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Monday, February 28, 2011

Ball Saison

HAK orchestra and papier mache giraffe

Much like the Prom time in the USA - between mid-March and early April where the malls become choked with teenage girls looking for the "perfect" dress, boys look into renting tuxedos, and the likes of Seventeen Magazine produce articles on finding your perfect hairstyle for Prom, which of the 9,000 Claire's accessories is going to go with Katy Perry-inspired sparkles, and a quiz to take to figure out if you're a Promzilla (like Bridezilla. but for 17-year-olds). Here's a hint: if you have to take the probably are.

Such things are not restricted to the USA, however. Austria also seems to have a prom-type thing - even a prom-type season! Which is going on right now. Lots of schools are going all out for these "balls." Last weekend, I went to the one at the HAK. The theme was Africa (not New York like the HLW or Hollywood like the Gymnasium) and there were plenty of people to enjoy it.

Here's a list of differences:

1. Alcohol is served in Austria. (How could it not be?)
2. Parents, siblings and other family of the graduates, teachers, alumni and community members are all invited as well as students (or at least they can buy a ticket...)
3. There is an Eintanzen (beginning of the ball - waltz and other old-people stuff for parents).
4. There is a "midnight show" where the students perform some talent show-type thing, or a dance, or a skit for everyone at the ball which they have rehearsed - done at midnight (obviously).
5. Food is also served. Cakes are especially popular (it's Austria, remember?)

An example of Eintanzen
Photos from Gym ball:

 <-- Statue of Liberty in Hollywood? Need you ask this question? Every town in America has a statue of liberty - that is, if you're from Europe.

And, why not?     --->

NB: I was planning on making two posts, but since I took my sweet time about it, and there wasn't really much to photograph or differentiate between the two dances, here you are: kurzfristig geuploadet, as one is known to hear in these parts.

Fashion, fun, starlets and safaris: you can have it all!

Zebra wall art from the HAK

Did these experiences make me nostalgic for my high school days? Not exactly, but I had a pretty good time. Did they make me think, "God, I'm old!"? Well, in a way. Did I become enlightened as to the vast cultural differences between Austrian and the USA? Actually, I've been to three of these now, and if I didn't get it the first time...shame on me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jekyll & Hyde: A Broadway Show Comes to Amstetten

Richard Mansfield in the 1887 double roll
Last week, Jekyll and Hyde: the Musical came to the Pölz Halle in Amstetten. I bought my ticket from one of the students and, surprisingly, it was worth it.

Why "surprisingly'? Well, a town of 20,000 people is not likely to attract class acts - fewer people means fewer cultural interests, right? At least that's how it goes in America. And, I can vouch from personal experience (this year) that certain - certain! - shows that make it to Amstetten's theater (yes, just one!) are slap-dash and mediocre. But this production was actually quite professional, although utterly Austrian.

If you haven't already disregarded this post as the blathering of a theater snob (or worse, hack critic!), please, read on.

A German-language rendition of the Broadway musical with fabulous singing and choreography, the overall feel of he performance reminded me of so many creep "classics" I've been exposed to through learning German. The dark side of Austrian humor continues to fascinate me. I maintain that there is a distinct Alpine and central European penchant for death and the devil. Could it perhaps be a holdover from they days of the Holy Roman Empire? Visions that come to mind:

1. The Cabinet of Dr. Calighari (need I say more?)
2. Brecht's Threepenny Opera (I had the wonderful opportunity to also see this staged in Berlin in 2007)
3. Das Parfum (notably the scene at the end where a mob of homeless Parisians literally eats him alive)
4. Cabaret (really, just Joel Gray's version of the MC)

...and the list goes on! Much less the 1931 and 1941 (respectively) sugar striped versions with Frederic March, and/or Spencer Tracy. Lots and lots of sexual innuendo, partial nudity, and skin-tight costuming (which showed off the rest of what wasn't exposed - I felt like I was back in Amsterdam!*) but, hey, I wouldn't expect any less in the land of Freud.

My overall critique of the musical is a positive one. Fabulous singing, dancing, costumes, the works. The actors even got a standing ovation at the end. And I know it's not Vienna (where a standing ovation really counts for something) I'd like to think that Austrians in general are discriminating in their tastes, at least the ones who attend plays, musicals and operas.

Should this grace be extended to my students, who made up a large portion of the audience that night? Well, let's give them the benefit of the doubt if they've come to the theater at all.

NB: *Over the Semesterferien I went to Amsterdam with Jake. A rendition of these events (plus photos!) is to some point in the future when I have time to upload my pictures :)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Want to Make an Impact

I've decided my blog needs some spice.

Does anybody really care what I have to say?

Do people who blog about their families, children, etc., ever fear that some pedophile is going to stumble upon said blog and stalk their children?

Do religious fanatics who preach the "word of God" ever have second thoughts after they post?

Do wannabe writers, music bloggers and other artsy-fartsy types ever think they will actually be discovered if they're persistent enough and post regularly?

Can the internet cure the ills of society, or has it already contributed enough (too much?) to the downfall of civilization as we know it? And, follow-up question, if we're going to hell in a hand basket, how come it's taking so long? Can we stop for a potty break?

Why are Americans so obsessed with body odor? Sure, some people are so smelly they're offensive. But doesn't a little b.o. remind us that we're all human? Maybe that's just me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

TEA Conference...and Digression Into a Rant About Teaching

At the end of January, I went to the Teachers of English in Austria (TEA) conference in Vienna - sorry for the late post! I keep getting the feeling I'm becoming worse and worse at actually updating with salient details from my European exploits!

The conference was good: sort of a rehash of education classes/teacher training lessons I feel like I've had an earful of already - but it's always good to review. The best thing about the conference was being able to reconnect with people I met in Graz (and hadn't seen since) and new people teaching all over Austria. I found talking to all of these people with such varied life and teaching experiences a wonderful thing. I think as I become more comfortable teaching in Amstetten and more aware of my impact on learners, I can implement better strategies, and to be so self-conscious. Self-conscious teachers really are the pits - the ones who try so hard to get students to like them. It's not about that. It's about learning, conveying knowledge from one person to another. If your students happen to like you, well, that's an added bonus.

I'm not saying you should be scary and nasty, just don't expect adoration, because odds are, you're never going to get it. Teaching is not about being a superstar, having a captive audience, building a pension or getting summers off. And, yeah, I'm not a "real" teacher here in Austria, but I've had exposure to the teaching profession pretty much my whole life, and I think, at least in a small way, that counts for something.

I hope this post is somewhat timely as well, for those stuck in that February doldrum somewhere. This time of year can be really tough on students and teachers and sometimes you might go home at the end of the day wanting to pull your hair out or bitch out your students or buy a one-way ticket to Tahiti and forget that this life ever happened. Those are not super options for dealing with stress, unfortunately.

This teacher in Pennsylvania is feeling the effect of job dissatisfaction - in more ways than one. Her blog, where she complained about teaching, administrators and students, was discovered and links posted on Facebook by her students this year (the contents of the blog were written between 2009 and 2010) from where it went viral, to be discovered by parents and administrators. Not the best move on her part, though I can see where she's coming from, being disappointed with students' behavior and performance. There have been days where I've felt really drained and frustrated having to deal with so many different personalities in the classroom and the lack of decorum on the part of (some) students.

But it's not going to help anyone to dwell on the negative. Calling her students "little f&@#s" on the internet - albeit on a semi-ambiguous blog (she included her first name and a photo of herself in her profile) - helps nothing and creates more animosity in the end. The students, parents and administrators become angry and feel betrayed for havign been publicly maligned. Nothing is accomplished except lots of bad karma. Since she may lose her job over this, depending on whether the teachers' union backs her grievance at dismissal/suspension with pay, I hardly see how a little name-calling was worth it, especially considering that anything and everything on the internet can be dug up by someone, and can certainly be found by students who are (let's face it) a million times more computer literate than anyone over 30.

At first, I was a bit concerned about my blog - I write about my students! Sometimes. And I know my students read what I write (because they tell me all the time at Stammtisch - HOLLA Y'ALL!) The main difference, I feel, is that I would never say mean things about my students - at least not intentionally.

With that in mind, teenagers, if I may, sometimes act like assholes because they're trying to find themselves. Who wasn't a little disagreeable at 16? My mother can tell you plenty of stories about me! If you can't deal with human foibles in a productive, understanding manner, stay the hell away from social occupations. Especially teaching, where you have the potential to affect thousands of lives over the span of a career.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One More Polish Joke

Here - finally! - are the photos from Poland. (Thanks, Sarah!) It is unfortunate...yet telling...that they are being posted two months after my visit...

On the "Mister Rogers" trolley
in Stramberk

Proof that streets are less-than-well-maintained during winter in Poland (and the Czech Republic)

Sarah and "Svatý Mikuláš" aka St. Nick

St. Nick and me

view from orange window in tower

By the way, all of these photos are technically in the Czech Republic. Sarah lives right on the border (her town is half in the Czech Republic, half in Poland and she actually teaches in both countries). I'll let you know when we actually get to Poland. :)

Completely creepy witch thing in tower

the Czech version of a "Krampus" - eep!

This Christmas tree was in the center of Cieszyn. Nice and blue. Too bad I couldn't have seen the square during the day...

Finally, these last photos are in Krakow! 

This photo (and the one with the birds, incidentally) is on a side street leading up to the central square from the train station in Krakow. I thought is was a cool snap, yet rather ominous and...depressing, maybe? Winter in Poland - what can I say? 

Warming up with spiced wine in a cafe in Krakow! This Polish penchant for a noontime nip seems to be catching up with us...

To show you just how cold it was outside:

Aaand...the szopka, i.e. nativity scenes, which are quite famous and traditionally Polish! 

...oh, and the title. Trying to inject a little word play into my posts. I don't go in for ethnic "jokes". 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Don't Ask Me Nothin' about Nothin' - I Might Just Tell You the Truth

There's something to be said for being able to speak candidly to a bunch of 17-year-olds. It's not necessarily that in the USA people don't take teenagers seriously, or that in Austria they have it so much better, i.e. the freedoms they are allowed make them more well-adjusted as they become adults. The opposite may very well be true, but I haven't seen it yet.

It's really way too much to ask to create an either/or hypothesis when it comes to child development. But, the longer I live in Austria, the more I find myself agreeing that, at 16, people are capable of (some) advanced thought and decision-making skills - rudimentary as they may be. Thus, at 16, you can decide for yourself (legally and in full view of the law) whether you want to smoke, drink, or have sex, or do other equally "adult" things. Well, in that way, school culture is also on the liberal side. No matter how many people tell me Austria is conservative, I don't believe it. Compared to what it's like in America, things couldn't get less restrictive.

For example, the other day in class, we had a discussion about child molesters that began innocently enough with an article from the English book (Fast on Track - for Austrians, by Austrians) on New York city. Now, I must interject that I love New York. I even have the t-shirt to prove it. I think, in fact, I would live there in a heartbeat if I could. But that is a story for another blog post.

In class, we began by discussing the article. The teacher asked whether any of the students would want to live in New York. One girl raised her hand and said that no, she would not like to live there. The crowds and the noise would be too much for her, and she couldn't see herself wanting to raise a family there because cities are not ideal for such things anyway, and New York in particular seems unlikely to have lots of green spaces. 

The teacher agreed, "Yes. If you send your kids out to play, they might get run over by a car."

"Or be abducted by a child molester," I added without thinking. 

It just came out. I couldn't take it back once I'd said it. I surely would have been fired on the spot were I teaching in the USA. However, the teacher found it the perfect opportunity to teach a brand new word! He seemed unfazed - until I asked, "Oh, isn't there a slang term for 'child molester'?" I asked. "While I was studying in Berlin, someone taught me the word _____________. Could I use that?"

The word itself is unpublishable. Excuse me my error. Yes, I could use it. Yes, it is slang. Very, very bad slang inappropriate for the classroom. Even in Austria. The class, however, upon hearing my utterance burst out into giggles (this particular class is 100% girls) and it seems they were unharmed. They probably thought it was hilarious that the American assistant even knew the word - and that she said it in class! LOL! OMG! ROTFL! 

For those of you curious, and with passable German skills, look under "f" in the dictionary. Translate. Or just use your dirty little minds. You'll come up with something to fill the blank eventually.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Which Classical Composer is Most Attractive?

If you are able, please vote in the "most attractive Classical composer" survey on this blog. I am seriously interested in what you think! If you don't say anything, Franz Liszt will win - and do you really want him to gloat? Again?

Ludwig van Beethoven
Niccolo Piccinni

Franz Liszt

Franz Schubert
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Josef Haydn