eTeach spoke to Elementary Principal of the Berlin Brandenburg International School, Camille Du Aime, to find out about opportunities in Germany for British teachers.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about your school?
Well it’s an IB World School, which means that we run the International Baccalaureate programme, and we were actually the first school in the world to have all four IB programmes: there’s the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme, the IB Diploma which is what kids end up with, and there’s something called the The IB Career-related Certificate, which is more for kids who are a little less academically able.
Results-wise, a larger percentage of our students manage to handle the IB requirement: it was originally designed for the crème de la crème, and we manage to get about 80% of our students through it. Our average scores are above the worldwide average. Last year we even had a student with a perfect score!
So that’s the curriculum that we run, and I know that most of your readers are in the UK, so it’s definitely not a British national curriculum.
Different international schools come into being for different reasons. Could you give us a bit more background about the Berlin Brandenburg International School?
We’re a non-profit school, with a governing board made up of mostly business people from the community, and we serve the international community of Berlin, and the internationally-minded community, so we try to be an inclusive school that has all kinds of different learning styles. The school has around 650-700 students from age three up to age 18. And I’m the principal of Elementary, so I’m in charge of the kids from age three up to 11 – what we call Grade 5, and you would call Year 6.
And presumably you have many different nationalities at the school?
Yes we’ve got over 45 nationalities of students, and about 20 or more nationalities of teachers. Our intent is to be as international as possible, so when we buy resources, for example, we’re buying them from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and the US, and try to create a balanced experience. The teaching is all in English, except when it’s a language class; of course all the kids take German, and we also offer French, Spanish, and sometimes for individual studies we’ll offer Korean or Arabic for example, to support the kids who are doing a mother tongue.
So what kinds of opportunities as far as you’re aware exist for Brits to work in education generally in Germany?
Well because the UK is within the European Union in terms of work permits etc, they have an advantage if they’re looking for a job in an international school in Germany, in that it’s a little easier than it is for someone from the US or Australia. Our school specifically aims for a balance of about one third UK teachers, US teachers and Australian and New Zealand teachers, so there are always openings.
And is it very competitive to win a position, and how do you go about recruiting?
We receive a lot of applications. First I’d look to see if they have relevant experience – and obviously we are most interested in people who have international school experience, and who already have some PYP experience, which is our curriculum – but I frequently hire people who don’t have either; it just depends on the things that they’ve shown a particular interest in in their teaching. I also ask them to answer some questions that I send out, and that offers another vetting process in terms of the extent of their interest. And I follow up with a Skype interview, and if that goes well and I’m very seriously considering them, I sometimes fly people into Berlin, so they get to see the school, and we get to see them,
So for an advertised position, what kinds of applicant numbers would you receive?
Last spring, and it was a mid-year opening, following an advertisement I probably got 30 or 40 applications. And it would be even more if it was an opening for the next year.
Of course there are many different things that appeal to different people, but in general what are some of the benefits of living and working in Germany?
Well in general, Germany is a first-world nation! So things function very well, and it’s a socialised system basically: you’ve got excellent health care, work conditions, maternity leave – and those sorts of things. So employees are very protected.
Berlin itself is a very attractive city, and a very ‘edgy’ city. It’s very rich in both historical and cutting edge culture. It’s also a great hub for travel: there are inexpensive airlines, trains going every which-way, so teachers who come here often do quite a bit of travelling.
And in terms of accommodation and standard of living, what might someone coming over expect?
What we say to people considering coming here is that if you’re a single teacher living on a single salary, you will be able to live well and travel every time there’s a holiday, or you’ll be able to save – but you probably won’t be able to do both!
All of that healthcare and pension provision that I was referring to previously, is possible because there’s quite a high tax rate. It’s almost 50%, depending on what tax status you land in: that takes a big chunk out of things.
But you will be able to live in a nice apartment in the centre of the city, and the rent will be less than a third of your salary. And Berlin is one of the least expensive European capital cities. However most people will be using public transport, rather than running their own car.
Are you far away from the city?
Geographically we’re not far away: we’re the first town outside the Berlin city limits. But we are in the former East Germany, on the other side of ‘the wall’, and in terms of public transport that division, even though it’s been gone for 20 years, means that we are on a bus system rather than on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn public train system. That adds about 20 minutes at the end of the journey for most people. So people who live in the trendy, funky parts of the city travel for at least 45 minutes to get out to us…
But many of our teachers who have kids of their own live around the school, and that works very well for them. Part of our package is that children of staff members are allowed to go to the school for free as far as the school is concerned, although that ‘free’ tuition is taxed, in that it’s seen as a benefit as though we’re giving them that money, so therefore there is in fact some cost. But it usually comes out about even, because Germany also gives a ‘Kindergeld’, which is a payment for people who have children to help them meet costs, and this pretty much covers the tax on the tuition that you don’t pay for.
Can you tell us what support you offer to new teachers?
We pay transport here. We do as much of the paperwork – applications for visas and work permits if needed, and so forth – as possible ahead of time, although some can’t be done until the teacher is there. The school assists with all of that. We also have a relocation person who helps teachers look at apartments, and helps them through the contract period, set up bank accounts etc.
But that’s sort of it. Anyone who has worked in Asia or the Middle East, for example, who’s maybe been accustomed to a rather paternal organisation, that offers people a ‘package’, perhaps offering accommodation on a compound or something like that, will maybe feel less supported.
And would you say it’s essential to speak German?
It makes your life easier! As I said, Germany is a first world place, lots of people speak English, but you do receive letters in the mail, and think “what in the world is that about”! We do set people up in school with a ‘buddy’ to help with things like that, but those are the challenges of international relocation. I would say that German bureaucracy has a fair number of hoops to leap through, but it’s well organised, it’s friendly and it’s not corrupt. I’ve obviously lived in other places that were harder!