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Germany

'Do you have enough to eat?' - Music teachers hit by job insecurity

Two qualified musicians both teach classical guitar at different music schools, but their work contracts differ greatly. DW met Peter Reiser and Christian Ulrich in Dueren just after pupils had performed.

The two guitar teachers.

Christian Ulrich (left) and Peter Reiser, are both guitar teachers

Christian Ulrich and Peter Reiser both teach the guitar in western Germany. They both invested many years of their lives acquiring their skills, they both provide one-on-one tuition for pupils. But due to austerity measures, job security is not something they have in common.

DW: Mr Reiser, you switched: You moved from Dueren to Moenchengladbach to take up a salaried job. What is the difference? Why did you do that?

Christian Ulrich teaches a guitar class

Christian Ulrich remains an idealist

Reiser: In Dueren I was only paid for the lessons that I gave. In Moenchengladbach the pay is not only for the lessons given but also for the preparation: Attendance at conferences is paid for; appearances at music school concerts and events are also paid for under my employment contract. Beyond that I have protection against dismissal. I have time off if sick. I am safeguarded, and feel well recognised and accepted by the city as a person with a high qualification.

Mr Ulrich. You have a different employment relationship. You are a so-called casual worker paid hourly fees. What does your day look like?

Ulrich: It's exactly the contrary of what my colleague has just described. The everyday situation for us as casual teachers in Dueren, or casual teachers generally, is that our dedication to the work that we do is exploited through the social necessity of us having to earn money. Therein lies our greatest dilemna.

You have started a family. Was that a decision that was tough to make because of your employment situation?

Ulrich: No, I don't have any anxiety about the future, otherwise I never would have decided to make music my career. But, I had never anticipated that this employment setup would be so precarious. You can make it with your family, I think, but you're really dependent on a partner who earns money too, and perhaps more than you do.

Herr Reiser, you once had the prospect here in Düren of possibly getting a salaried job. What happened?

Reiser: In 1999 I began to teach, both in Aachen and also in Dueren. Two or three years later a permanent salaried teacher of the Dueren music school went into retirement and those teaching hours became available. However, for unexplainable reasons, that did not work out. Instead I was told, you must teach these hours on a casual basis and eventually you'll get those hours turned into a salaried job. To do that I had to reduce my hours in Aachen so that I could work here more. And, then, unfortunately, nothing happened over the next few years. I was a young and naturally on the look-out for a suitable job and went for it. And, then the job offer came from Moenchengladbach. I couldn't say no, of course, and terminated my tuition work in Dueren.

How does this (job) insecurity impact on your pupils?

Ulrich: The pupils notice little, I think. Because we don't have a lobby, the issue doesn't penetrate through to the surface. Many parents have said: What! Such employment arrangements! They can't imagine this. We believe, however, that it can't remain like this, because you cannot skimp in this area. Take the youth centers, take the music schools, take the whole educational sector. It's unacceptable. You can't demand that a society prospers but at the same time skimp on youth.

Reiser: I miss the public provision of services for people. During individual lessons and also in small group tuition settings close personal ties emerge. But, because of the casual work situation, I often had to give up. That was a painful experience for me and also for the pupils. When do children in our society have the opportunity to build such close relationships. When does an adult devote 30 or 45 minutes only to this child? That hardly happens, often, not even in families.

You both teach guitar. You both obtained an academic qualification, presumeably at a music conservatory. You spent many years acquiring these skills. Do the parents understand this?

Ulrich: The parents of our pupils more so, compared to the parents of non-pupils and of those children who have never learnt an instrument. Who dedicates himself out of idealism? Who stands up for what he gladly does? But that's simply the case for many music teachers.

Reiser: I can remember the time when I was asked, what do you do for a real job?

Ulrich: Yes, I once had a pupil who asked me – do you have enough money to eat? Things like that.

Reiser: Exactly, and what do you do actually in your proper profession?

Despite this so-called “wage dumping”, do you feel optimistic that you have chosen the right vocation?

Ulrich: I believe in what I do, yes. And, I'm still an idealist. That is what it is actually about, or, rather, I wish that the future will not destroy this idealism. Working with children gives me incredible enjoyment.

Reiser: Just now, many former pupils came up to me with sparkling eyes. They were pleased to see me again. And, I was thrilled to see that what I had previously imparted in these children had been able to flourish. That pleased me greatly.

Ulrich: Yes, I can only underscore that.

Interviewer: Ian P. Johnson
Editor: Rob Turner