Monday, October 8, 2007
Of the Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium and Höhere technische Bundeslehranstalt...
...Did you catch that? Right, maybe I should repeat myself. I have been assigned to teach in two different schools: a Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium and a Höhere technische Bundeslehranstalt. But you know, those crazy long German words are just so much fun to say, I'll repeat myself one more time so that it will really sink in. Next time you're speaking of me in conversation (which, naturally, must happen quite often) and the other person asks you how Rebecca is doing and if you've heard from her, you can say, "Oh, she's doing great! She's teaching at the Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium and a Höhere technische Bundeslehranstalt."
Admittedly, that might take some practice before it will roll gracefully off the tongue. I arrived at our week of training at Schloß St. Martin (Schloß=castle) without really being able to utter those words. By the end of the week, not only could I say them like I'd grown up attending the Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium or the Höhere technische Bundeslehranstalt, but I knew the acronyms that people use in order to save precious conversational minutes. The Bundes-Oberstufenrealgymnasium, or BORG as it is most commonly known, is an upper-grades public high school where the students will take their exit exams (Matura) and then be able to attend college. The Höhere technische Bundeslehranstalt, or HTL, is a public high school that focuses on technical skills, and those students will go on to do apprenticeships to become mechanical engineers and the like. I have been placed in the HTL until Christmas, and will be working at a BORG focused on music and the arts starting in January.
The Austrian secondary school system is radically different from that in the US, and would require an entire post dedicated to explaining the intricate ins and outs of the educational system. For now, let's just suffice it to say that by the age of 10, an Austrian student has to choose which secondary school to attend, and the secondary school is specific to a particular career path and determines whether you may one day attend university. It's a totally different system, and I'm still struggling to understand which schools do what. But I've got the BORG and the HTL totally pegged!
During our training week in the pretty yellow castle (for more emphasis that we had training in a castle, please see photo above--it's the pretty yellow castle on the hill), we attendended seminars aimed at total novices to teaching (which was most of us) with such themes as: How You Should Talk in a Classroom, What Austrian Teachers Expect, Games, Basics of Organizing Classroom Activities, What Makes A Teacher a Good Teacher, and Difficult Classroom Situations. We were also educated on the basics of the Austrian school system and the history of the "U.S. Foreign Language Teaching Assistants at Austrian Secondary Schools - a program coordinated by the Fulbright Commission for the Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture." (Yes, there IS such a ministry!) The Fulbright exchange has actually been around quite a long time--since roughly the first World War. Today, there are about 140 US teaching assistants in all of Austria, whose total salaries amount to about €1.3 Million, paid for by the Austrian government! This is a very generous salary, especially when you consider that we only work 12 hours a week. Just yesterday I learned that my 12 hours as a teaching assistant earns me the same monthly salary as someone who works 40 hours per week in the local grocery store. (Note: What we would consider "teenage" jobs in America, such as grocery stores, fast food, etc. are often held down by adults here. There's really no such concept as an after-school job, since Austrian students should be focused on their studies.) In fact, we are quite lucky that the program is still going, as it was almost forced to shut down this year when policy changes would have prohibitted Americans from being able to come; the policies changed such that Americans were no longer allowed to work without a residency permit, but they were not allowed to get a residency permit without already having a job! The Fulbright Commission came to our aid and petitioned the government to make some exceptions, or loopholes if you will, and after some long and bureaucratically tedious campaigning, the program was saved. Lucky us!
At the end of the week, I still had very little idea of what was expected of me as an English Teaching Assistant. That, I realized, I would have to play by ear and see what was expected of me when I arrived at the schools. But there was certainly one idea that was drilled into our heads: as the native speaker, I am the expert on anything. So if I come across with confidence, that's what really matters.
I did survive my first week of teaching, so stay tuned for stories of my first adventures in Education!