Is the math overrated?

GRADES Elementary school teacher Sabine Czerny was transferred to a sentence because her students were too good. A conversation about selection, child tears and the dream of a school without grades

■ Life: Born in 1972 near Munich. Studied teacher training, has been working as a primary school teacher since 1996. After school she completed a. Training as a Waldorf teacher and alternative practitioner.

■ Book: “What we do to our children at school”. Südwest Verlag, 17.99 euros. Book presentation on October 26th at the Literaturhaus in Munich.


taz: Ms. Czerny, how was it at school today?

Sabine Czerny: At the beginning of the school year everything is new for the first graders and the long school day is unfamiliar to them. So I still do a lot of play with them, we sing and move around a lot. The most important thing is that the day is colorful and diverse, that the community is right, that you have confidence and that you feel comfortable.

Is school there to make children happy?

It is there to give children a good education, and that means that they are well. You shouldn't just crap and forget about it.

Do you create trust? Why is that so important?

As a class leader in a 1st grade, you are an important reference person for the children, often the first stranger outside of the family. If you trust me, it will make you accept what I say. Like all of us, children want the best to be extracted from them.

Can you do it?

I do my best, but no, I can't do it. Also because I always have to thwart my work. I motivate students to study and then I have to demoralize them by grading their performance.

What's the problem with grades?

Grades bring pressure - whether we like it or not. For the children it means: Now you have to be able to do it, faster, go - children develop blockages. On the other hand, if you give them time and create a good mood, they can often do it faster than you think.

The thesis of your book is: Notes lie. In what way?

Grades hide the fact that all children are capable. They say nothing about the children's real abilities. And they pretend to be objective: grading is relative. There is no one size fits all.

Strong stuff - explain why zero errors in dictation are not one and five errors are not three?

Zero mistakes in dictation equals one, but it is up to the teacher which words are dictated and how quickly. With other rehearsals, too, it is up to the teacher which tasks are set. Then it is determined how many points each task gets. And the clef determines with how many points you get which grade.

And that's not objective?

The point is, with a sample, distribution is important. As a teacher you have to set the tasks in such a way that it becomes clear which children already meet the requirements to a particular degree, i.e. deserve an A. However, there must not only be children with 1s, so threes and fours must also be there.

What is the problem, some have progressed, others not yet?

Continuing or not would not be the problem. The problem is how that is assessed. If you are asked what was worked out in the lesson, this corresponds to a four according to the specifications. That actually means: You still meet the requirements, you can do it. But for a good grade in the sample, it is important who meets the requirements to a particular degree. It is not enough to know what you have learned, you have to be able to do more. That is a very clear group that is preferred here.


Children from socially privileged families clearly have advantages. First of all when learning to write or read. The parents have books at home and are usually interested and educated themselves. Some children can read by the time they start school. You only have a certain amount of time available for rehearsals, so everyone who can read better has an advantage. Later on, these parents often study with their children, do research on the Internet, and practice using other exam tasks. In the rehearsals, these children get good grades and the predicate: intelligent and productive.

And the other group?

The others, who are two steps behind, often received little or no help at home and came to school with much greater deficits, get the stamp in the rehearsal: incapable, stupid or lazy. As a rule, they can do what they were taught in class and often learn a lot more than the other children. Our way of measuring performance makes us believe otherwise - but I experience that all children can learn well

You have proven that too. Two years ago you had a class in which the children suddenly only got good grades.

That's right. We were a good community, the students enjoyed learning. In the rehearsals, they achieved single cuts after a few weeks. But I didn't just give away good grades, no: the children got them in papers that were written in all parallel classes and most of them weren't even created by me. These good cuts became my problem.

Too many good students are not wanted?

I didn't even have the feeling that it couldn't be. No, nobody could imagine that it could be.

Can you explain why the headmistress and the school office reacted so defensively? Wouldn't it have been normal to be happy?

The distribution of the grades corresponds to our concept of talent. There are just stupid and clever children. We accept that because we've always known it that way. But we don't question whether that's really the reason for these differences in performance. And then we exclude children who do worse in the samples from higher education.

You have been transferred to a sentence. How did you feel then?

The kids in my last second grade had noticed that I was on TV. And one student said: My mom said your teacher is like an ant fighting an elephant.

And is the picture correct?

I'm not the only ant. And I think that we have already disturbed the elephant, this huge school system, quite a lot. He just has to fall over at some point.

Did your colleagues show solidarity with you when you were criticized for having failed your grades?

Someone in the school hall has said to me: I would like to support you, but I can't. Because anyone who openly showed solidarity with me had to fear consequences. A colleague who stood up for me and called the school office was even yelled at.

Her competence as a teacher has been questioned. Why did you keep working?

I like children and I enjoy working with them. They are just great.

Wouldn't you be happier in a non-government school? You have also attended advanced training courses in Montessori pedagogy and are interested in reform pedagogical concepts.

On the one hand, I feel freer in a certain way at regular school. I am not restricted by a given method or ideology, but can choose what is best for the children depending on the situation. I'm really not a friend of the motto: Learn when you want and what you want, the main thing is that you have a nice day.

Is that too educational for you?

Performance is very important to me.

How now? Should the students perform or should they have fun learning?

Both. Children love to perform and they enjoy being able to do something. Joy and performance belong together, one is created by the other.

Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

I've always loved working with children and I've always wanted to be a teacher. Nevertheless, I also had other interests, I would also have liked to study mathematics, physics or medicine. But being a teacher was what I always wanted in myself.

So it was your inner need to teach.

Yes. I just enjoy it and it's so enriching to work with children. It's so vibrant and diverse with them because they are so different.

If you are called a super teacher ...

... I don't like it at all. I am no better than many other teachers who work with love for the children.

What were the teachers like that you liked?

They were my physics teacher and my sports teacher. Two fundamentally different people, but they had one thing in common: They were authentic and looked after their students. We and what we learned from them were important to them.

And how do you convey knowledge to your students today?

I use the heterogeneity consciously. For example, you can break down a math problem of any difficulty into so many differently difficult subtasks that everyone can contribute something to the solution, while at the same time experiencing all the other steps. Every child is challenged, every child is deepened, every child has a sense of achievement without it becoming boring. Children learn easily when they are offered the whole spectrum of a topic and thus experience the interrelationships straight away. They pick up what is right for them at the moment and are not as far apart as we always think they are.

“Learning has to be easy,” you write. Is it about avoiding exertion?

Effort comes when you know you can achieve a goal. But to do this, children need a sense of achievement. We teachers have to make this possible for them. It's frustrating never to achieve a goal, but that's exactly what happens through our way of assessing performance. I saw children in second grade who just gave up. In the second grade!

You write about one of your students, Martha: “I want to become a veterinarian. I really want to take care of animals. ”But then a clear look. "But no, with my grades I will go to secondary school, will be Hartz VI recipients like my parents and will be cleaning at other places." Have you contradicted her?

In principle she is right. There are of course people who have managed to escape their circumstances. But these are isolated cases. Most are sent to their places early. The Marthas and Ayshes will always exist due to the way the grades are given. We cannot prevent it because we have to serve the school types.

As a student, did you find school so restrictive?

I've always been with the good guys and mostly had ones and twos in my report card, so it's easier to live there. It wasn't until later that I realized that I was simply privileged.

How privileged?

Very good: Should be granted if the service meets the requirements in particular.

Well: Should be granted if the service meets the requirements.

Satisfying: Should be granted if the service generally meets the requirements.

Sufficient: Should be granted if the service has defects, but still meets the requirements as a whole.

Inadequate: Should be granted if the service does not meet the requirements, but shows the necessary basic knowledge.

Insufficient: Should be granted if the service does not meet the requirements and the deficiencies cannot be remedied in the foreseeable future.

Through my parents' house. For example, my father taught me my first arithmetic tricks as a child. He is a mathematician and I was also enthusiastic about him. When I got to school I could already do arithmetic. So I was always one step ahead.

Maybe you're just good at math?

Yeah, I was good at math, the only question is why? A math intelligence gene?

For example.

I do not think so. This whole question of intelligence is overrated. It is much more important to practice and repeat. I was motivated to practice, I just had fun doing arithmetic, it almost became a hobby. I had A's, everyone said you can, and then so could I. I experience that in school too. In order for children to learn, the most important thing is to give them a sense of achievement.

How does a child react if you give them a five?

Can't you imagine that? Some eyes fill with tears, some children hide the note under their hands. Others look into the distance blankly. It doesn't matter what I say, how I try to catch it. My statement is losing its value. This five is emblazoned there, it is decisive.

They motivate learning and then discourage with grades.

It's just very difficult to bear. Because it is unjust, and small differences are made large that are not there.

If the grades were gone, would everything be fine?

That would be too easy. The notes are only a symptom of a system that selects. I imagine a school for everyone. In which we no longer write exams to select, but to encourage children.

What would something like that look like?

We can write other types of exams there. Like language tests, for example. You can prepare specifically for level A1. When you get there, you move on.

When you come to Bavarian parents with the “School for Everyone”, they immediately say: Pooh unit school. Or not?

Yes, but only because they don't know a lot. At first glance, the three-tier school system also offers three different paths. What they don't see: These selective tests squeeze all children into the same point in time and on the same topic. So our current schools are the true unit schools. Nowhere is there individuality and freedom. Our children all march in lockstep in different types of schools.

You say that as a committed educator, but don't many teachers think grades are great because they make performance evaluation so easy?

But these are not the teachers I know in abundance. They suffer very much from giving grades, having to evaluate everything and not being able to take care of each child individually.

Then why is there no outcry?

Most teachers I know say, “You are right.” Many are very dedicated, but they have their limits. You are passed out because the system seems to be getting stronger. Who should you turn to? I have seen myself not being listened to. Many teachers therefore try to do everything possible for their children in their field, a great deal of wear and tear.

With your book you are challenging the bureaucrats again - are you actually not afraid of the consequences?

A little, but I'm angry. One always scolds the teachers. But this system prevents us from being good teachers. You scold students, call them stupid, lazy and disinterested, but don't ask where that comes from. And you scold your parents. I think it's important to show all the connections so that you can understand.

Anna Lehmann, Born in 1975, is taz education editor and mother of three children, one of whom is already going to school.