Yesterday I lost my cool while teaching. This is a rare event as I usually try to remain composed in front of the class even when I am tired, bored, or really have to go to the bathroom. But the students finally got a taste of the "real Claire."
My usual 30 minute communte turned into an hour because of the highway road construction. I must now travel around the city to get where I want and take a different exit. After a large BMW cut me off, I finally made it to the university 5 minutes before my class was to begin. I covered some organizational points and began the lecture. Immediately two students began chatting in the back. It is true, professors truly can see and hear everything from the front of the class. After about 5 minutes I had had enough.
Claire (in best, haughty German): I did no get up at 5:15am after 5 hours of sleep and spend an hour in traffic only to get paid __ Euros an hour to teach while other people are speaking. If you are not interested in what I have to say, you are more than welcome to leave.
Dead Silence. After a moment I moved on and finished my lecture. The class was pretty quite the rest of the time.
I regret loosing my cool, but man . . . the uni really pisses me off sometimes.
There are several problems with the German university system. First, there is no registration for classes. You pretty much show up to the classes you like. This makes the class difficult to organize on many levels. I am never sure how large my classes are going to be. Sometimes it results in classes being too large for the small room they are assigned. For example, last semester my class was held in a small room. During the first few weeks, I had people sitting on the windowsill and hanging out of the door. At about week 4 several people started to loose interest and stopped showing up.
A second problem is evaluating the students. Often, if you want to get credit for a class (a "Schein") then you have to either take the final exam or do an oral presentation (which includes a write up of the presentation of about 15 pages). I do not believe that a final exam or oral presentation (one or the other, not both!), is an adequate way to test whether or not someone has actually learned anything from the class. Often students make really long presentations that have nothing to do with the class. This happened a lot when I was a student in Kassel in 1997/1998. I tried to do different things in my class this semester. I was told that this is not okay. Talk about destroying any attempt at creativity in the classroom!
A third problem is money. Simply put, German universities do not have any. This has led to a decline in the number of jobs in different departments, libraries in need of books, and overcrowded classrooms. Money is a problem for students and teachers. To explain this, I need to make a point about getting tenure in Germany.
After finishing your PhD in Germany, you usually get a "Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter" (associate teacher) position at a university. These jobs typically last about 3 to 6 years. During this time you are expected to teach, publish and write a "Habilitation," essentially a second thesis or dissertation. If you are lucky, at the end of this time, you may be offered tenure at the university you are at. Most often, you go to another university and another associate position. You can do this round robin search for a permanent position for YEARS. I recently heard that it took one woman almost 10 years to get a tenure track position, and she has published a ton.
There are currently fewer and fewer "Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter" positions in Germany. Instead, to cut costs, universities are allowing tenured professors to retire without filling their positions and hiring "Lehrbeauftrage" (adjuncts). A "Lehrauftrag" is for one class and one semester, but usually renewable. "Lehrauftrage" are paid by the classroom hour. If I get sick and cannot teach one week, I do not get paid. I only get paid for the hours I teach. I am not paid for office hours, preparation time, or extra meetings to help students through their exams. And I am not paid well. How can universities get away with this? They know that people such as myself need the teaching experience in order to get tenure. So we have no choice but to work under less than optimal conditions to get that allusive job. I actually started teaching English only because I was not making enough money at the uni.
German students currently do not pay for their education. However, next semester tuition fees are being introduced to the tune of about 1000 Euro per semester. This has made a lot of students angry and led to many student protests. Graffiti seen at the Uni: Rich Parents for Everyone.
I am actually in favor of a small tuition fee. When you have to pay for your education, then you have a vested interest in doing the best you can and actually finishing in a reasonable amount of time. Who wants to waste their own money? I do not want to hear about rich parents and having to work. I do not have rich parents. I am still paying for my education. Working? My senior year I worked two jobs, took 18 hours of classes per semester, held positions in two different clubs, had an active social life and still maintained my "A" average. And I am not the only person who did this. The majority of my friends had the same life style. If "lazy Americans" can do it, certainly German "Wunderkinder" can do it too.
My students complain about paying for crappy service. I said that perhaps the service would get better if people were actually paid. Students do have a good point about tuition though. In the US, I sent my checks directly to the university. Here, the student will first pay the state, which will then distribute the money based on need. Yeah, that won't lead to inequality at all (dripping sarcasm inserted here).
Is is any wonder that I have decided that I have had enough of all this scheisse. Next semester I will teach a class, and it will be my last. I am overseeing a few students' masters thesis and then I will call it a day. I do not like to loose my cool, and it is just not worth it.