Elternabend – parents’ evening German style

School blackboard - ©iStockphoto.com/kyoshinoWhen I hear the term “parent’s evening” in English, it conjures up an image of parents talking at tables to teachers about their children’s progress at school.  But the German translation, Elternabend, means something completely different – as I quickly learnt when my daughter started primary school in Germany.

Yes, it takes place in the evening, and generally speaking at least one parent of each child is present.  But not every teacher turns up, unless they have been requested to.  The evening is not even officially run by the school, but by an elected representative from among the parents, who arranges the date with the form teacher.

The evening is more an organisational affair.  We arrange dates like the class Christmas party and discuss who will be bringing what to it.  We get shown books that we “could” buy for the class if everyone agrees to do so, although in my experience hardly anyone dares to criticise the books being recommended and on one occasion when several parents were critical or even against the purchase, the “everyone” vote was quickly turned into a “majority decision”.

And being critical appears to be something that is not done on these evenings, as is anything too specific to one or more children.  Such topics are quickly brushed aside because “they don’t interest everyone present”, and should be talked about “in an individual meeting” between the parents and teachers concerned.  In my opinion that leads to problems that may concern the whole class not being discussed, unless enough parents agree beforehand to bring the subject up.

Academically it appears to be normal practise for there to be an outline given of the subjects taught during the coming year and what sort of scope these will have.  There might be some hints of how much homework there is going to be and when to expect any tests.  That said, I’ve learnt not to rely on this information too much as it is often soon forgotten and things get changed.  The evening may be minuted, but these are sometime so general, that I my own more detailed notes are more useful to me later than the official version of events.

Even at this stage, although it is possible to ask questions, if they are too critical they are likely to be put spawn an “individual meeting”, unless enough other parents jump in to support them.  If an answer is forthcoming, it is not always helpful either.  I once asked which version of English was going to be taught at my daughter’s school.  “English English” was the first answer I received, which I was not satisfied with so this was clarified as “School English”.  The question was finally resolved by me being told that “colour” would be spelled with a “u”!

So when do find out how well our daughter is doing at school?  Well, apart from the results of any tests and her end-of-year marks, there are Elterngespräche where we get to meet one or more of her teachers to talk about her performance in the different subjects.

Except that these are usually around midday.  Perhaps that’s why they don’t called them “parents’ evenings” in the first place?


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About Graham

Graham Tappenden is a British ex-pat who first came to Germany as a placement student in 1993, returning in 1995 to live there permanently. He has been writing for AllThingsGerman.net since 2006. When not writing blog posts or freelancing for the Oberurseler Woche and other publications he works as a self-employed IT consultant and online community manager. In 2016 he gained German citizenship.

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