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The rest of the world is getting madder and madder, but at least the sun has started to come out.

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Whoever invented spiked tyres was a genius.

Riding all the way into Stuttgart is still impossible even with spikes, so the current commute is as far as the nearest tram stop and back. This is only a few kilometres but means that I can at least ride that bit.

The local bus and tram company don’t seem to talk to each other so the bus frequently leaves a minute before the tram arrives. A cold fifteen minute ride is preferable to a freezing twenty minute wait for the bus.

Meanwhile, the mural is progressing:

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I have exams looming so blogging will be minimal for a while…

You know when you realise you should have just kept quiet?

As part of our Occupational Therapist course we have art projects, and each class is supposed to make a mural for their classroom. This is quite a welcome idea because our classroom is a concrete fridge looking out onto a busy main road. It is dark, sterile, and apparently houses a breeding colony of spare tables.

We were divided into groups to make proposals for the murals, and told which walls were possible candidates (not the one with an ugly mural on it already, sadly) and off we went.

One issue we have in the college is a lack of space to relax, so we put two and two together and decided that the mural should be something to make the darker end of the room look a bit brighter and more airy and a place you could enjoy being in. As we have a coffee machine in the corner we went with the flow and said it could be a cafe.

So I was told to draw a sketch, which I happily did, on the basis that it kept me busy.

The group liked it, or possibly just didn’t want to draw an alternative, so I was told to make a more detailed sketch. This time I was worried as I knew what would be involved if the design was accepted, and in particular who would be expected to make the picture.

They liked that too. Then someone suggested a skyline of Stuttgart viewed through the window using the method known as Quadratura

And someone else who I will one day force to eat my paintbrush said “Yeah, sure. Andy could do it.”

I know I’ve painted pictures before, but I’ve no real training whatsoever, and this is massive: about 2m by 4m (Ca 6′ by 12′).

And that’s just one. Current plans are for there to be two or possibly three ‘windows’ across the entire dark end of the room.

Looks like I’ll be busy over the holidays…

Posts have been a bit thin on the ground of late, mainly because I couldn’t think of an interesting way to say we were having a lot of fun going on bike ride.

anyway, I’m now back training.Right now I’m at the end of week one of my training placement.

To recap, I’m getting  retraining is due to health issues, because carpenters can’t have asthma.

Now I’m in a workshop that takes people with light to medium level disabilities leaving school and help them adjust to a work environment, and run all kinds of education projects alongside. I get to spend all day doing creative stuff that helps people

I get the best of both worlds because as a former carpenter I have a machine operators licence and therefore can use all the machines to make interesting stuff and try ideas out.

It’s a bit like being a kid in a sweet shop, but I’ll try and find something to be grumpy about for your amusement…

It’s exam season at college, and that means getting the remaining functional brain cells to work trying to learn things.

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It turns out I’m a visual learner and I don’t remember abstract concepts very well, so to get some of the ideas into my head, I hit on the idea of making posters for them. The process of making the pictures and drawings helps me retain the information, and I have a visual idea to try and recall during the exam.

That’s the theory. And I get to draw stuff in the class, and call it revision.

I’m supposed to remember the word at the back, ‘erträglich’, meaning ‘sustainable’, as in ‘a job doesn’t cause long term health issues’. I’m using a play on words which I’m sure has German speakers rolling on the floor already;  to allow English speakers to join in the hilarity I should explain the German word for ‘carry’ is ‘Tragen’: so he’s carrying something. (Tragen and Erträgen, gettit?) I’m hoping this will help me remember the point.

I’m also hoping they won’t deduct marks for bad puns…

Occasionally people  who know me through the blog ask why I don’t just ‘become self employed’ as a carpenter, instead of faffing about for another three years learning occupational therapy.

Apart from this showing a highly optimistic view of my abilities, in Germany a carpenter/cabinet maker is under the authority of the Carpenters Guild, which decrees that even after a three year apprenticeship, no-one is ‘permitted’ to be self-employed unless they have completed a master carpenters qualification. This takes another two years and you have to practically be an engineer or mathematician to get through it. It also costs 15 to 20 thousand Euros.

Most of which goes to the Carpenters Guild.

The result is that most self-employed carpenters about are (1) mathematicians; (2) in debt, (3) largely keen to keep the status quo going, having invested so much in it, and (4) paying members of the trade guild and therefore able to keep things the way they are*.

And then there’s the startup costs. Carpentry here is machine intensive and machines aren’t cheap: I’d have to take on a frightening amount of extra debt to set up a workshop. I’d then spend 20 years getting stressed out making boring chipboard furniture to pay it all off. Except that the machines will be ‘too old’ and ‘too slow’ in twenty years time, so I’d have to start all over again.

Or I can learn to be an occupational therapist, which frankly sounds a whole lot more fun.

I’ll also be at least twenty thousand Euros better off…

*Quote from one master carpenter on the subject: “I had to pay to get my Masters’ Qualification, so you should too.”

We are still in exam season.

The subjects people have chosen are varied and interesting: we’ve had Thai kickboxing, origami, fondu making, and some weirdo who decided to sharpen a plane, but after a while interest wanes. Every exam requires 90 minutes including evaluation and there are twenty students, and we all have to do it twice… That’s eighty ‘school hours’, an official German ‘school hour’ being 45 minutes long -don’t ask me I didn’t write the rules- which means ten solid days of tedium. Fortunately the staff are aware of this and are happy for us to read if we want as long as we don’t disturb anyone, but you can only look at so much about Brexit in German before that too begins to lose its excitement. If it had any at the start.

It’s enough to make you long for a week of education theory, which is good, because that’s what is coming up on Monday.

On the other hand, the weather has improved so I can ride my bike through the forest to get to college, and tomorrow I have pottery class; all day.

The new college course began on Thursday, with two days of administrative business and the ridiculous waste of time called ‘getting to know you games’, which as usual were run by extroverts and endured by the introverts, and ensured that the introverts all clammed up and were less able to get to know people than if we’d been left alone.

On the plus side, this is a college course so we have similar holidays to the local schools -but with minimal coursework, because the tutors are aware that at least half of us have families and frankly we find them more fun than textbooks. We also have three months placement each year, as early as possible “because we figure you want to get out and do the job instead of learning theory”. In our course this lands straight after the summer holidays so we have about four months of theory, then four months of holidays and placements and four months of theory. Then repeat for year two.

The stuff we are learning looks good and as if it might actually be relevant to what we are supposed to be doing afterwards, which could be just about anything that involves training or therapy. Of course being me, I want to try everything…

So I promised you some slightly more interesting news than our plumbing adventures, and on Monday I was provided with it.

Around the end of my carpentry training we found that I have mild Asthma, and after some visits to various specialists I was solemnly informed that I would have to retrain*. To be honest, this was not a great disappointment, but it raised the question of what I could be trained to do.

At first the Job Centre suggested a business studies qualification.

Stop laughing.

Next on the list was ‘technical designer’ which sounded better but means sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day designing disposable furniture…

Besides, our long-term goal involves moving towards a simpler, more sustainable way of life as independent of the ‘normal’ economy and system as possible. Becoming more connected with the same consumer economy seems to be the opposite of what we are aiming for.

Unfortunately you can’t explain this sort of thing to the job centre. Worse, because I’m a carpenter everyone assumed I was good at maths.

I said, stop laughing.

Finally, a friend who actually knows me suggested I learn to be an ‘Arbeitserzieher’, a qualification that doesn’t exist outside of the state, let alone Germany. The nearest translation is a work therapist (‘Arbeit’ means work and ‘Erziehen’ is to nurture and educate). I could work in anything from protected workshops to city farms, theatres, or therapy centres, with anyone from children to vulnerable adults or people with disabilities, using things like woodwork, lino printing, bike repair, cooking, or animals. I would dream up creative ideas that I could do with clients to help them.

Put another way, I get to keep playing doing the same job as the last seven months, every day. And getting the perfect training to realise our future goals.

The only problem would be that I’ll have to go to a college slap bang in the centre of Stuttgart every day for two years without getting hives. Assuming I manage that, I’ll then have another year doing the job with regular evaluations, and an exam at the end. Oh, yes, I also had to convince the Job Centre that they should fund this.

On Monday they finally agreed and signed the contract.

The course starts on April the 21st, and right now I feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

*Honestly, I’m not trying to be a perpetual student, although I appreciate it may seem that way sometimes.

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