Challenges for newcomers to get recognition as a teacher in Germany: The case of Bremen, by René Böhme

Germany is a country of immigration. Immigration is reflected in the labour market. According to employment statistics of the Federal Statistical Office, the proportion of foreigners in employment subject to social insurance increased between the year 2000 and the year 2016 from 6.8 to 10 percent.

In the past 16 years, the number of foreign employees in Germany has risen from around 1.9 million to more than 3.1 million people, while the total number of employees subject to social insurance increased by only 12.7 percent. The employment dynamics of foreigners have increased considerably since 2011. In 2016, foreigners made up about half of all growth in the number of employees in Germany. It should be noted that the qualification structure of new migrants has improved significantly (i.e. newly arriving migrants are better qualified) in the 2000s. With the growing importance of foreigners in the German (and Bremen) labour market, the issue of recognition of foreign qualifications is becoming more important. To this end, the federal and state governments have developed legal measures to facilitate the recognition of qualifications that migrants have obtained in their home countries. This makes it easier for skilled workers from abroad to use their professional qualifications in the German labour market. For example, foreign professionals have the right to have a profession-specific competent authority examine the equivalence of the qualification, taking into account their existing professional experience.

However, the chances of gaining recognition vary considerably from job to job. As the results of a study on the implementation of the Recognition Act in Bremen show, the recognition of a teaching qualification is associated with many challenges. When recognizing teachers, a fundamental distinction must be made between obtaining either an official teacher certificate or just a limited teaching qualification (e.g. one subject). Only as an officially certified teacher it is possible to be employed in a public school with a considerably better pay. Those with a limited teacher qualification can, for instance, only teach in non-formal further education institutions.

To determine which options the migrant teachers have and what they need to do to obtain a teaching permit (i.e. official certification or limited teaching qualification) the responsible authority[1]examines the applicants’ documents and certificates. Depending on the specific training needs of each ‘applicant’, the State Examination Office determines the number of credits/courses that need to be taken at the university. These may not exceed 90 Credit Points and a teaching practice of 18 months. The decision on which measures each applicant needs to take to receive a teaching qualification, is made in collaboration with the Centre for Teacher Education of the University of Bremen. After being admitted to study at the University of Bremen, applicants can take the required courses and following completion, apply for the teaching practice at the State Institute for Schools[2]. Depending on what the needs of each applicant are, the teaching practice period can be between six, 12 or 18 months. For each year of teaching experience abroad, half a year can be deducted from the 18 months. Following the completion of the adaptation measures (i.e. university courses and teaching practice) or after passing the aptitude test, a final decision will be issued by the Senator for Science on the recognition with which the concerned persons can apply for a position as a teacher.

One challenge in recognizing teachers is that there is still (as of December 2017 and even three years after the entry into force of the law) no implementing regulation on how to interpret the law if there are differences between the Senator for Children and Education and the Senator for Science and Health. And, in the absence of an administrative instruction, both authorities may have different views as to when to grant recognition and when not. Without such an instruction, it is up to the respective clerk or clerks, as to what is to be done in individual cases, and the recognition decisions have no legal certainty, so they can be corrected at any time in the administrative court proceedings. It is therefore urgently necessary for both authorities to agree on a legal interpretation.

Furthermore, difficulties arise because teachers abroad often only learn one subject or are trained for another school system. These can then not be hired as full-fledged teachers and are thereby collectively disadvantaged. To solve this structural problem, the relevant regulations would need to be adapted so that one-subject teachers can be full-fledged teachers. For example, the state of Hamburg made that possible. Thus, a flexibilisation of the right of recognition for teachers as in Hamburg for the instruction of only one school subject is a major exception, but Berlin and Bremen are discussing this possibility due to a shortage of teachers.

Specific challenges may arise for certain subjects. For example, the recognition of teachers in ‘German as a second language’ is controversial. Although demand has increased enormously due to the high level of foreign immigration, the Conference of Ministers of Education has not yet included ‘German as a second language’ in its general school curriculum. The result is that teachers of German as a second language are not given full recognition, although the need for teachers in pre-courses, for example, for refugee or migrant children is great. However, some federal states deviate from these guidelines and recognize teachers of ‘German as a second language’, but it is not the case in Bremen yet. Many ‘German as a second language’ teachers teach in language courses, but at lower wages than fully accredited teachers. Physical education teachers cannot obtain recognition in Bremen because the university does not offer this subject anymore and thus no adaptation measures exist. Cooperation with other universities (e.g. Oldenburg) would make sense here. In both cases, it seems that a sort of federal guidance or coordination would help solve these issues (for example terminate discretionary practices across States and enhance recognition in all fields). But some authorities are worried that lowering the requirements for foreign skilled workers compared to teachers trained in Germany can lead to a deterioration of the education system.

Finally, the language challenges are great. Amongst the applicants are both people with very little knowledge of German as well as people with B1 level and more, although rarely B2 level. Even if the language level is legally not a prerequisite for recognition, the applicants must ultimately reach C1 or C2 levels to cope with the necessary adaptation measures. A course that has been in place since autumn 2017 also aims to better prepare foreign teachers for the communication demands of everyday working life.

The high complexity of the recognition procedure requires a better staffing of the competent authority (Senator for Science) in order to be able to guarantee more extensive support and advice.



[1]   In Bremen, the Senator for Science is responsible for the recognition of foreign teacher qualifications.

[2]   The State Institute for Schools is an institution of the Senator for Children and Education and has the task of accompanying schools in the state of Bremen in their work and supporting their development. As a centre of excellence, the Institute provides professional, educational and psychological services and support services to all those responsible for the education of primary and secondary school students, lower secondary and secondary schools and vocational schools. The tasks of the Institute are for example the training of trainee teachers and the qualification of teachers, officials and school administrators as well as other pedagogical staff in schools.


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René Böhme

René Böhme is a researcher in Social Sciences at the University of Bremen. He holds a M.A. in Social Policy from that same university.

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