Teaching in Denmark

This is my son Patrick in Sønderborg‎, Southern Denmark, taken in October 2011.

I taught at a college in this small provincial town in Southern Denmark for just over a year. It was called EUC Syd. I found the transition from working in Slovakia (where I had lived previously) to cold and wet Denmark difficult. Part of the reason was the high cost of living and my reduced income. The other factor was getting used to the Danish rules and the culture of expecting foreign workers to find out important facts by osmosis. The attitude was one of unhelpfulness. I found this very frustrating. The language barrier was also another factor and the high tax regime.

EUC Syd  would fall broadly under the category ‘community college’ in the UK. It is mostly for vocational students but also has a technical high school. There was being set up an IB department (International Baccalaureate) here but there were certain people in the school who seemed hostile to the idea that they should cooperate with the setting up of this school within a school. This caused a lot of difficulties.


The academic coordinator was a Czech man who had lived for thirty years in Denmark. He had recruited me and had been very optimistic about the opportunities the new department would afford. However the first cohort of students was too small. We only had eleven students to begin with and I had had no hand in recruiting them. They were mostly unmotivated, lazy and bored by the whole concept of education. I don’t know if it was something in the water but they were rude and surly too on the whole. Getting homework done was like getting blood out of a stone. Forget deadlines. Plagiarism warnings went unheeded as everyone copied off each other for coursework assignments. We went down from 11 students to four by the year’s end and two of these were students coming in from other colleges. I really felt that I was wasting my time.

The behaviour of a lot of the students in the college left a huge amount to be desired. They became aggressive when challenged. Some of them used to enjoy kicking a full water bottle as hard as they possibly could down the entire length of the corridor. Once, this happened right in front of the principle and he did nothing. They also enjoyed pushing each other on office chairs as fast as they could. After I began complaining, a spate of door knocking began on my classroom door – by the invisible man. I found the group behaviour amongst the students the strangest. They had an unnerving habit of all turning and staring at someone at the same time. It was very odd. Danish culture to me seems a warning against those who would say give young people all the freedom they want.

I made these notes about three months after starting to work there.
22nd Nov 2011 
Teaching coordinate geometry. Harry, Nick, Nour and Deanna absent. Annetta may as well be absent too – not paying any attention. No one copies down any notes. No response from anyone to questions except by repeated questioning, even to simple questions. Last week, only one person did homework. Everyone looking at their computer screens instead of at the board. The exercise does not need the use of a computer. I cannot teach this SL class because they do not want to learn or listen. They just want to play on their computers. I have never known anything like it in 15 years of teaching.
Annetta browsing internet all lesson. Refusing to cooperate.
23rd Nov 2011
Daniel doing nothing for one whole lesson. Instructed to do work on paper but did not. Annetta seeming to sleep for first part of lesson, with head on the desk.
29th November 2011
Nick disappears after 5 minutes. No one greets me. Given tasks to do on paper and most of sl students are tapping away on their computers. Saw Daniel and Nour had facebook or similar open. Arndis not paying attention to what I am saying, looking intently at her screen. Harry, Agnieszka, Nick, Deanna are absent. No homework done from last lesson even though it was simple.
30th November 2011
No Harry, no Nick. Not greeted by anyone on arrival. Explained to everyone that when their absence is down at 50%, they can’t expect to do well. During this, Diana is chatting and ignoring me. Diana is doing some other homework during the lesson. Annetta is on the computer definitely not doing maths related work. Agnieszka and Nour are taking notes and Daniel and Arndis are working properly. Deanna really should leave and so should Annetta. Annetta, Deanna and Agnieszka are routinely not paying attention.
2nd December 2011
Went through simultaneous equations with Annette. She was only half paying attention. For the other half of the time, she was staring intently at her computer screen. Long silences. After 20 minutes, I decided that I would just leave her to it.

I was also struggling financially and I could not afford to own a car. Most of the other staff had two breadwinners. I was at the time a single parent with a teenage son.

Here is a comment I made on FB in 2011. “Been trying to persuade teachers in my school that the behaviour of the kids here is not good enough. Lost the battle a long time ago. ‘You’re used to working in private schools – their behaviour is fine. ‘ So kicking furniture around the corridors is fine. Disrupting lessons by fighting in the communal areas is fine. Not doing homework is fine. Being rude and arrogant is fine.

Meanwhile, our IB coordinator shows a prospective replacement around constantly introducing him with the wrong name. How difficult is it to get someone’s name right?”

“Danish students – a group walking past my classroom overhear another teacher giving instructions to their class:’Ok please sit down and …’ so they mimic ‘Please sit down motherf***ers’. In Denmark, this is normal and is not reacted to by any teaching staff.”

When something needed doing urgently, the attitude was ‘who gives a fuck.’ Not even the management seemed to care. No one seemed to try to plan ahead of time. My first pay packet was taxed 55 % and I had to inform the school that unless they taxed me correctly, I would have to leave. I needed my son’s residency permit in order to register him for school in August 2011 and to apply for educational support for him and I had to plead to get this piece of paper in time. No one had thought that I might need it. On some days, I would be the only one in the office 5 minutes before lessons started. One childish teacher began to accuse me regularly of not putting away lab equipment and would even chastise me for having an untidy desk. I would definitely advise anyone against working in Denmark.

“If you are interested in horrible places, I can recommend Denmark. No one starves. Everyone lives in small, pretty houses. But no one is rich, no one has a chance to a life in luxury, and everyone is depressed. Everyone lives in their small well-organized cells with their Danish furniture and their lovely lamps, without which they would go mad,” V.S. Naipaul.

The holidays were a lot shorter than in the UK and in Slovakia. In Denmark, the school year starts in the first week of August and continues right through to just before Christmas but nothing ever seems to get done for the amount of time kids spend at school.

To say that I disliked living in Denmark is an understatement. I noticed a “couldn’t care less” attitude in many different ways. I once got locked out of my bank account for entering my PIN incorrectly. I went into my bank branch and without showing any ID, they gave me money from account. They didn’t know me from Adam. After 17 months of this, I decided to leave because I could see that it was a lost cause. I did not make myself popular because I vented my frustrations in the staff room. Other staff did not seem to care or were too soft on the students. I would just say most didn’t care at all. Communication was very sloppy and my feeling was that many IB teachers were not following the IB guidelines in grading and assessing material and in assessing group coursework. Staff were always happy to make excuses for the students. This is how things work in Denmark: I call a meeting at work for all teachers who work in the physics lab. I invite the head of the section too. Out of 4 people, only 2 turn up. Even the head of section doesn’t turn up. He even acknowledged the invitation and I saw him moments before the start of the meeting. The other person disappears from the meeting while the first person who turned up is showing me something in the next room. I find the way people work in this country very strange.

Yes, I felt that the Danish claim to a perfect life was a big lie. Everyone seemed miserable, like the weather. And I didn’t mention the casual racism my son encountered.

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