- I helped the police in Colorado catch a drug dealer.
- I was once on the Romanian evening news when they talked about terrrorism.
- I broke my ankle while rock climbing in Colorado.
- I've gone diving in Australia with sharks and sting rays the size of Smart cars.
Every time I gave this introduction, there were audible reactions as I read the statements aloud. The students really loved it--they asked questions such as: Are you a terrorist? Do you know any drug dealers? Are you scared of sharks? Where did you go climbing? Have you ever been on TV? Have you ever been in jail?
Then we would vote. A couple classes got it right and guessed that me breaking my ankle was the false one. One class even asked enough questions to figure out that I helped the police in Colorado catch a drug dealer quite unintentionally through a car accident. After this activity, I would introduce myself, tell the class a little about who I am and where I'm from, and then open it up to Q&A for the rest of the class period.
During the Q&A I gave them permission to ask me anything about myself or my country. There were a few questions that were common to all classes:
- What do you think of Bush / the war in Iraq?
- Where do you go out in Graz?
- How old are you?
- What do you think of Austria?
- What is your favorite alcoholic drink? (N.b.: At first I was really uncomfortable talking about alcohol with these kids because it didn't seem like the kind of thing that'd be appropriate to talk about in an American high school, but then I had to remind myself that these kids are already allowed to drink. Weird.)
- Have you ever gone on Spring Break? (Apparently these guys think that all American students "go on Spring Break" in Miami or Cancun.)
- Can you speak German? (The official answer is "no", or "not really, but maybe I'll learn more this year.")
- Why are Americans fat? / Do you like McDonald's?
There were, of course, certain moments where I made an utter fool of myself during the Q&A. However, this can be a very effective teaching tool.
At one point, I was asked what I thought of the German language. I gave an honest answer: I used to think that it sounded like hocking up a hairball, but now I think it's quite a beautiful language. Not all that surprisingly, the students had no idea what "hocking up a hairball" meant. So I stood in front of the class and explained what happens when a cat licks itself and swallows too much hair, culminating in a grand reinactment of Teacher Rebecca demonstrating what it is to, as they say, "hock up a hairball."
Another class asked me about my hobbies. Among the things I mentioned was swing dancing, which is not really to be found in Austria. The students didn't know what swing dancing was, so I explained that it was dancing from the 1930s and 1940s, danced to Big Band music. Someone from the back of the class shouted out, "Can you show us?" Having already established a precident for making a fool of myself in the Hairball Class, I obliged the student in the back and chose to demonstrate a good dance for one person: the Charleston. I demonstrated '20s Charleston and then regular Charleston, explaining a little bit of each. Then the class burst into spontaneous applause, and--I'm sorry to say--I spontaneously bobbed down into a curtsey.
In another class, when asked why I liked Austria so much, I explained to them that I thought it was a very beautiful country. Especially the drive from Graz to Weiz every morning--it's 60 km of hairpin turns, but it's gorgeous all the way. I told the class how pretty it was, and how I really enjoyed the sight of the "mist rising up from the hills" every morning. At first the class looked wide-eyed and shocked. Then they broke out into loud and uproarious laughter. The teacher, looking lightly scandalized, asked me, "Do you know what you just said??" It was then that I realized my poor word choice: "Mist" in German means "animal poo" (to put it more politely), and I had given the entire class a mental image of poo hovering above the hills!!
All in all...
All in all, it was an excellent first week. I left a good impression on the teachers and got some really positive feedback. The teachers I work with are all wonderful and supportive and really nice, which will make working there a really good experience.
There is an excellent book by Frank McCourt (author of "Angela's Ashes") called "Teacher Man." I read this book before I realized I would be a teacher, but now I can tell that it is going to be very influential upon Teacher Rebecca. The third book of his memoir series, "Teacher Man" tells the story of how Frank McCourt survived 30 years of teaching in New York City public schools by telling his students stories...when nothing else could motivate them or grab their attention, he told them stories of his childhood in Ireland. This led to his eventual writing of "Angela's Ashes", a memoir of his early years in Ireland, which won the Pulitzer Prize and became a movie.
I can see myself shaping up to be that teacher who tells stories...and dances....and hocks up hairballs. It's going to be an intriguing year.