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Monday, October 27, 2014

Teaching in Austria vs. Teaching in America

Hello again! I am back to share some more of my experience teaching in Austria. After four weeks in my classroom, I feel much more accustomed to the Austrian school system, my classroom, and the language barrier. Now that the students know to expect me each week and I am no longer a strange face, I have started to build a stronger connection with them. I also have started to work on my ability to get  a grip on classroom management in a class where we do not share a language (definitely a challenge). Through these experiences, I have noticed many differences and similarities between teaching in Austria and teaching in America.

The difference that stands out to me the most and interests me the most in the structure of the actual school system. Kindergarten is not required in Austria. Formal schooling begins in first grade when pupils are required to complete four years of elementary education in a Volksschule. After these four years, teachers are given the responsibility of choosing which students are gifted and will go on to Gymnasium (the 12 year college track) and which students will go on to vocational preparatory schools (which can end after a total of 8 years of schooling). The students that go on to Gymnasium receive the "Matura" university admission certificate after they complete their final exams. The initial shock after learning about this system was that after FOURTH grade student's futures were being decided for them by their teachers. This tracking system is very different from what we have in our general K-12 American public system. In our system, it seems that schools prepare all students to go to college and encourages them to follow this track. While I do not agree with making college seem like the only option after high school (I do not believe college is for everyone), this tracking program at such a young age takes almost all of the choice out of the individual student's hands. I do not know enough about this system to really say what kind of an impact it makes and how students feel about it. But I do know that it is very different from what I have experienced before and that it took me by surprise. One particular piece of this system that I have experienced is the Volksschule. What I find most interesting about it, is that teachers teach the same group of students for all four years. So the class stays together for 1st-4th grade with the same teacher. This is different from an American elementary school class where each year you get a new set of students and you teach the same grade. I asked my CT how she liked this system and she said that she loved it. She could not imagine teaching the same material year after year like they do in American schools. She also likes that she gets to build strong relationships with the students and knows them and their learning styles so well. This system, while it does have its faults, seems pretty appealing to me and seems like it could be very beneficial to students learning.

I think the biggest similarity I have noticed is teaching style. While many aspects of the classroom, culture, and management are very different than america, teaching style seems to be pretty similar. In general, students sit in rows or small groups. The teacher stands at the front of the classroom and has a chalkboard and posters to use behind her. Students raise their hands to be called on when the teacher asks questions. The overall format is that the teacher stands in front and lectures while the students sit and pay attention. Obviously, in an elementary classroom it is more interactive then just a lecture, but that is the basic frame. Collaboration is not often seen in the classroom. I find this similar to my experience teaching in elementary school in the United States. In upper grades in the US I know that more collaboration is involved but also a lot more straight lecturing is involved. I am not sure how the older grades function in Austria. But, it does seem like the teaching style and format has some similarities in elementary school.

Everyday I see small similarities and differences from my own experiences in America and what I see here in my Austrian school. These are some of the biggest things I noticed and that I thought people might find interesting to read about! I am loving the fact that I am, overall, having such a different experience here then I have had in the US. It is definitely opening me up to new experiences, ideas, and possibilities in the classroom.

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