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Self-Described Status and Duties of an Elementary School Teacher (c. 1890)

The establishment of universal education in the course of the nineteenth century constituted an important aspect of Germany’s rise. Despite frictions with the church, notoriously low pay, and difficulties in establishing their own families, elementary school teachers were fully aware of their role as educators of the German people, as active leaders of civil society, and, not least, as patriotic opinion-makers.

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Just as incomprehensible as the clergy’s resistance to electing teachers to the school committee is their resistance to releasing teachers from the lowly duties of a sexton. For more than two centuries, the teaching profession has been rebelling against the assumption of those duties that are unworthy of it, duties that teachers had usually neither sought nor desired but had to carry out because they belonged to the office of administrator, and because this, in turn, was inseparable from the office of teacher. Right now, apart from wages and school supervision, no issue is of greater importance; and even though only part of the teachers are personally affected by it, all German elementary school teachers agree that professional honor requires the abolishment of these obligations, and that teachers should not rest until this is achieved. [ . . . ]

It cannot be denied that the manner in which the Kulturkampf was brought to an end and the way in which schools were supposed to join in the struggle against Social Democracy have hindered the elevation of the entire profession of German elementary school teacher. But that should not keep us from acknowledging thankfully and enthusiastically all the things that have happened over the last 20 years. [ . . . ]

First of all, the progress that has been made in educating and preparing teachers is worth recognizing. There has been a thorough break with the emphasis on pure memorization. Even at preparatory institutions [Präparandenanstalten], care is taken to ensure that students do not “limit themselves to superficial acquisition and learning in the fields of knowledge required for acceptance [into the profession].” For that reason, there are fewer religious texts to memorize word for word, just as in the seminaries themselves; instead, one’s understanding of the material is tested at every step. Another contemporary demand, unfortunately ignored for much too long, was the expansion of history instruction to include knowledge of ancient history; of mathematics to include decimal fractions and simple algebraic exercises; and of natural history to encompass chemistry. The best way to address the poor educational background of seminarians (due to pitiful classes in private institutions or even self-education) is to have state-run Präparandenanstalten, with several classes in ascending order. Such institutions, both as boarding schools and day schools, now exist in Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg, Gotha, and in the imperial province of Alsace-Lorraine; in Saxony, they are connected with the teacher training seminars themselves. [ . . . ]

Unmistakable proof that, even today, teaching posts lag behind in comparison with civil servant positions at the same level is the fact that candidates still rarely come from backgrounds other than that of small farmer, artisan, petty bourgeoisie, and lower civil servant. Only seven to eight percent of the students are sons of teachers, as no father would subject his child to the same lot that he himself suffers. In choosing a position, the question at the top of the list is whether it properly feeds the person holding it; the more well-to-do social circles would not stay away from the occupation of teacher if that question could be answered with an unequivocal “yes.”

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