Schooldays and Teachers

schoolThe obligatory school is only 9 years in Switzerland but in reality only very few are truly done with schooling after that. The curriculum in the school is different in each canton. For example, each canton dictates which second language will be learned and when to start teaching it.

I live in the canton of Berne, so that is the system that I know the best. There are a lot more intricacies to the school system but this is basically how it works. Teachers are in charge of the same class for 2 or 3 years, so you may be out of luck if you don’t like your teacher or worse yet, if your teacher doesn’t like you. Kindergarten goes either one or two years, then everyone goes to 1st through 4th grade called primary school. In 5th grade the children are divided into two Groups. The ones with the better grades are sent to secondary school, usually in preparation of a higher education. The others continue in primary school.

After 9th grade the secondary school students who don’t want to, or whose grades aren’t good enough to get into middle school (sort of like a 4 year pre-university) and all the primary school students find an apprenticeship. They work and take classes once or twice a week that compliment whatever trade they are learning . After 2 or 4 years they graduate and are set out to find a job in the business world.

Primary school teachers have a teaching curriculum that the canton sets plus they have some free room to expand into subjects of their own personal interests. We have a teacher friend who is particularly good and interested in biology. He has done things like making terrariums for use in the classroom or a beehive to create interest in these subjects.

Once we heard of a poll that was taken about the use of English in advertising here and what the normal Joe really understood. One example was from a store called “Douglas” it’s logo was “Douglas; come in and find out”. One person, understanding only “in” and “out” said they thought that meant “come in and then go out (leave)”! Douglas has since changed its logo to 100% German.

High time to teach some basic English. So Ben and I taught his 8th graders English for 2 years. English isn’t in the curriculum in primary school and we thought, why not? We found a book that we considered good and even made tapes with exercises for the students as homework. We tried to make the tape as professional as possible. Between each lesson we added music so they would know the next lesson was about to begin. Unfortunately, we used the same music between every lesson. At the end of two years our poor students couldn’t listen to that music anymore. The good thing was, they did learn some English.

When the computer industry was still wearing diapers, Ben wanted to give his students the chance to work on one and see what it was all about. The school system wouldn’t pay the cost of renting computers for his students. Also, he wasn’t allowed to collect money from the parents. He decided to offer an evening computer course to the parents, who would pay for it and because the computers were in the schoolroom during the day he could use them for the kids, too. Now that was creative.

The teachers here sometimes need to get creative to keep the attention of their students. One teacher I know wanted to wake a student who had fallen asleep in his class. He thought if he tossed a book on the student’s desk that the sound of the book landing would wake him. That’s what he did, unfortunately, his aim wasn’t as good as it should have been. Instead of the book landing on the desk it landed directly on the student’s nose! Nothing broken, but it did bleed. On the other hand, the student was then awake.

Another teacher had a student who loved to talk. She talked no matter who she was sitting next to. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk! Once during a class the teacher wanted to get the girl’s attention and decided to toss a piece of chalk at her. Instead of it landing on her lap as planned, it landed directly into her open mouth, while she was talking. Food for thought?

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