1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Principals of German schools deplore rise in violence

September 2, 2023

Threats, defamation and even physical attacks are a daily occurrence for many teachers in Germany. Dealing with the situation is becoming a major challenge.

Children in a classroom throwing objects at thair teacher
Germany has seen a marked rise in violence against teachersImage: Imago Images/imagebroker

The summer vacation is coming to an end across Germany, but as students return to the classrooms, so is the specter of violence. "The figures are alarming, the situation is frightening," said Gerhard Brand, head of Germany's second-largest teachers' union, VBE, which conducted a survey among school principals last year.

The survey found that two-thirds of respondents said their schools had seen violent incidents targeting teachers in the past five years, ranging from insults to physical attacks. In 2022, police in the northern state of Lower Saxony registered a rise in reported attacks on teachers by 30% on the previous year, and Saxony-Anhalt, in the east of the country, saw 104 attacks on teachers, 43 of them physical violence.

One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told DW that he had been attacked as he was trying to diffuse a situation in a classroom: He saw a student threaten another with a paper-knife and shout: "I'll kill you!" The teacher interfered but found the student turning on him instead. "The student was so angry, he just felt he had to stab someone," recalled the teacher who was wounded in the incident. "It was not a very young student, it really was an extreme situation."

Incidents like these are not a daily occurrence, Brand added, but they are the tip of the iceberg. "We estimate that the real number of attacks is much higher than what's being reported," he said, because many hesitate to report attacks on teachers at schools.

Max Teske and Kollegin Laura Nickel at a rallye
Two teachers were threatened after speaking out over far-right sentiment in the classroom.Image: Patrick Pleul/dpa/picture alliance

But Klaus Seifried, a school psychologist for the last 26 years and a member of the association of school psychologists warns against alarmism. "We just pay more attention to such incidents nowadays and discuss them more," Seifried told DW.

A lot of experienced teachers are retiring, he adds. "Many of the new teachers have less experience in defusing a situation. At the same time, they're facing more pressure as a staff shortage means they have to fill gaps and work overtime."

By 2025, Germany will be lacking 25,000 teachers, according to the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) which represents education departments of Germany's 16 states. Under Germany's federalist structure, education comes are the state governments' remit.

The VBE survey found that 69% of school principals are anticipating an even more dramatic teacher shortage, and has calculated that the real number of vacancies may be as high as 50,000 in two years' time. Brand warns that the number of teachers will be insufficient for the foreseeable future, whatever measures are introduced. At the same time, teachers need more time to work with students to defuse situations in the classroom before they get out of control.

Impact of COVID-19

From 2020 to 2023, the COVID-19 pandemic was found to exacerbate existing problems, the VBE found. During that time, students and their parents were under a lot of pressure. With social distancing in place and sports facilities shut down, students were frustrated, which impacted school life, the teachers found. "During the pandemic, students' days lacked structure, and many spent all their time in front of the computer or watching TV," said Seifried.

That, according to Brand, contributed to a change in attitude: "As the pandemic wore on, we saw the initial solidarity increasingly replaced by aggression."

The increased violence was notable not only among students but also among parents. In the eastern German state of Thuringia, for example, 56% of all verbal assaults on teachers were perpetrated by parents, and 70% of defamation targeting teachers on social media.

Thuringia had a high number of COVID-skeptics, and teachers who implemented existing regulations to curb the pandemic bore the brunt of the attacks. They were accused of using fascist methods, and of being Nazis, and one teacher reported being assaulted with kicks to the legs and abdomen by an irate parent.

Klaus Seifried
School psychologist Klaus Seifried warns against alarmismImage: privat

Brand puts the increase in the number of attacks on teachers down to a general trend in society: "There's more brutality and an increase in violence in everyday life," he said. "We've noted an erosion of respect, of the willingness to help each other and general friendliness."

But Seifried insists that this needn't simply be accepted. "Teachers should build a positive, constructive relationship with their students, set boundaries and support them," he said. "They should demonstrate authority, but also be positive role models."

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Volker Witting
Volker Witting Volker Witting has been a political correspondent for DW-TV and online for more than 20 years.