On Broken German Schools and Hellish PTA Meetings

As all of my Twitter followers know, Diva started school here last month and so that means I have had near-weekly parents’ nights since mid-August. I’m already a pro at these from being a part of a parents’-run kindergarten and for some reason I thought I’d get through elementary school without another wasted Wednesday night bickering about whose talented kid isn’t being given enough support. I was wrong. Because in Germany, middle-class parents seem to have nothing else better to do with their time and schools here don’t just run themselves. And based on my recent experiences at these meetings, those two sentiments are severe understatements.

Die Zeit took a frightening, in-depth look at the poor state of German schools and I gotta say, wow. Just wow. I chose to educate Diva in a public school because I believe in public school education. I chose to educate her here in Germany because although they are absolutely opposed to gifted & talented programs (a topic for another day), the students who go through university preparation in Germany are much better educated than most Americans in urban areas. I had never considered the state of the schools.

We pay a lot of taxes here in Germany, with billions of our Euros going to unfinished construction projects — like BER or the Cologne Opera House or the goddamned U-Bahn that was supposed to be open in time for the World Cup held in Germany in 2006 and which is maybe finally going to open in December(!). From the looks of these schools, though, not a penny of those taxes is going to school buildings. Diva’s school, though nice, hasn’t been painted since the 1970s and to get to the bathrooms, the kids have to run outside even in winter to an unheated addition. Talk about freezing your bottom. But she is lucky. At least her gym wasn’t condemned, as two in Cologne were this summer. And her school is too small to be housing refugees, as other gyms in Cologne are doing at the moment.

Because of the sorry state of the school system in Germany, Diva’s school now has a very very active PTA, committed to ensuring that the little school children have everything their little hearts desire. I scoffed at this at first, until I learned that without the PTA, there would be no toilet paper in the bathrooms, nor would a cleaning lady be there all day every day to make sure the kids feel safe enough to freeze their little bottoms off in the unheated outdoor toilets. I mean, it could be worse; she could be in one of the state-of-the-art schools that my former employers, an architecture company, built in Wisconsin with bulletproof doors and an alarm system that allowed teachers to lockdown their kids in the classroom in case a gunman walked in. Pick and choose, I guess.

Thing is, though, that for this cleaning lady to come every day, our PTA feels the need to send home a note every month reminding us that we are not good parents unless we contribute to the fund to pay her; we just got another passive-aggressive note reminding us that because some of us aren’t paying, all the kids may soon suffer the consequences of having no toilet paper in the bathrooms. Really people? Really? Where is the principal or the custodian? Why are we as parents having to handle this?

Well, funny I should ask: on Friday we got a note from the principal saying he’s leaving the school and due to a shortage of headmasters in the area, it’s unlikely he’ll be replaced and so we, as parents, have to step up. We have already had four parents’ nights meetings since mid-August and now we’ll be having more, to see who can pick up what slack while the city thinks about whether or not it can hire a new headmaster. Anybody who has been following the Cologne election fiasco knows just how laughable this idea is. Cologne’s bureaucrats can’t even print a stupid election ballot correctly and have to keep pushing the election date for our mayor back; why would this headmaster of a teeny-tiny school be of any importance to these incompetent beamter?

I could very easily slide into the role of PTA coordinator/headmaster if I wanted to and I could get shit done. Organization and leadership skills are not my competencies. People skills are not my competency. And yet, I could do this.

Except as I am learning from these PTA meetings, my way of doing things is not the preferred way of doing things. Instead of asking a translator to come to speak with the parents of the refugee boy in class who’s having difficulties, the preferred method of the PTA is to shout at the refugee parents in a mix of German and English and hope they get they hint that their kid needs to stop borrowing the other kids’ school supplies without asking (they don’t understand a word).  Instead of asking for the toilet paper fund to be paid in advance for the entire school year, we’d rather have the teachers collect 1.50 Euro from each student once a month and waste everybody’s time by sending obnoxious letters home.

Ok, fine.  I didn’t want to run for PTA President anyway. But when these meetings are not optional, do we really need to waste a half hour of my life getting lectured on how bloody important the Carneval culture is to our school and how we have to positively absolutely immediately get started on our kids’ Carneval costume planning right now?

Man, it’s going to be a long four years. Please tell me the private schools aren’t any better or I might just ship Diva off to one…. at least so I can enjoy my one kid-free evening a week by not thinking about kid things.

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8 thoughts on “On Broken German Schools and Hellish PTA Meetings

  1. BerLinda September 28, 2015 / 12:30 am

    Wow, is this really Germany?!

    • LiebeMilly September 28, 2015 / 12:55 pm

      This is Germany lite. I have so much more to say but will be nice and wait on my judgments…

      • BerLinda September 28, 2015 / 2:05 pm

        Eek, you’re scaring me!

  2. Miriam September 28, 2015 / 6:07 pm

    I apologize for the part about growing up. Just read a bit more of your blog and got the sickening feeling that we actually are very much alike. Except that we grew up differently and now react baffled (and sometimes annoyed) in front of the different life realities we have to face in our respective countries of choice. But I kid you not, what I hear from my German friends about having to be involved in school pales in comparison to what is going on here.

    • LiebeMilly September 28, 2015 / 9:30 pm

      Hi Miriam,
      Thanks for the apology. I think we are way more alike than you’d know — I very consciously made the decision to leave the US with my daughter for many of the reasons you’d described. That doesn’t mean I have to like everything about my life in Germany, though I’ll be the first to admit that it is much better here for us than it would have been had I stayed in the US. I taught in an inner-city high school in Chicago and had a knife pulled on me the first day. That culture of violence plus the inability to afford a middle-class lifestyle as a single mom there meant returning to Germany, which has given me a lot and I appreciate that. But that’s not the point of the blog. The blog is supposed to be a humorous look at the everyday nonsense I experience, knowing full well about the ludicrousness that happens in the US (I have friends and family there, too, so trust me, I know) but in no way will I ever say Germany or the US is better. Take me with a grain of salt…

  3. tinkakartinka September 28, 2015 / 8:12 pm

    Is this the truth? I mean, wow, really happy to live in Switzerland.
    I also was speechless, when I talked with to german teachers, about their system of “Verbeamtung”. So different.. And just about 200 km away.

    • LiebeMilly October 18, 2015 / 5:09 pm

      It’s not the whole truth but actually, I do appreciate the system of Verbeatmung when the teachers are competent civil servants (which I’ve found most often the case). I just really wish they would budget more for the environments in which these kids are learning…

  4. Ginger October 26, 2015 / 10:16 pm

    It’s the same here in the UK – lack of funding is covered up by random policies presented as universal truths. At the moment, the only way is Phonics, but I give it 3 years and it will be something else. Nothing ever changes, other than the constantly changing education policies.

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