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Austrian Students Give American Students Virtual Tour of School

Virtual Tour


Some of my senior students made this video for the students at Douglas High School in Minden, NV.  They did a great job!



A must in today’s classroom!  Only a few years ago, I was one of those people criticizing our modern-day reliance on technology and admonishing social media for causing us to become less personal and more anti-social.  Boy, how I have changed!  So much so that I am finding myself getting heated when the internet doesn’t function like it should in my classes.

The internet is not only a helpful teaching tool, but an essential one, just like walls, a school bell (although this is debatable) or toilets!  I use the internet in most of my classes, either to show a youtube video, play a political song, find a relevant article about the Occupy Wallstreet protests or to show one of my Prezi presentations.  I tell students to facebook me if they have a question about homework or need extra help in their English classes.  This is the way of the world works; this is how young people communicate, and nothing frustrates me more than teachers who cannot accept these changes and who refuse to lift their heads from their outdated books!

I got fired up today, when after planning 5 lessons, all of which required internet access, I arrived at school only to find out the internet was down throughout the whole school!  Amidst my panick, one older teacher said calmly, “This just shows you how dependent we have become on the internet”.  I was furious.  Sure, we depend on a building in which to learn as well, but that is just an essential.  If the building burned down and people were in panick, you wouldn’t hear anybody say, “Ah, just shows you how dependent we all have become on concrete structures”!  The internet is the new essential element to learning, perhaps more essential than the building in which we learn, because online education has become increasingly popular.  I am becoming more and more impatient with teachers who cannot see this.  I laugh when teachers say in amazement, “Wow, you really use media alot in your classes!”  I feel like replying in equal amazement, “Wow, you really don’t use relevant material in your classes.  No wonder your students are dropping out, failing, falling asleep and rolling their eyes!”


Let’s embrace the tremendous access we now have to the world because of the internet, and let’s begin to revolutionize education!

The Virtual Cultural Exchange Continues!

Students from Douglas High School in Minden, NV…


And the responses from students from the Pensionat Gymnasium in Gmunden, Austria…


This is turning out to be a really fun project that the students on both ends seem to be enjoying!

A Refusal to Fail leads to Failure

Some of my most frustrating days in the classroom are caused by a lack of participation.  This is my biggest annoyance. As much as I love talking about myself, I refuse to fill up a class period with my fascinating life story.  Seriously, I don’t know how these students grew to be so afraid of talking in the classroom… perhaps the laughing and snickering from the students and teachers following an incorrect answer has something to do with it… or they have grown to be so accustomed to filling in the blanks on grammar worksheets (Johnny__________ to the park), that they now completely freeze up when prompted with a discussion question…or it’s that they know that I don’t practice punitive discipline, so they practice the 5th amendment and refuse to utter one word in class.  When the teacher is present in the classroom, the fear of public humiliation might lead them to give safe answers, but nothing too crazy, because again, public humiliation.
This is a phenomenon I have seen in the US and here, and the influx of standardized tests in both of these places is not helping.  Students and teachers know that these exams are the key to graduating, getting into to college and landing a job. Thus, why stray from the books that prepare students for these exams?  Why talk about Area 51 or subliminal messaging (2 of my lessons) when grammar review is all that is really necessary?  After 8 years of proper training, this is what these students do best, and to present them with something they are unfamiliar with could lead to rebellion, so teachers stick to the old models.  I don’t, so suffer the silent treatment.

But not trying new things leads to not failing which leads to, well, lifelessness.  This scares me, but it scares me more that there doesn’t seem to be alot of action to breathe life back into our school systems.

No doubt, our schools are creating smart kids, just perhaps not very interesting ones.  And I am not saying that I, as a conscious objector of this system, was somehow spared from the oppression in the system.  I am realizing now, at age 23, that many of my actions and reactions  in my everyday life are flawed because of teachings in the public school system. A fear of failure, a need for approval, an obsession with getting ahead of others; these flaws, I am convinced, originated while I was in school, and are now tough to tackle.  I always prided myself on being a “good student”, but now I am wondering if this is really something to be proud of, given the current standards for becoming a picture-perfect pupil.

The Wonder Years

I recently had a chance to look back on the ugly time of my life as a cheerleader with a wonderful sense of nostalgia!  How great is it when the brutally painful times in our lives suddenly become lovely pictures in our mental photo albums?
Last week, I was teaching in what would be the equivalent of a 9th grade class in the US, and we began talking about extra-curriculars and sports and some girls eagerly told me that they were part of a cheerleading group!  To which I giddily replied, “I was a cheerleader!!” yep, I did…
They visited me in the teacher’s conference room and asked if I would like to go to one of their cheer practices!  I could not have felt more honored and I think my waning sense of inclusion actually jumped a couple of scores.
So, I walked into the gym where 3 girls were already stretching.  They asked if I would like to see anything and they nervously deliberated over what piece I might enjoy the most.  They showed me 3 of their freshly choreographed dances, and I was 14 again, wanting to take off my boots and dance along.  After watching for a few minutes, one girl showed me her book of cheers (some English and some German) and I dug into the cheerleading file cabinet in the 2002 section of my brain and managed to remember two, which I added to her journal.
Finally, as if they had expected it all along, they asked me if I could teach them anything.  I think I blushed with pride.  8 years may have passed since my cheer days, but tonight, in Gmunden, Austria, I was the American cheerleader, and so, an expert!
I took off my boots and overcoat and did some stretches, suddenly beginning to wonder if I was still physically capable of doing a toe touch.  I did my best and showed them some jumps they hadn’t seen before and probably would have preferred to have seen done by my 17-year-old sister, but this was my time in the spotlight!
Then, I gave them some pointers on stunting, which really had less to do with cheerleading acumen and more to do with common sense safety procedures.  But they were more than thankful and when I left, I felt like I had just given them a real (or nearly so) piece of the great US of A.

Perfect Docility

I attended a wonderful seminar on Tuesday where Franz Hoermann was the speaker.  Check out his website here (in German, but some of his recommended readings are in English!).  He is an Economics Professor in Vienna and has some revolutionary ideas about money and society.

I was excited, when during his discussion about the end of money, he mentioned education and how its oppressive tendencies greatly effect how our economy functions (no kidding!)  He gave an interesting fictional example of an entrepreneur coming into a town with a nearly unlimited supply of clean water.  Hoermann explained that a smart entrepreneur will not take over a town by force if he desires to capitalize on its water supply.  Rather, he will put the children of the elite into schools and give them some fancy degrees!  In these schools, the children will learn about supply and demand and the scarcity principle.  Then, after this bunch is taken care of, and sent back into the world to spread the word of the amazing things they have learned, the entrepreneur will drain a large amount of the clean water supply into a tank.  He will then pollute (ever so slightly) the rest of the water supply in order to bottle up and sell his water for a profit, while winking at the students who were educated to understand this corruption and its money-making potential.

Indeed, schooling has done many of us a great disservice by teaching us myths and stories and about how the world works.

The Prussian system of schooling, which America adopted, is designed to serve the state by manufacturing obedient citizens and voters who will submit to those for whom they vote.

Thinking back on my school days, I do not recall ever being asked if I believed the state had a purpose, or if I believed in democracy or the other institutions we have come to accept as “standard”.  Rather, we were asked how we might preserve these things, and why they are important.

I think the following statement by Rockefeller’s General Education Board in 1906, pretty much sums up the goals of many of the framers of our modern education system:

“In our dreams…people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple…we will organize children…and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way.”

I Feel Sick

A kid vomited in the hallway today at my school.  Not sure if this could have something to do with the nuns who roam the corridors….

Indeed, school can be a vary anxiety-filled and sometimes nauseating place for minors.  There are arbitrary rules, deadlines, boring topics to be tested on in multiple choice form, peer pressure, and the list goes on and on.

Here are some tips I am starting to learn to help cut back the stress level for the students I work with:

1.) If you are working with young students and want them to work in groups, let them work in groups of their choice. Young students (>16) aren’t mature enough to work with students of the opposite sex or students who smell funny.  It is just the truth. I learned this very clearly today when I thought having students count off from 1-5 would get them into 5 groups. Instesd, complete chaos ensued.

2.) It is better to give students work that might be a tad above their ability than work that is a tad below their ability.  I have learned that when students have an assignment that is quite easy, they actually stress out about its apparent simplicity, thinking that this is some kind of trick.  However, I have also learned that when I do present challenging work, I have to say,  “Don’t worry about making a mistake.  I won’t make fun of your English, if you don’t make fun of my German”.

I am trying hard to get my students to talk more in class by stressing that activities I give them are not graded, and by being encouraging when students make mistakes.  The biggest mistake they can make is not to speak English in English class!  Unfortunately, if they have been educated in a system that punishes mistakes and where public humiliation is supposed to make them do better next time, can we blame them?