wouldn’t want to teach under the 6th grade.


  3. Nice article, I really enjoy reading your blog :-). However, the German educational system nowadays offers a lot of opportunities for students who didn’t go to a Gymnasium to get their Abitur (and therefore be allowed to study). Still, there’s a lot of pressure on young children to do well in school in order to go to a Gymnasium – the educational system does tend to be elitist, as you said ;-).


  4. Maybe she never saw an episode from rugrats … ankle-biters is more a term referring to a small dog (like a chihuahua) – not even GERMAN toddlers are known to bite your ankles …
    But I think she THOUGHT of the term Wadenbeisser – which is more like calves-biter … and usually is used in connection with smaller soccer players: Wadenbeißer bedeutet: Eine aggressive Person, die sich durch eine besonders kleine Körpergröße auszeichnet – an (Wadenbeisser means – an aggressive person of whom shortness is one of the more outstanding visible features)


  5. That’s an interesting system they have in Germany. There “Gymnasium class” must be a lot more intricate than my high schools where 2/3 of the class sat on the bleachers and gossiped while the 1/3 shuffled aimlessly around the court. The only real sweat that was broken were in the classes tailored around a sport like basketball of football.


  6. I think your point of view is a bit… Americanised. I mean, sure, there is some elitism on the German educational system, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was always the nerd of my class, and I must say it’s really frustrating when you spend all your day working on that presentation for Foreign Language class and then the moron who just showed up and read (and mispronounced everything) gets to pass. Where I live they just pack us up in classrooms, and those who care to learn not only get the same attention levels than those who don’t; it’s actually less, because the teacher has to spend all day telling little Jimmy (17-year-old Jimmy) to shut up and let the rest of us listen. We can’t learn properly and thus lack a lot of knowledge by the time we graduate, all thanks to that idiot who wanted to use a stink bomb at the middle of Calculus, and that makes harder entering a decent university. I would welcome with happiness a system like Germany’s, where the only way you can stay in the classroom is by actually learning, and not just doing the minimal possible to graduate the uni and pulling strings to end up in a better job position than the student who just didn’t know the right people but who’s three times more capable of doing their job.


  7. The German educational system continually perplexes me no matter how many times it is explained. However, I salute you for putting it in the starkest and funniest terms I have yet to read.


  8. I’ve taught everyone from preschool to adults and I think I prefer either elementary school or adults. I don’t really prefer middle school, although some of the kids are great.
    I’ve heard a bit about the German education system. It does seem very segregated, although I guess that makes it efficient.


  9. hahahaha this is so true! I am also living in Germany, and I hate the eductaional system. I was at a Realschule but redid the gymnasium in order to go studying. It was a long and hard way. You said it right: the german educational system is elitist indeed!


  10. just FYI, you dont need to study to get a good job, here exist something thats called apprenticeship. Also I would say working as car mechanic for a company like bmw or mercedes isn’t bad at all.

    best regards


  11. I do admire your wife for being a teacher. I wouldn’t be patient enough for that! Thanks for sharing this post. It was quite funny – and finally I know how Horst ended up in prison… ;-)


  12. Ha! I’m a teacher in Germany but I teach only corporate professionals and happy to do so. So much easier and far more interesting. Phew! However, I admire your wife and others like her, teaching the future leaders of the nation and all that LOL!


      1. It’s my pleasure! Yes, I teach Business English. Very enjoyable it is too LOL!
        Kids seem to like me as when I was younger, I used to organise children’s games and parties and they thought I was some sort of pipe piper of Hamelin. However, I feel more stretched and comfortable with professionals and contemporary worldly issues!


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