Saturday, February 9, 2008

New School, Take 2

***Fasching Tuesday in Graz--Also called Carnival, this is how Fat Tuesday is celebrated in Austria: There are parades in the streets, people dress up in costume, and the night is spent partying. We had Fasching off from school, so I went into the city with some friends to watch the parade and eat the free jelly-filled donuts (Krapfen) they were giving out, a traditional Fasching food.

As of January, I've been teaching in a new school--one so completely different from my first school, that the comparisons stop before they actually begin...

It is, indeed, a high school. Again, I am teaching students roughly between the ages of 14 and 18. This time around, however, I'm in a little town--or "village" as the Austrians call it--called Birkfeld, with a population of about 1700. This is actually large in comparison to some of the surrounding villages, and students come from all around to attend this special school for music and performing arts. Some of them travel nearly as far as I do--a distance of about 60 km one way. Since the school focuses on music and the arts, it draws a very large number of girls--the complete opposite of my technical school in Weiz made up of all boys!

The major downside of the new school is that it is so far away from Graz. There is a wonderful carpool of teachers who commute from Graz every day, and they (like me) find that living in Graz is worth the distance...there's not much going on in the village of Birkfeld. I now wake up at 5 am so that I can travel to the meeting point in Graz and take the carpool into Birkfeld. The first week of school, this absolutely flattened me, and I went to bed at 9 pm every night! Since then, I've regressed a bit and am now much like a kindergartener...I must have my afternoon nap, or else I get tired and cranky! And if I miss my afternoon nap, I pay the consequences by feeling totally sluggish the next day. The funny thing is, I never ever used to be able to actually fall asleep in the afternoons; my idea of an "afternoon nap" was more like heavy resting. But now that I wake up at 5 am 4 days a week, I can fall asleep like a baby! For those of you who are familiar with my erratic sleeping patterns, you will recognize this as a major breakthrough!

The students in the new school are fantastic. They are well-behaved, they listen, and they participate in class! They like me, and they respect me, and this just makes for a very good dynamic. It's such a treat! Just as I shared the highlights of my first school back in October, here are some highlights from the new school:

  • During the introductory lesson where the students were invited to ask me anything they wanted, I got many of the same questions as before. However, the newest and most creative question was: Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

  • In the women's restroom, there are two toilets: one normal, and one handicapped. I had peeked into the handicapped toilet and seen a bunch of buttons and levers, so I always chose the normal toilet. One day I came in and the normal one was taken, so I decided to use the handicapped toilet; however, on my way out I couldn't tell which button or lever was the one to flush the toilet! So first I pulled a cord and nothing happened. Then I pushed some buttons and finally found the lever that flushed the toilet. As I was washing my hands, the school secretary came in to see what was the matter--apparently I'd pulled the "Help! I'm in trouble in the handicapped toilet and need assistance!'-cord. That could be an honest mistake...except the next time I pushed the wrong button and did it again. Oops.

  • How wonderful is the modern age we live in? A week ago we had a major wind storm, and trees were uprooted all over the region, forcing roads to close and public transportation to stop. School was closed for a day because trees were strewn all over the roads leading up to the village, and many towns in the area were without power for several days. The first day back in school, many students were still missing because they couldn't get to school--whole hillsides of trees had been blown over like dominoes! But just because these students couldn't make it to school, didn't mean they were on holiday--oh no, not at all! For those students who missed class, the teacher sent them their homework assignment...via text message!!

  • I am constantly reminded that Austrian schools are nothing like American schools. I mentioned, for example, the beer that's available in the teacher's lounge in my first school. There have already been several occassions to celebrate birthdays, etc., in my new school and usually this involves a spread of food and some champagne during the big 10:40 am. So 15 minutes to eat and drink your champagne, and then back to class!

  • I prepare more lessons for my new school based on the units that the teachers are currently teaching. This leads to some very strange lesson topics such as furniture, fairy tales, fashion, or--my most recent challenge--fitness/workouts. (The alliteration is purely coincidental....) How does one teach a 50-minute lesson on furniture? Or what in the world does one do to teach workout and exercise terms? The workout lesson was actually quite a hit; thanks to Jane Fonda, the kids got some practical exercise terms and a highly entertaining flashback to the world of '80s workout videos and leotards--which, I might add, was before any of them were even born! I mean, what other job do you get to use this YouTube video for?!

Things are going really well, and I've applied for a second year. Like college all over again, I have to wait until early April to find out if I'm in! The teaching thing is going really well and I'd love the chance to stay for another year and sharpen my teaching skills/experiences before I go back. Plus, with two years of practical teaching experience, I can get a position in a private school (or so I've heard...) without a teaching degree. ...So we'll see!

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