Monday, November 10, 2014

Der wechselhafte Stundenplan

Let me begin by apologizing for going into hiding the last few weeks. Honestly, I have nothing beyond the typical excuses: too busy, too tired, too lazy, etc. However, I have used this time to consider how I wish to continue with this blog. Like I mentioned in my previous post, the daily reports were becoming too repetitive and lackluster. To begin this new chapter, I shall share a bit about what brought me to Austria in the first place: my job as a US Teaching Assistant.

I'm in my seventh week of teaching, and the overall experience thus far has been fantastic. What makes it fantastic? There are three aspects that have impacted my experience in a positive way: time, the location, and the people. Let me delve into the different components of this USTA life of mine.

Time:
I teach 13 classes a week, plus about 3-6 hours of lesson planning. By having Fridays off, I have a three-day weekend every week. Am I gloating if I mention that I'm usually done by 11am on Thursday? Throughout college, I was always busy. Particularly my commitments (varsity swimming, two jobs, finishing a double major, and the International House) during my senior year were especially time-consuming (but still quite rewarding). Free time is a new concept to me.

Some of that free time has been dedicated to Netflix and sleep. But more importantly, I have had the opportunity to travel, start learning Swedish and the Waltz, tutor English, lead an English Conversation Hour through the Austro-American Society of Upper Austria, and participate in Spanish/German and English/German tandem. (In an effort to improve one's language skills, tandem is a language exchange where two native speakers of two different languages meet and speak half the time in one language and then switch to the other.) I'm glad to say that I've met a variety of interesting people, and I've enjoyed life with less stress.

The location:
Like most USTAs, I work at two schools. Mine are two vocational schools in Linz-Auhof nearby the Johannes Kepler Universität (JKU). My main school (Stammschule) is the HAK, a business high school, and my second school is the HLW, a tourism high school. There are so many different types of secondary/high schools in Austria, I'm not sure if the list outnumbers the stars in the sky. I wish I was exaggerating. That is a blog topic for another day as I'm still trying to understand the whole system.

One advantage to my situation is that both schools are housed in the same building. Technically, there are 3 different high schools in this large school complex. That means my commute is the same Monday through Thursday, versus other teaching assistants who have varying commutes. How long is my commute, you ask? Door to door, I need 7 minutes by bike and 12 by foot. My apartment has a bike path that leads right to my schools, and with the bus and/or tram, I need about 25 minutes to get into the center of town. It's a peaceful part of Linz.

The people:
At school, my colleagues have been nothing but supportive and helpful. Both schools have made a solid effort to make me feel comfortable and happy. From the secretaries to the teachers, I can usually turn to the closest person and ask them for assistance. While education is the main prerogative, everyone has been very friendly and welcoming. In the teacher's room (Konferenzzimmer), I enjoy our wide range of discussions from the weather to lesson plans and weekend plans. And in case you're wondering, I requested that everyone speak German with me. Everyone has honored this wish, except for when I speak English with the teachers in front of students. The point of this is to make the students believe that I'm not very proficient in German. That plan is slowly unraveling.

Back to the teachers, the English teachers at both schools rock! They are each enthusiastic, creative, and friendly in their own way. They have been clear in terms of lesson planning as well as open to allowing me to add my own flair to the lessons. I have enjoyed working with each of them and continue to benefit from their feedback and advice. I can honestly say that there isn't a "weakest link" among them. My mentor teachers have gone above and beyond to make my adjustment much easier - they also made my schedule to give me Fridays off! I have certainly been counting my blessings that I get to work with such a great team.

I certainly love life in Linz. But not everything is peachy and sunny. As per my weather reference, my schedule and the weather have required a bit more getting used to.

My schedule:
At my main school, the HAK, I teach the same seven classes each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's pretty cut and dry. The HLW, however, has thrown me through a few more loops. In the first month, I had six variations of my schedule. The frustrating part was that I was never completely up-to-date about when I would be teaching a certain class. Fortunately, the teachers have been great in communicating these changes with me, but of course it's annoying when you prepare for 4 classes and only end up teaching two.

As efficient as my schools have been, with teachers on sabbatical or leaves of absence and diverse class offerings, schedules are constantly changing. When I ask why there's not a cookie-cutter master schedule that could be used year after year (like my American high school), it was explained to me that this is how they have always done things. In orientation back in September, they called it "the Austrian way." I, like Idina Menzel, figure I should "let it go." Plus, my dynamic schedule has introduced me to the intricacies of scheduling and provide a new cultural experience...and I enjoy discussing this cultural difference (between the US and Austria) with anyone who is willing to listen.

In the meantime, I have learned how to read and comprehend the master calendar (Supplierplan) and realized that my schedule may not be as fixed as I'd like it to be. One English teacher told me, "A week that goes according to schedule will be a strange occurrence." I've learned to laugh it off and keep things in perspective. These changes are being communicated with me in a timely manner, and I still have Fridays off (knock on wood)!

The weather:
I was warned about the weather in Austria. I expected snow, but apparently, there won't be much snow in Linz this winter. Thanks to the Danube River, it's foggy on a daily basis. For that reason, I can expect a foggy winter. (But seriously, what the fog?) The entire Linz/Wels region of Upper Austria is called a Nebelzone or fog zone. You think I'm kidding? The fog was literally rolling in this morning as I rode my bike to school:
It hasn't been too cold yet, but I've started to miss the sun. I find overcast to be rather dreary, and with daylight savings, it's dark here by 4:30pm. 

I acknowledge that I will still be playing a bit of catch-up for the past month. While I'm taking care of that, I invite you to view the albums I've already uploaded to Facebook:

It feels good to be back. :)
Bis bald!
Matt


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Mal sehen.

It's November, and I'm not sure what to do with this blog. It has become a job that has lost its luster. Over the years, I have transformed this online journal into a way of sharing what I've done each and every day of my time abroad. It's a nice memory book, but it's also quite exhausting, and now that I feel like I'm playing catch-up, it feels unnecessary. By now you're probably thinking, that this is the final post. Fear not, I am not a quitter. And I do still enjoy blogging and sharing my experiences. I will continue to blog, but I just feel it's time for a different approach.

I do spend a great deal of time preparing (and procrastinating on) my posts, like any academic paper. Yet my process of daily note-taking and posting in small spurts of "catch up" has not felt like the best way for me to present this blog. Of course, my posts will continue to reflect my recent experiences - those have always been the center of my ideas and inspiration. Instead, I'd like to focus on what strikes me funny, rather than the details of the daily grind. My daily report style needs to take a hiatus to allow for that.

I'm not certain if there will be a dramatic change hereafter, but I felt it was important to announce that my goals with this blog have changed. So I thank you again and again for reading. Now, I'll get back to writing about life in Linz.

Mit freundlichen Grüßen
Matt