Hello from Vienna, Austria! I have spent the last two Mondays as an English teacher in a second grade classroom at the Offene Volksschule Märzstraße. This is a public elementary school in the 14th district of Vienna. My class consists of 22 Austrian students, most of whom speak very little English. Conveniently I know very little German, so it has been an adventure learning to find a middle ground in which to teach and communicate with my students.
The first thing that stood out to me when I observed the Austrian classroom was the effect of Austrian culture on the culture of the classroom.The Austrians are very neat and clean people (as reflected in Vienna's always clean and well organized streets and public transportation). This came through first thing when I saw the organization of the classroom. Students come in and first thing change into different shoes for the school day (mostly crocs and birkenstocks). Then they each have a place to hang their jacket in a cubby. The two person desks are organized in rows. Each student has a hook next to their desk to hang their backpack. I think this is an awesome idea and makes access to backpacks much easier then if they were in a cubby. At each desk the student has a big place mat they brought in from home. This is great for when they have art and then each student is responsible for cleaning off their own mat using a sponge from the sink and little brushes they have to sweep away dust. This brings me to the difference I noticed the most in the classroom. In Austria there is a lot of trust and responsibility given to the people. For example, the public transportation system is very convenient and well run. But it is run on the honor system. So you do not need to scan a ticket every time you go in the underground. They just expect you to be truthful and buy a ticket and not just ride for free. While they do make checks for tickets every once and a while when you get off the train, there is a huge amount of trust and responsibility given to the people. This attitude is reflected in the classroom. Students are very independent. Teachers do not do as much disciplining as they do in the United States, so students can get a little more rowdy or physical with each other. But, because the students are given the freedom to act as they want, they respect when it is time to stop and they respond very well when teachers do discipline students. Boundaries are set and are left to be respected rather then constantly reinforced, and students react well to this culture. Lastly, Vienna is and has always been centered around the arts. This value for the arts shines through in the school system. Each student has an art box with their individual supplies in the classroom. They frequently have art lessons and sing everyday in the classroom. This emphasis on the arts is an area in which I can see that American schools would like to have the same enthusiasm, but frequently lack the funding and support.
So far I have been loving my experience in the classroom and seeing the affect on culture on the schools and the differences between American and Austrian school culture. I am excited to continue to get to know my students, my CT, and my school! Auf Wiedersehen!