My German Wife Deals with Referendariat Rage (AKA: Teacher Training Tantrums)

“Honey, it’s gonna be okay. Please don’t spin your head around 360 degrees and blow vomit in my face.” — Photo Credit: Katie Tegtmeyer ( — Image subject to CC 2.0 license

Back in the spring of 2013, my wife was still a Gymnasium Referendariat teacher (like a clerkship position, or “teacher training”), which meant she was working her sweet ass off making lesson plans for high school students, teaching classes, writing papers and sitting through mind-numbing seminars — all without the guarantee she would even have a job when it was all over. As an outsider, I must say the Referendariat program seems designed specifically to eliminate the weak-willed and insufficiently motivated teachers of tomorrow.

This makes a certain amount of sense though; they have to cull the herd because teaching positions in Germany are highly sought-after. You get sweet benefits and earn a nice salary, and if you’re working in a state which offers it, you can attain “verbeamtet” status, which is the American equivalent to tenure. On top of all this, the job itself is highly respected. (Unlike in the States, where we regard our high school teachers like social workers sacrificing their health and happiness in a vain attempt to dissuade young, blossoming criminals. “You’re a high school teacher? I’m so sorry. I mean, that is just so good of you…”)

But the Referendariat program is harsh, man. The teachers in training report to senior-level teachers within their chosen subjects, typically two, but sometimes three people who have been working for a few decades and decided they want to earn a little more money while they crush an aspiring teacher’s dreams. If the teachers you’re reporting to are complete assholes, guess what? You’re in Fucksville! And the stress levels are just insane. In my wife’s group — which consisted of about 25 other teachers in training — panic attacks were commonplace, and some had complete physical and psychological meltdowns. Like, where they had to go to the emergency room thinking they were having a heart attack, or spend the night in the psych ward because they had a nervous breakdown. I’m not kidding. One teacher just straight blacked out and stopped responding during her final exam. It was crazy.

But my wife — bless her German soul — never really lost her shit. Sure, she was super tired, stressed out and pissed off from time to time, but she was a real trooper about it. There was one thing she could not abide, however, and that was receiving contradictory instructions from the senior teachers. One would tell her to be louder and more effusive, and another would tell her to be quieter and more conservative. This pissed her right the hell off, until one day she came home, dropped her jacket and said:

“I should get a gym membership. I want to punch a bag.”

If you would like to read another Denglish post during my wife’s time as a Referendariat, check this one out: My German Wife Offers a Simple Solution to the Problem of Clothing vs. Closet Space



25 thoughts

  1. I completely agree except for one thing: The job isn’t highly respected in Germany. Not really at least. :/ Compared to the US, I get why you might feel that way about it… But actually, society unfortunately doesn’t think too highly of teachers. It’s more like the “you don’t really know what work is, because teaching is more like a halftime-job and you’ve got more holidays than anybody else, and on top of that you earn way too much” blahblah… I know that because my sister is a teacher, too, and I’m currently studying to become one. The fact that we constantly have to fight those unnerving clichés and the bad image is the thing that strikes me most about the job. But I totally get that in Germany, we’ve still got it much better than teachers in the US.
    Anyway, I’d love to hyperlink this fitting description of the Referendariat in an entry on my blog, if that’s okay with you. I’d like to do that because I’ve discussed this topic only recently with some other bloggers (whose careers unfortunately didn’t survive the Referendariat). Please let me know if that’s okay with you or not!
    Best regards from the South of Germany, Tinalise


  2. To whoever you are behind this epic page.
    I’m an American living here in Germany, my way is German as well.
    Would you maybe like to meet up, get hammered and eat ass melting Chili drowned in a sea of molten hot sauce together? To be honest, I haven’t had a decent bowl of chili in three years, and the withdrawals are painful! :D


  3. Seems in general people don’t regard teachers nearly with enough respect, particularly here in the US (which I agree with you) and it shows given how undereducated our students are and the number of teachers who really aren’t worth a crap. I’m sure wanting to punch a bag was the least of what she really wanted to do lol. I don’t blame her! Contradictory messages are awful. Another hilarious post! :)


  4. Omg, it’s the same in France. I did the French equivalent three years ago and fortunately survived without any emergency room visits. And now I have tenure for life!

    It’s striking how similar it sounds. Teachers have a terrible image in France—we teach 18 hours and so people somehow think that we WORK 18 hours and sit on our butts the rest of the time and are totally in it for the vacation time. It’s the most infuriating thing about it.

    I know there are differences between the German and French systems. I think we’re paid less but never have to teach more than one subject. Things like that. But apparently the terrible training year is a shared experience. Yay?


    1. You only have to teach one subject? Wow.
      In Germany every teacher needs to study at least two subjects in university and has to teach at least those two later during their actual career.
      (Special needs school-teachers only teach one though)

      And you are expected to teach “fachfremd”, literally subjects that you didn’t study and know nothing about.
      My sister’s subjects are Math and Art and German, and she was expected to also teach Politics/History when needed.
      And that’s not even Gymnasium but the school system “below” it.


  5. It is true about American High School Teachers. They are foot soldiers, caught between students, administration, and parents. Few stay in the profession beyond five years. I remember a conversation with my parents about the past I had with them five years ago. I remember saying, “If I entered college in 1975, saying I wanted to be a schoolteacher, my parents would have seen it as I was settling for second best. My Dad readily agreed. In Germany, it sounds as though, you will do very well, if you survive the hazing and initiation. Just make sure when your wife says she needs a punching bag, you’re not the sparring partner, who cannot hit back.


  6. I have a friend here in Berlin who is in training to become qualified to work in a pre-school (Kita) and this seems to be the exact same approach they have to her training. It’s totally insane!


  7. Gosh! And if you think of all these little Gremlins in the classrooms and all those big Trollparents you’d be expecting some guys with real guts. And instead … but well: some people think its a easy job working with those cute little brats, but its work work work … gotta be tough for that.


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