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It’s All Foreign to Me: Teaching at a German University Part II

This is one in a series of posts on ways I have discovered that Germany and America are different. See the end of this post for other posts on this topic.

I haven’t written too much about my work at Justus-Liebig-Universität, probably because when I get home and have time to write a blog, the last thing I want to do is think about work again. It isn’t really that bad (far from it, actually!), but you know what I mean. :)

Students and Classes

Classes here are different in some ways, but the same in others. The students are pretty much the same: Some really care, others don’t, but want to get good grades anyway. I bet that is pretty much the same the world over.

Classes more different than the ones I taught at Missouri State. Each class lasts 90 minutes and meets only once a week. And the semesters only last 15 or 14 weeks. That means I have half as many sessions as at MSU (where classes met a total of 150 minutes a week for 18 weeks) and far, far fewer than any class at the ELI (where most ELI classes had 5 contact hours per week). That is a bit frustrating, because I don’t feel like I am able to teach them anything in such short time. I guess I’ll get used to it, I’m sure, as time goes on.

In fact, writing this post has reminded me that I need to rethink how I am used to teaching, as I am currently in the middle of planning the summer semester.


The grading system is very different than I what I am used to, and that is taking some getting used to. In Hauptschule (“howpt-shoe-luh,” school which goes until 9th or 10th grade) Realschule (“ray-al-shoe-luh,” school which goes until 11th grade), students are graded on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1 is “excellent” and 6 is “not passing.” But if students choose to go to Gymnasium (“goom-nahz-ee-uhm,” school which goes until 13th grade and is similar to getting an associate degree), they will be graded on a scale of 0 to 15, where 15 is the best and 0 is the worst. I was somewhat familiar with the 6-point scale because my German teachers referred to it every now and then. The 15-point scale relates pretty directly to the 6-point scale, so it was easy to understand.

But the government of Hessen (the state we live in), I think, has created a new grading scale, which goes from 1,0 to 5.0 in steps of 10ths of a point. It does not relate to either the 6-point or 15-point scale directly, as 1 and 15 are equal to 1,0 t0 1,5 (6 gradients), while 2,1 to 3,0 (10 gradients) is equal to 2 and 10, 11, and 12. Are you as confused as I am? Why can’t everyone just use the percentage scale? *sigh* I’ll get it one of these days.

University in General

Germany (or the state we live in, I’m not quite sure which) is in the middle of switching over from the European way of “doing college” to the American/British way (where you have a definite course plan you must follow in order to earn your degree). It’s pretty complicated (and I think I’ve already given you enough detail regarding grades—this post details some of the differences between “modularized” and “non-modularized” students!), but suffice it to say that I have some students under the old system and others, in the same class, under the new system. They have different grading scales (again, let’s switch to the 100-90-80… system!) and sometimes even different requirements. Sometimes the different bits are overwhelming, but I just take a deep breath and go find someone to ask questions of. :)

One final difference that I am totally lovin’ is the way semesters are laid out. Let’s review: In America, the fall semester runs from late August until the week before Christmas. After Christmas break, the spring semester begins, usually in the second or third week of January, and it runs until mid-May. The summer semester starts about three weeks after the spring semester ends, and it usually lasts until about three weeks before the fall semester begins.

In Germany, things are quite different! The winter semester, at least the courses, runs from the middle of October until the first week in February, with a two-week break for Christmas. There is a 7-week break, during which many students have to take exams and write term papers (they aren’t due during the semester). The summer semester starts at the beginning of April and last until the beginning of July. Then, nothing! until the middle of October again! That’s right, folks, German universities are on the two-semester system.

What this means to me is plenty of time to prepare for the next semester. And travel time! Wahoo!

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It’s All Foreign to Me: Teaching at a German University Part I

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