When the Chemistry Is Right

Portrait of TU alumna Doris Krumpholz

2023/07/13 by

Doris Krumpholz realised already during her very first internship lesson in front of a class that she was in the right place. The alumna is a passionate teacher, and after nearly four decades, she is back at her old school, the catholic Edith-Stein-Schule – now in the role of Headmistress. Back at TU Darmstadt, Krumpholz, now 51, studied chemistry and biology. With lots of enthusiasm, because she felt in the right place back then, too.

Children, the smell of chalk and blackboard cleaner – Doris Krumpholz can’t imagine anything better. “Being a teacher is a great job if you manage to reach the children and if you’re burning for your topic,” she says. That's clearly the case with her. “It takes passion, and at least the teacher should be enthusiastic,” she laughs. Humour seems to be one of her fortes. But she doesn’t get much time for teaching these days. For three years now, Doris Krumpholz has been the Headmistress of Edith-Stein-Schule, an independent catholic grammar school in Darmstadt. Eight hours per week – that’s the quota she has been able to allot herself for teaching despite the many administrative tasks she has to deal with. She is class teacher of a tenth grade, teaching biology and chemistry.

Experiments are only the icing on the cake

“Winning children over to biology is easy because it is so close to real life. Every child knows some plants or has a pet,” she says. Creating enthusiasm for chemistry is somewhat more difficult, she concedes, although the experiments are fun. For Doris Krumpholz, it is important “that the children understand that chemistry isn’t all banging and reeking. That’s only the icing on the cake.” The alumna used to study biology and chemistry at TU Darmstadt to become a teacher. Chemistry was her favourite. Even during her course of studies, she regarded this topic as “incredibly clear and logical”. And that’s what today she wants to convey to her own pupils.

As a teacher, Doris Krumpholz likes to appeal to “their zest for life”. And she sounds so committed and friendly that she seems to be very successful in this. Maybe because she herself used to have good teachers, too. She still likes to recall her former Professor for inorganic chemistry at TU Darmstadt, Horst Elias, now retired. “Didactically, he was outstanding, his lectures were great,” she says. When she was a teacher herself, she once wrote him a letter to that effect. “He even replied,” she smiles.

I would study chemistry again any time.

Doris Ludwig, as she was called before her marriage, was born in Darmstadt. She is firmly rooted in the city as a real “Heiner”, as people born in Darmstadt are nicknamed. After her high-school diploma, she wanted to stay in Darmstadt, study to become a teacher, and raise a family. “I entertained that naive idea that as a teacher, I could have every afternoon off,” she says, laughing heartily. She comes from an academic family background and grew up with four siblings. Her mother, Eva Ludwig, was a teacher, too – before she went into politics in Darmstadt and got elected into the state parliament of Hesse. Studying natural sciences at TU Darmstadt was the top choice for Doris Krumpholz. “TU Darmstadt had many laboratories, everything was well-organised.”

She cannot remember ever not having found a place in her elective or required courses. “If one course was too crowded, they just opened up another one.” She has fond memories of her studies and her fellow students. “I would study chemistry again any time”, she says in retrospect. Back then, she found it very helpful to have had intensive courses in mathematics and English at school. Structured thinking and foreign language skills proved to be extremely helpful during her studies, she states.

TU Darmstadt had many laboratories, everything was well-organised.

“The Edith-Stein-Schule provided me with a broad base of knowledge and skills,” she lauds her former school. Did she ever imagine coming back there as a Headmistress? It was not planned, says the TU Darmstadt alumna. After finishing her studies, she first did her teacher training at the Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium grammar school in Darmstadt. At the time – quite in contrast to today – there were no free regular positions for teachers, so she had to switch schools several times, being employed on short-term contracts only. She was a stand-in teacher at the vocational grammar school in Dieburg; at the Niebergall special-needs school in Darmstadt; at the Ernst-Reuter-Schule in Groß-Umstadt; at the grammar school in Griesheim; and then for nine years back again at the Ludwig-Georgs-Gymnasium grammar school, a school she liked very much. She calls that phase of her life her “years of wandering and learning”, a time that enlarged her pedagogical horizon.

And more than that. By now, she is a mother of three, the oldest child already a university student. “Since my own kids are part of the school system, I can better understand the dire straits parents find themselves in. I have a lot of understanding and find their perspectives quite eye-opening.”

Being the boss never felt wrong

For some reason, many things in her life have revolved around the school she attended herself. Her husband was a teacher there, her youngest daughter started school there. When the former long-time headmaster retired, Doris Krumpholz was present at the farewell celebration, and intuitively, she thought: Maybe coming back would be a good thing. “Being in charge of an independently operated school is different,” she says. The Edith-Stein-Schule is an independent school operated by the catholic Edith-Stein-Schule foundation. Krumpholz is Headmistress and Chair of the foundation. Thus, he has to fulfil two jobs in one, as it were; not only having to master the everyday running of the school, but also having to look after budget and construction issues. “I have a great administrative staff, a good team, and a committed faculty,” she is pleased to state. “And luckily, I’m quite good with numbers”, Krumpholz jokingly adds.

She says that “it didn’t feel strange at all, not even for a second” to suddenly be the boss of a set of teachers who used to teach her when she was still an adolescent. One big challenge, however, was the fact that she started as a Headmistress right during the heyday of the Covid crisis. “There were no concerts, no prayer service, no exchange programme visits – nothing which otherwise makes our school so special.” Instead, she had to put order to the chaos.

More than a thousand pupils attend this private school which is independently operated with catholic sponsorship but which attracts children and youths from all denominations. Each day starts with a prayer, and church services and Christian values are part of school life. Doris Krumpholz herself, formerly a protestant, converted to the catholic faith many years ago. “It was the last step on my faith journey. My husband is a catholic, my children were baptised in the catholic faith, we were active in the parish. It just felt right for me.” She likes to talk freely about her faith, but without any missionary intention, she emphasises. Charity, empathy, the people are important to her. The abuses and problems of the church as an institution weigh on her; still, leaving the church has never been an option. “The good ones need to stay within the church.”