An education they’ll never forget

The new East Germany

XQ is in Neuruppin working as a Fremdsprachenassistentin, or foreign language assistant, to get experience in teaching before continuing her teacher training.

For the teachers at the schools in Neuruppin, it’s been a bit of a shock. They’ve never had a native English speaker in the town before, and initially they were worried that the West German government was planning to replace them with foreigners or show them up as incompetent.

Feelings in the staff room were already tense. The teachers who were members of the Communist Party still sit at their own table and don’t talk to the others. One particular ex-Party teacher has become particularly unpopular, now that the release of DDR files has revealed that she was one of the main Stasi informers.

The main cause of resentment, though, is that Ossi teachers are only paid 60% of the salary of their Wessi colleagues. The fact that they are generally nowhere near 60% as capable only adds to the resentment.

The old regime had what British Tory politicians would call “A strong commitment to the three Rs”. The teaching methods were simple; read from books, write things on the blackboard, get students to write things and memorize them. Now teachers are expected to cope with class discussions in which pupils can say what they like without fear of a visit from the Stasi, and they’re finding it tough going. West Germany’s insistence on the use of the very latest teaching methods means that most of the teachers will need re-training.

The pupils love it, of course. As well as more interesting lessons, they now get some say in the way the school is run. They’re worried by the apparent fall in discipline, though. Many are oblivious to the pressures to behave which are exerted by a moderately democratic society, having spent so long behaving well at gunpoint.

Luckily for XQ, the teachers are starting to realise that she isn’t a threat, and the pupils are responding well too. She has started up an English Club, as the other teachers didn’t seem interested in experimenting with the format of English lessons. The English Club is proving popular, as amongst other things it teaches the kids what they want to know: how to watch British and American TV, and how to understand rock lyrics.