A tale of two systems: IV: A teacher in training

To follow the whole series, read part I, part II and part III here.

The United States has a plethora of options for teacher preparation. Some require little to no practical classroom experience while others are modeled after residency programs in the medical field, requiring upwards of two years of school-based experience. Each has its strengths and flaws, but the consistent inadequacy amongst each program is the lack of consistency (no pun intended).


I earned my undergraduate degree in English and then completed a two-year masters program that included a variety of practicums and methods courses. Thousands of miles away, Tina Vogel, a teacher candidate at the Ruperti Gymnasium, completed a similar program this spring.

In Germany, teacher preparation and placement is conducted by the state. Teacher candidates complete a university program, studying two content areas over four to five years. They are then given a traditional test, similar to our GRE, before being placed into a two-year practicum. During this experience, they observe and teach under the mentorship of a school-based master teacher.

Tina studied English and Physical Education, then worked as a full time teacher for the spring/summer term in 2012. She was one of 25 teacher candidates completing their final practicums at our German host school. She was eager to converse with us about classroom strategies as she looked forward to her first “real” teaching job.

In the weeks we were with her, Tina and her peers were anxiously waiting to hear where those jobs might be—and who would get them.

The system for teacher placement is complicated and competitive. Each year, all teacher candidates from the state of Bavaria are ranked according to the average of their examination and observation scores. Once all candidates are quantified, only the top few are placed in permanent positions. This year, of the nearly 1000 teacher candidates, only half were offered jobs.

Unfortunately, Tina was not offered a position in one of the state-run schools. In fact, only two of the teacher candidates from her cohort at our host school were offered jobs.

The odds are against Tina and her peers. Yet teaching is still a desirable career path for young Germans. Here’s why:

If you are placed, you have substantial job security. Three or four years after a teacher candidate is placed in a school, she or he completes an additional evaluation process. If all goes well, that teacher receives special certification, higher pay and benefits, as well as a guaranteed state teaching position for life.

The German system definitely has its flaws. For example, Tina, who has a great deal of potential, will have to pursue other options now that she is finished with her official training. She and many of her peers must look to private schools or leave teaching completely, losing all application for their hard work and studies.

However, I wonder what the U.S. can learn from Germany’s teacher preparation approach? After all, having too many good candidates is better than the current state of things in the U.S., where fewer and fewer students are choosing to become teachers.

Perhaps we need to reconsider how we support those interested in the profession so that we have a profession to support in the future.  Demonstrating that our country values educators enough to create rigorous standards for preparation is a good first step towards this aim.

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