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