In West Germany, teachers have prestige but few job openings

In West Germany today, a major problem in education is the surplus of qualified teachers over the number of job openings available to them. In West German universities, teachers in training already have more years of education than their counterparts in the United States, since the West German degree-holder will have completed the Abitur (the rough equivalent of junior college in the US) before entering the university. The education major in West Germany must specialize in at least two (and in some states three) substantive fields. In addition, all education majors must study pedagogy, psychology, and didactics. (The difference between ''pedagogy'' and ''didactics'' is that the first is general, the second geared to one's subject of specialization.)

There is no language, science, or math requirement for teachers in general. They will have already fulfilled requirements to get the Abitur, which include two foreign languages, science, and math roughly through calculus. Teachers are, however, encouraged to continue their training.

A teacher first enters the classroom (apart from a few weeks of practice teaching during his or her university education) after completion of the university degree and the first state exam. This longer period of practice teaching (the Praktikum, or Referendarzeit) lasts for 18 or 24 months. It is a probationary period, during which the young teachers are supervised by local state officials and no longer by their university. It involves additional study and the writing of papers outlining classroom plans. It is followed by the second state exam.

Teachers are guaranteed this 18- to 24-month period as part of their training , before they receive a permanent job. Their salaries during this period are lower than they would be for a tenured position. But since the state must certify teachers and arrange for tenured positions, the practice-teaching stint is often followed by unemployment, as there are not enough jobs to go around.

One big difference between teaching in the US and in West Germany is pay. Teaching traditionally has had enough prestige in Germany for the pay scale to be competitive, and it's always a surprise to Germans that this is not so in the US. The first thing about American schools that any US lecturer here always explains to a German audience is that teaching in the US is dominated by women, because the pay is too low to enable a man to support his family on a single income.

There used to be some unfilled science and math posts here despite the general lack of teaching jobs. This is no longer so. A number of teaching jobs in various fields still go unfilled, but this reflects not so much a lack of candidates as the reluctance of state finance ministries to fund posts when the school population is shrinking.

On the other hand, teachers in West Germany - if they can find jobs - are civil servants (after a probationary period of three to five years) and are paid equivalent salaries. These include raises every two years and such fringe benefits as health insurance for the entire family. Moreover, there is more security in teaching than in the private sector, since civil servants have tenure.

The problem here, therefore, is just the opposite of that in the US. There is a surplus of qualified teachers, even in the scientific fields, and - given the population bulge in young people in their 20s and the population squeeze in those 17 and under - a dearth of jobs.

The government is now seeking to set up training programs that will teach unemployed education graduates additional skills to qualify them for private industry.

An obvious solution to the problem of unemployed teachers is to export them to the US, and one enterprising state official in Lower Saxony has launched just such a program with education officials in Georgia. So far, results have been disappointing. American pay and fringe benefits are so low that only eight teachers decided to pioneer the program this fall.

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