The new school year is quickly approaching and many parents of 6th graders are wondering about the transition to secondary school. We have met the new acting middle school co-ordinator Sarah Dent.

We met Sarah in her office on the Secondary campus, P30.

Question: Good morning Sarah and congratulation on your new job. Let me ask you some basic questions first: What is your job title and when did you take it over?

Sarah Dent: My job title is “acting middle school coordinator” and I first became involved as Brigitte Duffet’s assistant in March last year. When Brigiitte fell ill, I stepped in.

Q: Tell us something about yourself!

SD: I was born in, Sheffield, England and studied English and German. During my studies I spent a year in Cologne, and have been living in Berlin for 20 years now.

Q: Where did you receive your education?

SD: I earned a PGCE – postgraduate certificate of education – in Nottingham, England and then taught briefly in England before coming to Berlin. Here I received more training, completing the Referendariat (teacher training) at a Realschule in Berlin Hohenschönhausen.

Q: What were some takeways from Hohenschönhausen?

SD: My German improved immensely (laughs). And I had a bit of a culture shock because of the differences. But it was enriching because I learned a lot, an intense experience.

Q: What are some notable differences between middle school in the UK/US/ROW and Germany?

SD: It’s been a while since I taught in England but my impression is that things are more uniform in the UK. The content of the national curriculum is very transparent across the country. During my training in Germany there was more emphasis on lesson structure and tools to teach effectively. Something I missed, however, was the emphasis on the social side of the school. In England I attended seminars on gender diversity, though I’m sure it had a different name at the time, and on the multicultural classroom.

So what I really would like is the best of two worlds.

Q: Now to your job: What does a “Mittelstufenkoordinator” do?

SD: Basically I liaise with teachers, social pedagogues, students and parents so that the middle school can run smoothly. My work also consists of co-ordinating exams, parent teacher conferences, pedagogical conferences, and of course I teach.

Also I would like to add that I am not alone. Hanna Lentz assists me. Thankfully! In particular Hanna supports me with helping pupils overcome learning difficulties. She is presently setting up a new programme.

Q: How many teachers are there at Nelson Mandela School who teach in middle school?

SD: This is difficult to say because we only have few teachers who only teach middle school. The school (all three campuses) has around 190 teachers/educators/social pedagogues in total so the general conferences are held in the Aula or in the sports hall, with the help of a microphone.

Q: What are the subjects that in your experience are the most challenging?  

SD: Students need most help in the core subjects German, English and Maths. Learning difficulties often affect self-esteem and cause behavioural issues and sometimes pupils don’t know how to cope with the pressure at school when things get more serious.

Often problems arise in year ten because pupils realise this is their last year in middle school and are still coping with puberty.

Q: How does the co-ordination with the teachers work? This sounds like a lot of meetings!

SD: Well of course e-mails are used as well, but we have regular meetings, once a week with school management, and also with the social pedagogues. We have chats of course and the electronic and paper time tables help us schedule meetings. Generally speaking, informal meetings are a bit more difficult because the school has grown so much.

Q: What part do the social pedagogues play in middle school?

SD: They are very important. They liaise with the teachers and try to make sure that the pupils feel well socially, as well as taking part in the “Kerngruppenstunde” in the lower classes. They put out their feelers because students do not always make appointments when they have problems. Unfortunately, social learning is not part of the schedule any more. The social pedagogues coordinate external workshops, for example on drugs or gaming addiction and are very involved with the workshops and extra-curricular activities such as sport. They are so important because they see the students in a social environment. We work closely and it works pretty well.

Q: How many social pedagogues are there in secondary?

SD: At the moment we have 4 social pedagogues here and one in B24.

Q: How do you communicate with the students? Are there forums or any forms of formal communication?

SD: In year 10 I gather the pupils before the exams and show them info and regulations about the exam. We also communicate more closely with students whose teachers estimate that they might not pass the year, or with students who need more support, for whatever reason.

Q: The MSA (Mittlerer Schulabschluss, or middle school certificate) is the first qualification that the students receive in the German school system. What are some things that students and parents need to know?

SD: They have to know that the exams are Berlin/Brandenburg wide no matter what school they are at. The first state examination is actually the BBR (Berufsbildungsreife) in Maths and German in year 9. All students are encouraged to participate in the MSA. The exam is set by the senate. Obviously there is always a discussion about the level at which it is set. There is an information evening for year 9 parents and students and some information is available on the website.

Q: How do you cope with the challenge for English speaking pupils having to pass a German exam? Do you have some tips in stock?

SD: If a student has been in Berlin for two years or less, they can do an MSA English science exam instead of German. This year four students participated. For Maths the students can receive a translation. And we try to find ways to support them. It’s good to encourage students to learn German and the MSA can provide them with a goal to aim for.

Q: I've read that an important part of your role is also school development. What are some goals you have for our school?

SD: Well I have recently been to a “quality control” seminar which I found really interesting and I hope to implement some things that I learned during this.

Q: Is there message you would like to convey to the school community?

SD: I would like to say that the parents should feel that they can contact us, not only myself or Hanna Lentz but also the social pedagogues or class teachers. Sometimes I think parents are hesitant, especially as their children get older. But it can be really helpful if we are aware of the bigger picture. If the children are not happy, they can’t really learn.

Thank you very much for this interview.

Interview by: Christian Lohr

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21.03.2018 Nelson-Mandela-Schule · Staatliche Internationale Schule Berlin | Nelson Mandela School · State International School Berlin