Interview with two veteran teachers

Two veteran teachers at Hannah-Arendt-Gymnasium in Hassloch (Palatinate/Germany) are retiring. They taught thousands of students. A brief retrospection after 30 years of educational work.

More time for everyday occurrences


Ms Hirtz, do you like evil students?
Brigitte Hirtz: Yes, I do. Once I had a student with a difficult family background who disrupted the class all the time. He asked me the same question which I affirmed. That impressed him. Whenever he saw me, he beamed with joy. My answer had a huge effect. I like children, that is a basic requirement for a teacher.

It is your last week as a teacher, you have taught for over 35 years. What is dominating: melancholy or relief?
Brigitte Hirtz: I have hearing problems and as a matter of fact a lot of stress occurred. That is the reason why I am relieved. These problems affected my teaching more and more in a negative way.

Do you remember your first year as a young teacher?
Brigitte Hirtz: Of course, I do. I started my studies in 1970 and in the late seventies I started to teach. Back then imperious teachers predominated and we young teachers benefitted from that fact because we were fresh and open-minded. But that is pretty the same today, young teachers are closer to the students.
As time passed I felt that I had to become a little bit more severe. As time went on, students got used to liberal teachers, family homes were less strict, the manners became more and more sloppy. I realized that after seven years when I was out of job to raise my children. As a consequence I became more authoritarian.

How far has the job of a teacher changed?
Brigitte Hirtz: When I started teaching, not everything was about capitalism and purchasing. The students used to tend to discuss everything. I think today’s students are less political. That is not necessarily bad, maybe it is a result of the lack of social conflicts nowadays.

Would you still choose the same job?
Brigitte Hirtz: I am still interested in working with children. Maybe I was partly too indulgent, I should have been harder. I think I have good people skills. I have always wanted to teach and our job is highly influenced by our personality.

Do you know what happened your students after they finished school?
Brigitte Hirtz: Yes, I do. Although I lost a lot of connections due to my relocation from Hanover to the Palatinate. I stayed in touch with one female student who had a lot of problems at home for a very long time. She invited me to her house and played the piano for my children.

Do you have special plans for your retirement?
Brigitte Hirtz: Not really, I want to have more time for the little things in life, even if it sounds simple. I have never had enough time for reading, cooking, cleaning the cabinet and I want to have more time for my grown up children. I am not the type who travels the world.

Brigitte Hirtz, 62 years old, teaches History and French at an academic high school in Palatinate, since this week she is retired.


Education requires money

Mr Fleck, please complete: The atlas is…
Bernhard Fleck: ….the bible of the geographer!

What about the geographical knowledge of today’s students?
Bernhard Fleck: I can tell from many years of experience that there are gaps in knowledge. That is not the students’ fault, it is the fault of the curriculum, which is not about teaching the basics, it is often about selective studying, only to pass a test.

Do you think high school students used to be educated better in the past?
Bernhard Fleck: They were different. In my view, the abilities to listen and to concentrate have decreased, which is probably the result of various media students use 24/7. Parents should be more sensitive about this. School and teachers do not have the same reputation in the public view any more.

Students have changed, what about teachers?
Bernhard Fleck: The demands have increased, we are left alone by politics and only that leads to additional load. It is not so much about the stress to teach, it is more about the never-ending things teachers have to do at the same time: Organizing school trips, collecting money, paying extra money back, writing consent forms, handing them out and collecting them again and so on. And then people think such a trip with students is a funny and relaxing. Organizing school trips is a stressful and responsible task. This week I organized such a school trip: Departure at 6.30 a.m. Three students were missing. When they finally arrived, they got on the bus, they did not apologize, they did not say “Good morning”, nothing. That makes me angry.

Of course, that enraged you. What else bothers you?
Bernhard Fleck: Education policy and its permanent changes. The huge number of students in one classroom which stresses teachers and students.

And what do you like to think back to?
Bernhard Fleck: Well, my first advanced course. We meet once a month outside school in a private atmosphere and did a lot of trips. And even today there are some students with extraordinary skills and achievements. One called me in a bit poetic way“a rose in the garden of teachers scrub”. That was nice. Or when parents said thank you for taking care of their kids after a class trip. But that was the absolute exception.

And if you were education minister, what would you change?
Bernhard Fleck: We need more money and therefore more teachers. Currently it is all about saving money. On the other hand we waste millions of taxes. Think of the regional airport of Zweibrücken, which became insolvent this week, or the financial disaster of Nürburgring. I am very pessimistic about our educational system.

Now you are a pensioner! What do you do with so much time?
Bernhard Fleck: I was able to prepare, so it was not a surprise and I have a lot of hobbies: calligraphy, taking pictures, singing. Furthermore I want to do volunteer work.

As a geographer you have certainly planned several travels?
Bernhard Fleck: My wife is also a teacher. She is going to retire next year, so we still depend on the school holidays. Now in my first summer vacation as a pensioner we will visit Canada.

Bernhard Fleck, 63 years, teaches Physical Education and Geography at an academic high school in Palatinate, since this week he is retired.

The interview has been carried out by DIRK KUNZ.

Translation into the english language: DIRK KUNZ & JANE DOE


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