School: How children learn to take responsibility – Munich

They do not agree. Not at all. A group of children feel that their teacher has treated them unfairly. Carlos says they should have drawn a picture with a branch and apples. “Then he said to my branch, it looks like a hanger! But I mean, art is art!” “We do not think that is right!” says Lisbeth, some children nod. The subject moves her. Eventually, they will find a solution to the problem. And the idea for this will come from a student.

It’s Friday morning and class 5b at Theodolinden-Gymnasium in Untergiesing-Harlaching is holding a class council. Teacher Susanne Inkiow sits with them in a circle of chairs, may only speak when they are called and has the role of listening and letting the children do what they want. A role that is not easy for her with today’s topic, she finally has three lines on the list of heckling. One because right from the start she reminds me that the class council last week decided to clean up the window sills. And notes that it has not happened yet. Introducing a class council, that was her idea. She knew this from her former school, a private school. And the kids, she says, thought the proposal was good.

The resale idea

“We really like the class council,” says Lisbeth. “Everyone gets really involved, and only we kids do that.” Her classmate Lea recounts how, shortly after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, they discussed, decided, and organized a back-to-back sale during the class council break. “We all wanted to help.” And it seemed, they received more than 1,000 euros and donated them to the people of Ukraine.

“They were so proud after the bake sale,” says Susanne Inkiow. Other classes also started selling cakes in favor of Ukraine during the break – but the idea came from 5b. “They have become more liberated through the class council. Even though they are fifth graders, they do not feel like the very youngest. They are there, they have an opinion and engage in school life.”

Class advice in 5b. For once, Susanne Inkiow only has the role of listener.

(Photo: Stephan Rumpf)

Theodolinden-Gymnasium is a municipal high school, 1000 students study here, the school is designed for 750. It is noticed that in some places, e.g. when a cluster of students is formed in front of the screen, on which a table rolls, in which class which hours are canceled. Or because the classes do not have their premises for themselves, but are occasionally occupied by other classes.

The teacher’s room has three doors, so big is it; 110 teachers teach at the school. Principal Werner Ziegler talks about a mixed group of students: Here you have children from wealthy families, children from socially disadvantaged families, children with a migration background, children from about 40 nations. The first student representative, says Werner Ziegler, is a refugee boy from Syria.

This school year, they introduced a class council in all fifth grades, it is a test drive. The evaluation will be carried out this summer and the plan is to continue in the coming school year. In addition, there will soon be a school thing. “Students need to be involved and experience each other as a community,” says Werner Ziegler. “Their rights are still quite limited in a school. Where possible, they should have an impact. That’s how they live democracy. They learn everyday skills. It’s school for life.”

Problems with the art teacher

Class 5b has an hour-long class council once a week, which is firmly rooted in the schedule. They push the tables to the edge of the classroom, sit in a circle of chairs and first decide who should chair the meeting, who should be the vice chair, who should make sure the rules are followed, who should take minutes, who will be aware that the allotted time for each topic is not exceeded – and who draws the lines on the board for those who intervene without saying no.

Arozo is president this time, she is doing it for the first time. The girl stands in front, listens to the topic suggestions, briefly outlines the topic window sills: They could be cleaned up right after the class council, but there is a break. “Then you lose so much time cleaning up,” she says. Moreover, they are probably writing an ex in the next lesson in nature and technology. After the sixth lesson, it also does not fit so well because they have nature and technology in another room. Difficult.

Next decision: Table tennis will not be discussed this time. They focus on one topic: that some students feel that their art teacher is not taking them seriously. He said her pictures were ugly, some say. You recently drafted a paper with your claims, and almost everyone in the class signed it. One says, “Teachers can’t get reprimands, I think that’s unfair!” Anna is of the opinion that there should be no characters in the art at all. And Jannis says, “You have to understand him, he’s just telling the truth. If the picture is ugly, that’s how it is. He will not offend you!”

“I may have a solution to the problem”

The children discuss, Susanne Inkiow sits between them in a circle of chairs and listens. “The problems are there,” she says later. “They smolder, lie down and get in the way. In ordinary school life there is little room to discuss them. But if there is a class council once a week, then it is the opportunity to talk about these problems and find solutions.” She says she would like her students to worry about things. “It feels different when you can get involved.”

Getting involved, saying his opinion, being heard: All this was far too rarely possible for children and young people during the pandemic. To increase the mental illness that children and young people have suffered during the pandemic, it has been the feeling that their concerns are not being heard. This is shown, among other things, by the JuCo studies from the universities of Frankfurt and Hildesheim, where young people have been asked about their experiences with the corona pandemic. In the third poll in December 2021, the majority said they felt they could not influence political decisions.

However, studies also show that even before the pandemic, the opportunities for young people to participate were not satisfactory.

In the 5b class council, Julia, who took the minutes, reports after a while. “I may have a solution to the problem,” she said after President Arozo called her out. “How about we talk to the teacher about it? Maybe he does not know at all that it hurts us when he says something like that.”

The children discuss the idea and think it is good. They are still uncertain about the details. Should only the two class representatives Emmanouela and Moritz go to the teacher and take up the subject? Should everyone else come along, but only the two should talk? Or do they all go together and everyone can say what bothers them?

The window sill is exposed

Susanne Inkiow is convinced: “If I have a voice that is heard and taken seriously, then I have to relate to what is happening around me.” The children develop a different understanding of the world and others. “And of course I do the class council in the hope that they will contribute to the world later.”

The hour is almost over, no decision has been made yet. Moritz warns that they must stop immediately. It’s gong, some jump up. “We’re not done yet!” exclaims Mrs. Inkiow. And Arozo shouts, “People, shut up!” And adds: “I would say we postpone it.”

This is how they do it, then push tables and benches back, pack their backpacks and run out to the playground.

The window sills have still not been cleaned up after the sixth lesson, which the class council’s decision from last week actually calls for. Maybe next week. Unless something more important comes up.

With this series, SZ wants to take a look at topics that determine everyday life for school children and teachers – in addition to the lessons. Three classes in three different schools gave an insight into their classrooms: a 6th grade at the middle school at Toni-Pfülf-Strasse in Feldmoching-Hasenbergl, a 5th grade at Theodolinden-Gymnasium in Untergiesing-Harlaching and a 5th grade at Elly – Heuss-Realschule in Ramersdorf-Perlach. In total, there were six parts of the series, on the topics: media dependence, homeland, friendship, responsibility, bullying and banknote printing.

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