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An East German School Official Reports on her Experiences during the Wende (October 1, 2003)

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Not only in Saxony, but also in the other new federal states, the new school regulations were geared almost exclusively toward the West German model: that is, a three-tiered, secondary-school system consisting of a vocation-oriented Hauptschule, an intermediate-track Realschule, and an academic-track or college-preparatory Gymnasium; sometimes the system was supplemented by a comprehensive Gesamtschule. Only after a later modification of individual school laws (and the attendant structural changes) were new approaches cautiously ventured. In Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, for example, Hauptschule and Realschule were merged into an intermediate school [Mittelschule]; in some federal states, this type of school was also called a standard or secondary school. In Berlin, on the other hand, West Berlin school law was imposed, in its entirety, on East Berlin in 1991. The existence of different regulations within the school system of a single city could not be justified, and above all, it was not in the interest of the students.

With the start of the 1991-92 academic year (a year later in Saxony), the GDR unified school [Einheitsschule] ceased to exist; this marked the beginning of an unprecedented experiment in Germany, and hardly anyone had been sufficiently prepared for it. Everything was foreign to everyone. From that point on, school life was shaped not only by new school and administrative regulations, but sometimes also by entirely new curricula and teaching methods, which no teacher had worked with up to then. New faculty teams and school classes, and new, politically and ideologically unburdened – albeit inexperienced – school administrators had to try to get along with one another and to learn together, sometimes in unfamiliar school buildings whose condition, equipment, and furnishings often left a lot to be desired. The main thing was to bid farewell to pedagogical practices that involved – in addition to the ideologization of all aspects of everyday school life – curricula that were prescribed down to the very last detail and overloaded lesson plans, as well as authoritarian modes of interaction, teacher-centered instruction, insufficient differentiation in pedagogy, and a lack of individual, self-directed learning.

A teaching staff that had learned and practiced their profession largely under GDR conditions had to adapt to these new school requirements. Only about ten to twenty percent of teachers – depending on the federal state – stopped teaching or were laid off. All school principals were dismissed from their positions, but they could generally continue as “mere” teachers.

The Unification Treaty listed the following reasons for dismissing teachers: deficient specialized knowledge or personal aptitude, redundancy, violations against the principles of humanity and rule of law, and work for the Ministry for State Security. The individual federal states used these criteria in their own review and dismissal procedures, but they drew different conclusions from the results or set different priorities. One of the first personnel policy measures was to subject the so-called Modrow teachers* and teachers of subjects that were especially ideologically tainted, such as civics and Marxism-Leninism, to a personal and/or subject-specific aptitude review. Furthermore, there was also a general teacher review conducted by the Gauck agency (named after the first commissioner for the Stasi documents), but it got drawn out for years. The federal state of Saxony was by far the most rigorous in its review procedures. In its rankings, personal integrity took clear precedence, whereas in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Saxony-Anhalt, for instance, subject-related qualifications were considered the most significant criteria.

[ . . . ]

Ultimately, in the years immediately following unification, the personnel decisions made by various state governments and the Berlin administration resulted – in contrast to the area of higher education – in a relatively high degree of staff continuity in the area of school education, which prompted an ongoing process of rethinking and relearning. This has been very demanding for all those involved.

* Teachers who quickly arranged seemingly secure jobs for themselves in the transitional period under Hans Modrow – trans.

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