Pregnancy and temporary contracts

After having ranted on my German blog Vertretungsblog about the unfair and unlawful treatment of myself at my current school, I still feel like summing it up here.

I currently have a temporary contract my the primary school I’m working at. The initial contract was for the maternity leave of a colleague, and the extension of the contract was for the second part of maternity/parental leave she is taking. The first contract ends mid-January, and the extension was explicitly promise to me several times.

After telling my principal about my pregnancy though, the following happened:

  • I told him in confidence, but when I came into school to sign the papers for a medical examination (needed to continue employment where children are involved), a lot of my colleagues congratulated me. He broke the confidentiality agreement he is legally bound to.
  • While waiting for the results from my blood test, I called the principal to ask when I would be able to sign the new contract. He told me he wasn’t sure anymore, considering my pregnancy. He broke he law, using pregnancy as a reason not to employ me. 
  • When I returned to school this week, a lot of students knew about the pregnancy. Someone, without my consent, spoke to students about my pregnancy.
  • When telling my principal that I had decided not to stay, for various reasons, including a new position elsewhere, he told me he was glad, because he didn’t have to feel guilty. He, and I quote, stated that he didn’t want a third pregnant woman on the team and that it would be hard to find a replacement when I leave for maternity leave. See above.
  • He also stated that he wished he would have kept me on for a week though, as the school is scheduled for inspection. Slap in the face!
  • Later that day I was told my some colleagues that my pregnancy and the principal’s decision was also discussed in a team meeting, that I was a) not invited to and b) not informed about. My pregnancy was discussed without me being present and without my consent. Privacy laws…..!!!!

Sad, frustrated and disappointed. Shocked. But also looking forward to my new challenges. I am not sure how to proceed with this, but I think everyone should know what kind of thinking is going on in the heads of some people these days!

Where do we learn?

The classroom is traditionally the place where learning takes place. This is, of course, not true anymore. But where does learning take place in this days and age, for the children at my school, ….

  • at home?
  • outside?
  • everywhere?
  • worldwide?

The answer would have been easier for me when I was still a PYP teacher. And even as a class teacher in Germany this wouldn’t have bothered me so much. But I’m wondering where my students really think their learning takes place. I often hear them say something along these lines:

  • learning is stupid
  • i don’t want to learn
  • I hate school

Which is not what I want to hear. For them, learning means school, and school means many challenges. But what about their learning outside these four walls they call the classroom? What about the experiences that we don’t officially count as learning? Why don’t we make them more aware of this?

Learning is everywhere and can be anything: Something to take back to school and beyond next week!


The low, the middle and the high achievers: The danger of sorting!

The last #edchat got me thinking a lot about sorting, streaming, and labeling in our schools. So often you read about “the top set” or the “bottom set”. Admittedly, I have found myself thinking in these groups as well, even in my small class of 10 students last year.

I think there might be a difference between class/homeroom teachers in primary/elementary schools and subject teachers in high schools. Moreover, it surely differs according to country, curriculum and school type.

Throughout the discussion it hit me: The link between the “sorting” and the German school system. I recently blogged about it here. This morning, the paper dedicated a whole page to the school system in Northrhine-Westphalia. Recently, a referendum failed in Hamburg. A very important referendum: The extension of primary schools from four to six grades. Currently in Germany, students attend the same primary school for only four years, apart from students in Berlin and Brandenburg, they attend primary school for six years. In Europe, and (as the paper claimed) worldwide, Germany and Austria are the only countries to run primary schools for only four years. In fact, German students will then go on to one of three or four secondary school types, either depending on their grades (some states) or their parents’ choice (other states).

After fourth grade, students in Northrhine-Westphalia are an average of ten years old. And they are then being sorted: The Hauptschule for the “low achievers”, Realschule for the average and Gymnasium for the “high achievers. (Check my previous blog post for more information about these schools). Of course, politicians and educational reform supporters in Germany know that this is problematic. But the traditional system seems to sustain for the time being.

How do we justify sorting children into “success categories” at this age? How can we know that Paul will not at one point find his passion for Mathematics and go on to study astrophysics at Harvard, just because he had trouble in Maths when he was 9 and 10 years old?

The German School System

I was just reading an article on the state school system in Germany on, which linked to this wonderful video: Das verrückte Schul-Labyrinth (The crazy school maze)

It shows what happens when education is “Ländersache” (a state affair). In Germany, education is dealt with by the different states (Bundesländer). It is well known that education in Bavaria is more demanding and apparently better than education in Northrhine-Westphalia, where is it supposed to be more liberal. But what the video makes very clear: Different standards make mobility a problem. When parents move with their children, it can change their lives a lot.

Before I go into details here, let me explain the school system in Germany in a few words. All children attend primary school. There are no differences in primary schools. In most states, primary school ends with year 4, but in some states, e.g. Berlin, primary school ends with year 6.
This is where it gets difficult. Students have to choose a secondary school. There are usually four choices (in most states, though Bavaria does not have the Gesamtschule):

  1. Gymnasium: This is the prestigious school and requires a lot of academic work. Students usually have to be recommended to go to the Gymnasium. It is the “entrance school” to university education, at least people still see it that way. In  Bavaria, you need to have extremely good grades in Math, German, and social/home studies to be able to go to the Gymnasium. It leads to the Abitur, which is equivalent to A-levels and the German university-entrance qualification.
  2. Realschule: This is the second best. It leads to the “Realschulabschluss”, probably comparable to GCSEs in the UK. It is a job/vocational training entrance qualification. If your grades are good enough, you may apply to study at the Gymnasium for the Abitur.
  3. Hauptschule: Considered the worst of schools. They differ considerably from state to state and since the introduction of the 4th type of school, the Gesamtschule, a proper comprehensive school, it is often seen as the school without a future. The school leads to the “Hauptschulabschluss” and the “Realschulabschluss”, but the Hauptschulabschluss is considered useless in most cases now. This might be different in Bavaria, where the comprehensive schools don’t exist.
  4. Gesamtschule: A proper “General” school. Students at these schools can complete as many years as they like… finish after 9th grade and you have the “Hauptschulabschluss”, finish after 10th grade and you have the “Realschulabschluss” and finish after 12th/13th grade and you might have the Abitur.

As you can see, it is already VERY complicated.

The examples in the video are:

  1. Valerie: She goes to school in Hessen and after graduating from primary school, she gets to go to the prestigious Gymnasium. Her grades after 4 years of primary school are okay, a grade point average of 2.67, which is satisfactory in Germany. But then she moved to Munich, in Bavaria. A different state, and different rules apply. To attend the Gymnasium there, she needs a GPA of 2.33. Valerie doesn’t even qualify to go to the Realschule, because the law suggests that students go to the Hauptschule with a GPA of 2.67.
  2. Peter: He just started to learn English in 3rd grade in Cologne. But then he moved to Stuttgart, where students start learning English in first grade. Ouch!
  3. Paul: He attends the Gymnasium in Lower Saxony and is in 5th grade. When he moves to Berlin, he has to go back to primary school, as the Gymnasium usually starts at 7th grade in Berlin. (Though, I have to add here that there are quite a few Gymnasiums in Berlin that start at 5th grade!!!)

As you can see, it is difficult to move. This isn’t where it ends though…. even higher education is fundamentally different in the different states. And so is teacher education. In fact, a teacher trained in Northrhine-Westphalia or Berlin, might be asked to take a few more classes in Bavaria!

Not sure what to make of it….