Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hit the ground running

January, 16 As soon as my family left, I found myself pounding the pavement, so to speak, trying to keep up with a variety of tasks. My final German exam came on Wednesday and I took every second, attempting to study the passive voice and the Konjunktiv 2. Battling confusion, I fought my way through the exam, putting all of my study hours to good use. Meanwhile, I was also teaching adult English classes for the Austro-American Society, which I had started in November, but we'd been on hiatus in honor of the the Christmas break. On of my students just so happened to be the mother of one of my Europagymnasium students, which made things quite interesting to say the least. Sometimes the daughter would come with to class and do her homework in the corner. During the school day, I found myself battling the blank stare of death from many of my students. I would ask a question and silence would fill the room, stretching out for eternity. All eyes staring straight ahead into the distance. Did they not understand me? Are they just bored by the topic? Who knows! At the request of multiple colleagues, I began preparing epic lesson on the primary elections, which meant first explaining what a primary election was. This led to an explanation of the race for president. And that explanation just so happened to lead to one about the three branches of government. With the 8th class (so think grade 12), we watched a few helpful School House Rock videos and played my invented game show "Who will be the next Republican presidential candidate?" Each group had a different candidate ranging from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich. Each member of the group then took over a different part of the candidate. Someone gave the background information about his life, someone talked about his stance on the economy, on education, and on the war in Iraq. Each group member sat in a row in front of the class and answered the questions of the "press" (aka. the rest of the class), as if they were the candidate. In the end, the class had to decide who would become the next candidate. Naturally, staged clapping and impromptu stage music followed each performance. The 7th class (think juniors in high school), on the other hand, were deep in their "Teenage Angst" unit, which meant, of course, a deep discussion of the book Catcher in the Rye. With no extra copies available for me to re-read (It's been awhile, ok, I don't remember every detail!), I found myself scanning Sparknotes and feeling like a naughty school child who didn't have the desire to read the whole book. After two lessons of faking my way through on half-remembered plot details and drudged up information from Sparknotes, I managed to find an old, battered copy in the English Closet and began re-reading. It would take us up until February break to finish the book. In the 5th class (think high school Freshmen), meanwhile, we were hard at work on Relative Clauses and pronouns. I had them write New Year's Resolutions using appropriate comma placement in the clauses and the correct pronoun. Austrian students love to confuse words like "that," "who," and "which." They like to say, "the person, that..." I actually hear this a lot in America, as well, in spoken English. However, Austrian teachers love to pick on this little piece of language...remember "that/which" is used for non-living things or non-human things, while "who" is used only for people...and I was told over and over again to be super picky. In the 6th class (so the sophomores) I prepared to teach about the Amish, but ended up discussing Richard III, which I had also never read. The Amish lesson, which was originally planned for December, was again shoved into some unknown time in the future. Instead, I was once again frantically scanning Sparknotes to read the play and skimming the DVD to show the highlighted scenes in action. We watched the opening scenes, as performed by 3 different actors in 3 different movie versions and did some comparing and contrasting. Thursday was installment number one of my Christmas present: 5 Classical Music Concerts that would be playing throughout the year. So, off I went to the Konzerthaus for a magical evening in the company of Mozart and Bach. On Friday, I found myself designing a Jeopardy Review game, which my computer promptly destroyed, so that by the time it got to school all of the slide transitions were completely wonky. We still had quite a fun time playing and the students were super excited to review comma rules and practice vocabulary for their upcoming exam...mainly because there were some candy prizes. I finally found the one thing that motivates this class: candy. This was also the week where I finally got into contact with my, I guess you would call him a second cousin, Torsten Matuschkowitz. He's the son of my grandfather's favorite aunt and he is currently the head doctor at the Klagenfurt hospital. The following week, we met for the first time. He picked me up outside my house and off we drove to his home in the town outside of Klagenfurt, Moosburg. As we drove, I felt my stomach churning with overflowing nervous butterflies. I don't know why I was so nervous, we were family after all, technically. It's just there's something about driving off with someone you've never, ever met before and you are about to meet their family, and yet they know all sorts of random things about you. Torsten, however, as a centered sense of calm, that can make anyone feel at ease. We arrived at his home and as soon as we reached the door, the handle began to jiggle, as if by magic. Torsten just smiled, "Oh, by the way, I have to warn you, We have a very active 2-year-old son. Here he comes." The door opened and there was a red-headed, blue-shirted little boy with a giant smile on his face. His father scooped him up, with a hearty,"Hallo, Daniel!" And the hugely pregnant mother emerged from behind the door, shutting it softly behind us. Daniel turned big, blue eyes on me in astonishment and his mother instructed him to offer his hand. Here was this tiny little two-year-old in blue-stripped stockings, a massive diaper, and a red fire engine smiling on his blue shirt, gravely holding up his hand for me to shake. I took his hand and he excitedly giggled and then zipped away to show his father something. Meanwhile, his mother ushered me in to the kitchen and gave me something to drink, while we chatted and she cooked fish and french fries in the oven and prepared a salad with Kerbiskernöl. She was surprised to learn that my grandmother spoke German. All this time, she had thought that my grandfather had married an American woman, who only spoke English, which is why she had sent several cards written in poorly constructed English to my grandmother. With a shriek, Daniel entered the room, running from his father into a small tent constructed in the center of the room and giggling excitedly as Torsten rocked the little tent back and forth, pretending to be a bear. Daniel popped out of the tent and grabbed his small guitar and began playing for Papa bear, which resulted in applause from both parents. Daniel then attempted to eat the entire, giant bowl loaded with salad. His dad smuggled him into his high chair and wrapped his bib around his neck, just as the staining oil of the salad hit the white bib fabric. Daniel began happily using his tiny fork to chase bits of salad around his plate and make ample use of the word "salat, salat!" The three of us ate our fish, salad, and fries, while laughing at Daniel's antics, and prost-ing (clinking glasses) with him multiple times. After dinner, Daniel made "soup" by placing water in a pot and happily brining it to each of his parents to try. Sadly, I was just too full to try any, but I'm sure was delicious. Next, he proudly helped his mom carry all of the plates to the dishwasher. "He's my biggest helper, " she beamed, "Got to start them young!And, " she whispered, "he's also the one who causes most of the messes in the first place." She smiled and shook her head ruefully. I brought over my presents for them, and Daniel happily ripped away the paper, clinging to his new sweatshirt and pants with a giant lion on it for dear life. He rubbed his face on the sleeve, chattering away. Then, in a flash he was gone again, being chased by his dad. His mom simply laughed and shook her head, picking up the pieces of paper on the floor and thanking me for the presents from my grandmother. Wishing Daniel "bis bald," Torsten drove me home and still smiling from the antics of 2-year-old Daniel, I got ready for another day of school with my much more sluggish students, before falling asleep.

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