Why Germany is facing a shortage of ‘up to 40,000 teachers’

With pupils returning to schools across Germany, there are warnings that the country is currently seeing a shortfall of tens of thousands of teachers.

Children back in the classroom in Berlin.
Children back in the classroom in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

The supply of teachers has deteriorated in all of Germany’s 16 states, said German Teachers’ Association president Heinz-Peter Meidinger.

“Nationwide, we assume a real gap of at least 30,000, maybe even up to 40,000 unfilled positions,” he added.

The situation of filling positions with fully trained teachers has “once again become much worse compared to last year,” said Maike Finnern, president of the Education and Science Union (GEW).

“Lesson cancellations right at the beginning of the school year are already happening,” said Udo Beckmann, chairman of the VBE union, adding that “larger learning groups, cutting back on support programmes and shortening of timetables” was also on the cards. 

READ ALSO: What foreign parents really think about German schools


There are more than 800,000 teachers at schools and vocational schools across Germany.

The new school year has started in 11 of Germany’s 16 states. Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland will follow next week, and pupils in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will return to the classroom the following week. Traditionally, the two southern states are last in line to take their summer vacations.

But teaching shortage alarms have already been sounded by states. Bavaria said that some classes may have to be cancelled in the new school year in order to compensate for a lack of staff. 

In Berlin the school year began with more students than ever before, while at the same time there was a shortage of 875 teachers.

Saxony’s education minister Christian Piwarz (CDU), said at the start of the school year that the supply of teaching staff remained a difficult issue.  

Teachers’ Association head Meidinger said that the up to 40,000 unfilled teaching positions was an estimate, as schools had not yet started again in all states.

“But the numbers known so far are dramatic,” he added.

A pupil writes in English at a German school.

A pupil writes in English at a German school. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Marijan Murat

READ ALSO: German teaching shortage is ‘worse than ever’

Overlapping problems

The lack of teachers has been a major problem in Germany for several years. But the situation seems to be coming to a head because of several problems that are merging together. These include:

– Germany’s general shortage of skilled workers is having an impact on the school sector. In June, the managing director of the Leibniz Institute for Educational Research and Information (DIPF), Kai Maaz, spoke of staff distribution issues on the training and labour market.

– Although there is a shortage of staff, more teachers are opting for part-time work. According to the Federal Statistical Office, just under 40 percent did not work full time in the 2020/2021 school year: the highest rate in 10 years.

– According to the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the states (known as the KMK), the number of schoolchildren is rising due to more births and immigration. There are currently almost 11 million schoolchildren in Germany. Furthermore, there are now more than 150,000 pupils from war-torn Ukraine.

– Political decisions, such as the expansion of all-day schooling, requirements for inclusion or language support, are further increasing the need for extra staff at schools.

– There is still a threat of staff absences due to illness and isolation rules following a Covid infection. Pregnant teachers are also absent because, according to Meidinger, they are banned from working almost everywhere because of Covid-19.

Germany’s education ministers are currently placing a “major focus” on recruiting skilled workers, said Karin Prien (CDU), education minister in Schleswig-Holstein. 

Possible short-term measures to “ensure the reliable supply of instruction,” include using more substitute teachers and “in individual cases, the merging of school classes”, said Prien.

She added that it was a long-term problem. 

“You can’t just think in terms of individual years or election periods, but rather think about the development of education 10, 20 years into the future,” said Prien. 

READ MORE: What parents should know about German schools


Shortage – (der) Mangel

Teachers – (die) Lehrer

School year – (das) Schuljahr

Unfilled/vacant – unbesetzt

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

The German government has agreed on a set of reforms for the immigration of skilled workers, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Here's what they're planning.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

What’s happening?

Germany is currently facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage, particularly in the health sector, IT, construction, architecture, engineering and building services. The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs for which there will be no qualified candidates.

In order to help plug the gap in the labour market, the coalition government has been proposing changes to immigration law for months.

In September, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented plans for a new points-based immigration system, that will enable non-EU workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, under a so-called “Opportunity Card” (Chancenkarte) scheme.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Now, the coalition government has agreed on a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help remove hurdles for skilled workers coming to Germany. The points were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, who should then come up with a draft law in the first quarter of 2023.

What’s in the plans?

The central aim of the government’s plans is to make it easier for people from outside the EU to find a job in Germany.

In the draft paper, ministers distinguish between three so-called pillars, the first of which concerns the requirements that foreign specialists must meet in order to be allowed to work in Germany.

Until now, they have had to have a recognized degree and an employment contract, but the government wants to lower this hurdle.

The draft states: “For specialists who are unable to present documents relating to their professional qualifications or can only do so in part, for reasons for which they themselves are not responsible, an entry and residence option should nevertheless be created.” The competencies could then be finally examined once they have arrived in Germany.

A trainee electrician practices in a training centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The second pillar involves skilled workers from abroad who do not yet have a degree but already have a lot of professional experience.

For employees in the information and communications technology sector, the requirement of having sufficient German language skills would be waived, and it would then be up to the managers of the company making the job offer to decide whether or not they want to employ the skilled worker despite a lack of German language skills. 

READ ALSO: ‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

The third pillar is about enabling third-country nationals with good potential to stay in Germany in order to find a job. The “Opportunity Card” falls under this pillar and will involve a new points-based system, which will allow non-EU nationals to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a degree or professional qualification, having experience of at least three years, having a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new opportunity card and other visas for job seekers

What other initiatives do the plans include?

The traffic light coalition also wants to do more to promote Germany as an attractive, innovative and diverse country abroad.

One initiative is to publicise job vacancies internationally and connect qualified people abroad with employers and educational institutions in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

The “Make it in Germany” portal, which has its own job exchange, will be expanded and further developed.

The government also wants to promote the German language both abroad and at home for example, by expanding digital language courses and exams.

The government also wants to simplify and accelerate the recognition procedures for foreign vocational qualifications. One of the planned measures is that the required documents can also be accepted in English or in the original language.