A mother's savage attack on Germany's teachers has highlighted increasing concern about educational standards, reports Frances Mechan-Schmidt
A vitriolic book that lambasts the nation's teachers for "having no idea about children", being "lazy" and having "unattractive feet" has sparked a national furore.
The Teacher-Hater Book, by journalist Gerlinde Unverzagt, a single mother with four children, claims primary teachers are reluctant to give out marks for fear of exposing their own inadequate teaching of the 3Rs. It says most secondary teachers are cynics who forget pupils' names, harangue them for poor performance or humiliate them in front of classmates.
Teachers in Germany, many of whom cannot be dismissed, can get away with anything, knowing their jobs are safe, the author says. She claims most teachers spend their time "playing tennis, going skiing, making false tax declarations and converting their attics" rather than doing their jobs.
The book was launched under a pseudonym, Lotte Kuehn, in December, but two weeks ago her son's teacher recognised a back-view photograph of her in a local magazine. Since then she has been interviewed widely using her real name.
Josef Kraus, chairman of DL, Germany's Teachers' Association, has called the book a "cheap money-spinner" that panders to base emotions and makes statements that cannot be substantiated.
But the book has highlighted growing discontent among parents, a group of whom has formed the Berlin Parents Party to campaign for better educational standards. It is demanding the replacement of teachers' permanent job status, which guarantees pay rises on the basis of the number of years worked, with performance-related pay. It also wants children with poor levels of German to attend extra tuition half funded by the state and half by their parents.
Heinz-Peter Meidinger, of the DphV, the German Association of Grammar School Teachers, said the book's "shabby attack" was harmful given the threat of acute shortages of teachers in future.
The author insists that although she changed the names of the characters in the book, everything else described was true.
And despite some intemperate language - teachers, we are told, dress in "baggy cords, droopy sweatshirts and open-toed sandals that show unattractive feet with yellowing, ingrowing toenails" - it has won many parents' sympathy. They may recognise the picture of schools that pressure working parents to get involved yet send children home early whenever teachers are off sick or away on courses.
Meanwhile, sales have shot up as a result of the controversy and the author is already working on her next book which will tell readers what she thinks is wrong with Germany's school system.
Das Lehrerhasserbuch by Lotte Kuehn, published by Knaur Taschenbuch Verlag