The demonstration, organised by the Community College Federation (DVV) protested against what it say are wages so low that they amount to less than half of what qualified and fully employed state school teachers earn.
The teachers also complain their pensions are not enough to keep them out of poverty in old age.
The DVV is calling for the government to set aside an extra €180 million per year to tackle the problem.
“Despite the fact that we are highly qualified, we only earn €1,200 per month,” said Brigitte Rilke, a teacher at the state-funded Volkshochschule (VHS) and one of the event’s organizers, to The Local.
“And from this salary, we have to pay social contributions as well as health insurance.”
Rilke said that despite years working as a German teacher, she still could not afford a car and could only pay a low rent.
Teaching German for “integration courses” has existed for a decade as a standardized profession. There are roughly 22,000 teachers across the country who provide courses in government-financed institutions, such as the VHS, to migrants starting their lives in Germany.
“I love my job. I also have the qualifications to work in a high school and earn up to €4,000 per month, but that’s not what I want.
“But as things are, I am going to have to keep working as long as I am fit enough to stand at a table,” said Rilke.
The pension for German teachers is limited to €600 per month and that is only for those who have worked a full 39 years. Those who have not worked so long must make do with less.
The demonstration was planned to coincide with a meeting of the federal government with heads of the German states to haggle over the costs of integrating refugees into German society.
While the states and the federal government barter over the amount of money that will be attributed to housing and other issues, it is unclear whether increased salaries for the people who teach them will be on the table.
But the teachers also seem to have limited options at their disposal.
“Part of the problem is that we are freelance contractors. This means that it is difficult to strike. We wouldn’t get paid for a start. And many teachers fear that they wouldn’t be offered work afterwards,” Rilke said.
‘It’s never come up’
One current student at the Berlin VHS told The Local that among her classmates there is little awareness of the financial situation of their teachers.
“We [the students] take coffee breaks together every class and it has never really come up,” said Barbara Woolsey, a journalist from Canada who is taking night classes twice a week, to The Local.
“If I knew that teachers were leaving the profession because of bad pay, I think that would be a real shame,” she said.
“Teachers are such an important part of society. Especially as an expat, I know how much doing German classes have benefited me.”
Woolsey was full of praise for the VHS, commending it for the low cost of classes and the leg up it has given her in her career.
“Speaking German is so important. It’s really hard to get a job if you don’t have the language skills,” she pointed out.
Germany has had to cope with record numbers of immigration in recent years. Last year saw over half a million people move to the Bundesrepublik, the highest number since records began in 1967.
Many of these immigrants arrive in Germany with little or no German language skills, a necessity for most forms of work.
The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees was not available for comment.