Last Monday I began my new role as a — watch out, it’s a mouthfull — Fremdsprachenassistentin (foreign language teaching assistant). It’s been a good week plus of meeting other teachers at both schools (Bachgasse and Keimgasse, for short), introducing myself to most of the 20+ classes I’ll teach on a rotating basis, and diving into the first couple of lessons. So far, everyone has been friendly, and several teachers have gone out of their way to welcome me. Many of the students have a pretty impressive grasp of English already.
I’ve discovered that my class piano teaching experience cured me, for the most part, of nervousness in front of a classroom. My main challenge will be balancing not spending too much time on elaborate lesson plans while also tackling topics that hardly can be summarized in 50 minutes. Yesterday I taught three classes on American symbols and today a class on regional distinctives of the U.S. Thursday it’s the U.S. elections (eeks), followed next week by Obamacare and who knows what else (EEKS). Oh, and my university course starts Friday!
For those of you who are curious about the Austrian school system, a few words on terminology and contrasts with the American school system. First off, I’m teaching at two Gymnasiums (no, it’s not P.E.). A Gymnasium basically is a middle school/high school, and some schools have a particular focus (languages, sports, etc.) I’ll interact mostly with the upper level students (14-18 year olds) and move around between the classrooms of the multiple English teachers.
As for contrasts, each classroom has at least one cross on the wall (mandated by law), but the students (presumably) are in charge of the other decor (including, to my horror, posters of Hannah Montana and the Simpsons).
Teachers don’t have home rooms but instead travel to the students. This means that they are constantly back in the teacher work room between classes. There’s a certain amount of lingering after the bell — just a few moments to finish that cup of coffee, make a few last photocopies, finish a conversation. They seem to be in good cheer but none too eager to hurry to the next class.
In general, Austrians take off shoes when entering a home. Apparently, this usually extends to students at school, too (true at one of my two schools). It’s funny — and sort of cute — to see a bunch of middle and high school kids padding around in their stocking feet; pretty soon it will be time for slippers. (Teachers are exempt from the shoes-off rule.)
And, one last thing, while laptops are required for the upper grades at the Keimgasse Gymnasium, they still have chalk boards and a number of the students write with cartridge pens.
Lange Nacht der Museen
Once a year Vienna satisfies even the most avid museum lover’s dream with over a 100 museums open from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. — the “Long Night of the Museums.” Saturday evening at 6:00 or so found me sitting on the steps of the Albertina art museum, pouring over my options and circling intriguing destinations on a tiny map. Having already spent much of the day on a lovely church outing to a multi-generational (think 500 years, if I caught the German correctly) farm (picking apples; eating Viennese sausages, and too soon after joining in a sack race; and laughing much of the way to and from, packed liked sardines in a minuscule Ford), I hoped I wasn’t crazy for contemplating 7 hours of museum-ing!
But it was definitely worth it! …The magnificent main hall of the Austrian National Library, with frescos high above and row upon row of books, the upper shelves reachable only by the moveable staircases perched at the ready; a collection of Bibles in many languages and including a German Bible from the 1500s; bits of Roman ruins (old, but definitely not my thing) and remnants of frescos from a medieval ballroom; the Globe Museum (terrestrial and celestial, from the 1500s to modern times, the size of a large marble to massive ones that met me at eye level); a musical instruments collection housed in the Hofburg Palace.
A real favorite was the Clock Museum — wall clocks and massive grandfather clocks, clocks with miniature glockenspiel and astronomical clocks, wrist watches and elaborate pocket watches. It would have been better just if Hannah could have been along — right up her alley!
My last stop found me at the art academy’s gallery, foot-sore but lured by the prospect of great paintings and the sound of live music. How often have I sat on a wooden floor under a Rembrandt listening to an excellent string quintet playing vigorously at midnight?