Tales from a teacher
Anecdotes by an ex-educator detail life at schools in three countries
Posted: January 23, 2013
In her collection of vignettes, If School Desks Could Speak, released through print-on-demand house Xlibris, Mirka Christesen details the years she spent as a teacher in the Czech Republic, Germany and the United States. Now retired, but still tutoring at-risk students and living in North Carolina, Christesen finally had the time to describe her experiences in an anecdotal, if not always critical, manner.
Christesen finds the U.S. school system harder than those in the Czech Republic and Germany. For example, teachers' hours are longer and study programs are more tailored to individual students rather than aimed at achieving a minimum group level.
"That is why you will find an academically gifted specialist at every school in North Carolina and a number of special education teachers as well," Christesen writes in an e-mail. "In Europe, however, most special education students are served in special schools. That means that classroom teachers in Europe do not have to deal with the special need students in such large numbers as in the USA. Teachers in America are expected not only to be academic coaches but also to take care of the children's social and emotional needs or issues."
She says in the United States teachers are supplied with not only all the necessary writing and learning materials, but also tissues, bandages and other hygiene items - outfitted for all needs, educational or medical. Punishment stateside is different, too, with in-school and out-of-school suspensions being the norm. This means that students are not just catered to individually, but also responsible for their own successes or failures.
"In the USA, there is more accountability on part of both students and teachers for their work," Christesen writes. "American students are tested a lot more frequently than in Europe. A correlation is made between individual teachers' effectiveness and the students' results on the end-of-grade tests. Teachers are expected to keep in close contact with the parents throughout the year via e-mails, phone calls, and written nine-week interim reports."
Christesen says staff in the United States are also better prepared individually for the demands of teaching, with mandatory professional development in addition to classroom hours. She says the contact between teachers and parents, too, is refreshing, especially when compared with the less-frequent encounters she had in Germany.
Her book is not scientific, she warns, just honest: "A comparison of several school systems would require extensive research. My book was only intended to give you a taste of a teacher's life in the trenches and touch upon these differences."
Milan Gagnon can be reached at