Center on International Education Benchmarking

Germany: Teacher and Principal Quality

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity |  Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

Teacher Recruitment and Compensation

The Länder collect data on teacher supply and demand and allot seats in teacher education to balance the workforce needs. There are currently teacher shortages in certain subjects and regions, such as in vocational subjects and in eastern Länder. The KMK also develops a long-term forecast for predicting future teacher workforce needs. The current forecast is for 2014-2025.

German teachers are among the highest paid in the OECD. The starting salary for a primary teacher in Germany is US$47,488, compared with the OECD average of US$28,854. The top salary for a primary teacher is US$61,209, compared with the OECD average of US$45,100.

The retention rate in teaching is high as well. Fewer than 5 percent of teachers leave the profession in the first five years, compared with more than 30 percent in the United States. However, perhaps because of the high retention rate, Germany’s teaching force is the second-oldest in the OECD; approximately 40 percent to 50 percent of teachers were 50 or older in 2014, which will necessitate training an influx of new teachers as the current teaching force retires.

Teacher Initial Education and Training

Oversight of teacher preparation is the responsibility of the Länder. Before 2004, there was no set of common standards for teacher preparation. In 2004, the KMK set national Standards for Teacher Training in the Educational Sciences, as part of its set of post-PISA 2000 reforms.  Setting common standards was thought to be a mechanism for modernizing instruction across Germany and focusing instruction more on concepts and problem-solving. Along with the new standards, the Common Content Requirements for Subject-Related Studies and Subject-Related Didactics were introduced in 2008 and updated in 2017. These standards/requirements provide guidelines for the accreditation and ongoing monitoring of teacher training programs.

Teacher education in Germany is rigorous, compared to many other OECD nations. Candidates must have earned an abitur for entry into teacher training. Initial teacher education typically takes approximately 5.5 to 6.5 years. It is offered in universities or colleges of education.  Preparation for teachers in Germany has two stages:

  • Undergraduate coursework lasts three to five years, depending on the teaching area, with one year of “practical activity related to the vocational subject area” for aspiring vocational education teachers and some weeks of school placements for other types of teachers. Students take the First State Teaching Examination (described below) after this phase of training and must be successful to continue.
  • Preparatory Service includes a practicum and graduate-level studies in a teacher training institute leading to a master’s degree. This stage lasts one to two years. Students take the Second State Teaching Examination after this phase.

Alternative routes into teaching exist to fill high-need teaching positions when not possible through traditional routes. These routes require candidates to have a master’s degree, which must include “at least two teaching-related subjects,” and to complete the preparatory service and Second State Examination or a state-approved equivalent. In 2013, only 2.4 percent of new public school teachers lacked traditional teacher training.

In general, during the first stage of teacher preparation, coursework includes “educational studies” and study of a minimum of two subjects, as well as placements in schools for several weeks. At the end of this stage is the First State Examination, which involves a thesis as well as written and oral assessment of coursework; it may also include an assessment of practical skills. Education-specific studies and school placements are estimated to take a maximum of 30 percent of the first stage, leaving considerable time for content mastery. Candidates are also required to write a paper “demonstrating the ability for independent scientific work.”

The second stage of teacher training, the Preparatory Service, is a “dual model” that can be compared to an apprenticeship. Teacher candidates participate in on-the-job training in schools, including mentorship by a more experienced teacher, while also receiving additional instruction in institutions called Seminars, which are specifically for teachers. During this second stage, they also earn a reduced salary. At the conclusion of the Preparatory Service, students must pass the Second State Examination, which generally includes a written thesis, an oral assessment, and a demonstration/evaluation of teaching skills. Nearly all teachers pass this examination. About half of the Länder offer induction programs for newly hired teachers. The program structures and supports vary across Länder, and participation is only mandatory in Brandenburg.

The federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has invested in further improving the quality of training. The Quality Offensive for Teacher Training is a national initiative designed to increase the quality and attractiveness of teacher training. The BMBF provided €500 million (US$596 million) in funding from 2014 to 2024 so that higher education institutions could “develop innovative concepts in teacher training courses and improve their quality.” Additional objectives of this Quality Offensive include increasing the clinical component of teacher training and better preparing teachers to serve diverse learners.

Teacher Career Ladders

There is no formal career ladder for teachers in Germany, other than the path from teacher to school leader. The one place there is an opportunity for advancement is in many of the gymnasium, where there is typically a “study advisor” and “study director” position. The study advisor position is commonly given to teachers after several years of teaching. The study director position is competitive and generally involves new responsibilities in the school, such as leading a department. These promotions result in an increase in salary and status. Study advisors and study directors, respectively, earn salaries of about 15 percent and 20 percent more than teachers. For promotion, teachers need a positive evaluation, which is typically more comprehensive than a regular performance evaluation and may consider factors like participation in professional development.

Teacher Professional Development

Participation in professional development by teachers is required across Germany although requirements vary by Länder. Most Länder offer professional development at state-run training institutes or at institutes run by local school authorities. Professional development is also offered in individual schools, sometimes with support or oversight from the school supervisory authority or the ministry. Recently, there has been a shift toward delegating responsibility for professional development to school leaders, with the aim of developing more tailored opportunities at the school level. In general, however, teachers have a lot of authority to decide what professional development to participate in.

At the Länder level, the ministries of education (sometimes with input from teachers’ unions) specify guidelines for teacher evaluation in public schools. These guidelines vary across Länder in terms of who should conduct evaluations (e.g., head teachers, external school inspectors), and when and why evaluations should take place. In general, teachers are more likely to be appraised in the early stages of their careers. In most Länder, appraisal results inform professional development activities, although in some Länder this is only for teachers found to be underperforming.

While evaluations identify low-performing teachers, evaluation results typically do not affect teacher pay or lead civil servant teachers to lose their jobs, as tenured civil servants’ jobs are protected except in extreme situations. Instead, low-performing civil servants may receive training or be transferred to different schools. In Hamburg’s system for teacher evaluation, for example, evaluators are encouraged to use the evaluation process to identify teachers who would be capable of taking on greater responsibility in schools.

School Leader Development

School leaders in Germany are typically head teachers who take on leadership roles while still teaching a reduced course load. In all Länder, head teacher candidates must hold the qualifications necessary to teach at that school level or school type and have “several years” of teaching and management experience. Commitment to in-service teacher training is identified as one factor that might help a teacher’s application to become a head teacher. Head teacher responsibilities and duties are set out in the Länder Education Acts and in specific regulations for such posts. They include managing staff and the school budget; evaluating teachers; planning school-level professional development; and creating a school development plan with goals aligned to state-level quality frameworks. The Länder ministries of education are typically responsible for hiring school leaders, although in some cases it is done by the local school authority.

There is no federally required training for school leaders nor are there national leadership standards. Most of the Länder do, however, provide additional qualification/training for school leaders after they have been hired, although this is often voluntary. In addition to training for new school leaders, some Länder have developed preparatory training for aspiring leaders. For example, since 2009, teachers in Bavaria are required to complete a two-year preparatory course before submitting an application for a school head position. This training is organized and paid for by the Länder. Some Länder, but not all, also offer continuing professional development, such as coaching or advice on implementing quality improvement processes.

Source: OECD Education at a Glance 2018 (salaries) and OECD (GDP per capita)

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