Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Weighing and Balancing


I’m busy trying to select a high school for my ten-year-old and believe me, that is not a typo. German kids start secondary school at the ripe old age of ten. Not only that, they are streamed at ten according to their academic results into the three different types of high school: Gymnasium for those who’ll go on to university, Realschule and Hauptschule for those who won’t. So a Maths test L did last week will help to decide whether she goes to university or not.

Unable to do anything about the bizarre system, I am breaking the mould by not sending my kid to the nearest school as a matter of course. We are looking at a range of schools, state and private, in the Heidelberg area. For me, it’s a huge decision: she’s my first child and the first person in our whole family to be heading for high school in the German system. The decision we make has to be a good one: she’ll be there for eight long years, and it should be a school that suits our other two. We want a school that has a good mix of Germans and foreigners, and where there is emphasis on languages. Nothing too homogenous.

The first of our six school visits took place last night. We went to the local high school – a vast place with more than 1000 pupils that educates kids from the Burg and all the surrounding villages. It’s the monopoly gymnasium. There are no other options nearby. We were impressed by what they had to offer, but I fear it’s going to be too homogenous for us. Plus it keeps us in the Burg for ever.

Tomorrow’s visit is to a private school. Private schools have a weird  reputation in Germany – they are seen as places where rich people send their thick or difficult children in order to drag them through Abitur. They are also considered elitist and someone said to me in all seriousness, ‘Are you sure you want your child to have an elitist school on their CV?’

So we are weighing and balancing, taking some things we see and hear to heart, ignoring other things.

I’m in the same process with my novel. Right now, I’m weighing the plot, what works and what doesn’t and throwing out the latter. I have a whole file called ‘extra stuff’ full of back-story that I’ve chucked out. Now and again, I find a use for a sentence or two and I thread them back in.

The next iteration will be on the language level. One of the readers from my writers’ forum pointed out that my characters nod and shrug a lot. She’s right, of course. I’ll be working through it line by line, strengthening the verbs, improving the body language, working on stimulus and response. The plot might be colourful and vibrant, but the language needs to be too.

So that’s where I am, dear readers, weighing and balancing. Trying to make good decisions that will stand my family and my novel in good stead. Trusting my instincts. Moving forward.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

18 thoughts on “Weighing and Balancing

  1. My eldest is 11 and starts secondary school in Britain next September. It’s a big step. There’s a lot less choice where I live, all the kids from the catchment area are just expected go to the local comprehensive. Luckily, ours is widely considered to be very good. I still feel incredibly apprehensive though – much more so than him!

  2. The school system here is incredibly frightening. However, we changed T1 two weeks ago to another school and we are very happy with our decision. (That’s grade school, of course). I doknow several children who have changed their gymnasiums and one friend has an interview tomorrow for her son to change gymnasiums next year, so it can be done (although with the sme great stress that any change in Germany causes). Good luck, don’t stress too much, nothing is irreversible or unchangeable!

  3. Oh the school thing – it is such a nightmare. Do remember that if the school ends up not suiting your daughter for whatever reason, you can change her. And no, it’s not ideal, but the pressure of finding the perfect place for 8 years of rapid and unpredictable child development can be overwhelming.

    Although, of course, she may step inside a school, say I love it here, and be happy from there on in.

    Good luck – it will all work out.

  4. I don’t know how it is in Heidelberg but here in Hamburg you don’t have to send your child to the nearest school as long as you’re within a reasonable public transport ride away. It’s also a bit of a myth that kids get slotted for life from age 10. With good marks, a student who started out in a Gesamtschule can switch to the more academic Gymnasium without much hassle. If you have an questions don’t hesitate to mail me, Charlotte. I’ll pass them on to the resident expert, who’s been in the school trenches here for 25 years.

  5. Ah, the nightmare. Unfortunately it depends on the Bundesland how strict that decision is. And some countries have the Gesamtschule, some don’t, some have Hauptschule, some have Realschule+. And in some countries it is really an academic decision for “lifetime”, not like it is in Hamburg apparently. (Of course there are other ways later, but they are hard, disproportionally hard.)

    We are facing the decision next year. And the mind of the teachers who give the recommendation is basically made up by the end of third grade. Which means that at the moment I am doing my best to hide my anxiety about grades. I do not want to be that “figure-skating” mom who pressures her kid with her ambitions. On the other hand I AM anxious, because I believe that he should have multiple choices open to him when he is older, and choices are limited depending on the school type.

    Ugh, judging all these kids after three years of school, at an age where half a year of individual development more or less can make such a difference. In my son’s class the age span is from 8 years old to almost 11 years old. I sooo hate our system!

    Besides, it leads to an extraordinary discrimination of kids depending on the academic background of the parents.

  6. Good luck with your school visits.
    It sounds likethe German system really does make it even more of a big decision than it is here. We’re going to a couple of open days with our son, so he can get a feel of one or two high schools, but as we’re trying to avoid going right into Cape Town the choice is a bit limited. We might give him the option of changing half way through high school if necessary.
    Does the attitude to private schools there mean that the state schools are generally pretty good?
    Good luck too with finding the way for your other offspring and extending your characters’ body language!

  7. I don’t envy that task – it does seem like such a punitive system, especially for later developers. Anyway, I wish you all the best and hope your daughter settles well wherever she ends up.

  8. We have one year left and decided not to do the school visits this year even though perhaps we should have done. I am opting for a gymnasium that is perhaps further away, but smaller (less than 600 pupils) even if it means I have to drive back and forth every day. The one in our area is nice, but it was 1500 students and my kids would be lost in there.

    In Holland we have the same streaming and while it is possible to move from HAVO to VWO to gymnasium it is hardly ever done practically. Also, if you complete VWO from within HAVO you still have HAVO on your CV instead of the coveted gym.

  9. Ugh! I feel with you, having gone through the system as a student. Generally if parents insist their child go to a certain school type, the teachers will follow. Yes this disadvantages non-academic-parents’ children, like so much in the system.

    Private schools are neither better nor worse, generally, though if you are into the anthroposohphic stuff Waldorf schools are an obvious choice, though they also have to stick to the Abitur and other exams that give you a highschool diploma.

    Anyway good luck with finding the right school for your daughter, with people she can stand for the next 8-9 years.

  10. Wow, what a system. I can’t imagine making that decision when a kid is 10 — have been having a hard enough time with my eighth grader!

  11. wowee wow. that is a lot weighing on you! but you will make it through. (on a sort of related note have you read the latest nymag article on kindergarten admissions tests in NYC?

  12. My older daughter is starting middle school next year–but it’s only 2 years. Even so a friend of mine visited 12 schools. I am awed by her energy!

  13. I stressed over selecting a high school as well as when my son selected a university. In the end, both seemed to be not just the right choice, but the only choice given his interests, goals and personality. But having to make such a choice at age 10? That’s just crazy! I am surprised the 1000 students seems large. My son went to a “small” school that had about 900 students in 4 grades, which is small enough that it is possible to know all of the 200+ kids in one’s graduating class. While class sizes are smaller now, there were over 1200 in my high school graduating class and close > 3500 in 3 grade levels; I still meet people who were in my class that I never knew in high school.

  14. Oh, don’t get me started on German HS! Although we still have a few years to worry about it. And btw, I not and shrug a lot, too. Most people do. Well, maybe not shrugging so much but definitely nodding. Well, OK, maybe the Germans don’t nod so much but their kind of strange about stuff like that.

  15. That sounds hard. We’re trying to figure out highschools for Chatterboy too (who is in year 5 this year). Although he won’t go until 2012 in year 7, the private schools seem to decide (and expect you to) more than a year before you start. I’ve just started to get invitations to open days – it’s ridiculous!

    I’m almost nostalgic for the old days when there was no choice but your local school (which is what I did).

  16. I, Charlotte, will be following your progress on this topic with great interest. Miss Eight is heading into year 4 in August and I am already getting a lot of eye-rolling from the German mothers about where their darlings will end up. I find it difficult to start putting any pressure on my tiny little one at such a tender age, and am lucky that she does really well in school. We ‘literally’ live next door to the Gymnasium here, and the Realschule is against our back fence… There is a private catholic school near Bonn that does both Arbitur & IB… in German & English. It interests me, but would mean communting for her. Its a tough call. Please update when you work it all out. Cheers L

  17. Nod and shrug.

  18. Pingback: The Story of My Novel So Far « Charlotte's Web

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s