Austrian and American Education: What’s the Difference?

Photos+courtesy+of+Charlie+Blue

Photos courtesy of Charlie Blue

This year, Kettle Moraine High School (KMHS) participated in a teacher exchange with schools in Austria, and two of our teachers from Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance (KM Perform) took part in it alongside other teachers on the KMHS campus. These teachers are Mr. Weber, a Creative Writing Focus Mentor, and Ms. Kean, a General Theater Focus Mentor. The two of them housed an Austrian teacher for a week during October, and in December they stayed in Austria in order to experience the differences between Austrian and American education.

I had the opportunity to talk to both Ms. Kean and Mr. Weber about their experiences with this program. Read on to see their perspectives!

 

In a few sentences, can you explain your experiences with the difference between American and Austrian education? Was there anything that surprised you?

WEBER: In Austria, the students “own” the classroom. They stay in the same room with the same [classmates] for most of the time, and the teachers come to them. The students are responsible for decorating the room and keeping it tidy. Of course, they leave for specialty courses, but most of the time, they are in the same room. Another thing that was interesting was that most of the students are either bilingual or trilingual. I was so impressed!

KEAN: On the whole, I saw more commonalities than differences between education in Austria and the [United States]. . . In all cases, we care about students having relevant experiences, working to their potential, and being prepared for the next phase of life. In each of the schools, there were some lessons where students did some independent work, moving through modules at their own pace. On the other hand, all the teachers in [the] school shared one staff room, with just 1-2 feet of desk space for personal work and storage. . . In comparison to KM, technology is not as integrated in the lessons and very few students . . . had personal devices in the classroom. None of the schools had [building wide] Wi-Fi, though most had a teacher computer in each room. [Because of this], leading lessons in Austria reminded me of my teaching 5 or 6 years ago.

 

Why did you choose to go to Austria?

WEBER: Originally, I wasn’t really interested in going to Austria. I like to stick to my schedule, be with my students, and work on my projects. But after meeting the Austrian teachers when they came to the United States, I was really interested in seeing them again because they were so enthusiastic about teaching and traveling. Then, when I arrived in Austria, I couldn’t believe how awesome Vienna was.

KEAN: I love to travel and have a life goal of seeing every subcontinent for at least two weeks. While I have been to Europe several times, I only spent one day in Austria before . . . I would have been excited to [participate in] a teacher exchange wherever it was offered, and completed the application right away when the opportunity was first introduced in March [of] 2017.  As it turns out, I have fallen in love with Vienna specifically . . . and [I] hope to maintain the friendships I have made with teachers there and visit again in the future. Like [other big cities], there is just [too] much rich history, culture and fun in Vienna to take it all in in just one week.

 

What was it like to live with an Austrian, both when they stayed with you and when you stayed with them?

WEBER: The Austrian teacher who stayed with Mrs. Weber and me in Wales was very nice. She was obviously a good traveler and was very flexible in terms of what our schedule looked like. I didn’t stay with an Austrian, because my host teacher didn’t have enough room. Instead, my host teacher had a sister who was out of town for the week, so that is where I stayed.

KEAN: My exchange experience, both hosting and staying, was not really unique to any [other] travel/hosting experience I’ve had. My exchange partner and I have similar lifestyles; each [of us live] alone in an apartment, and [have] fairly cheerful dispositions. The major differences I noticed [were] just the . . . differences I would have experienced if I was hosting almost anyone. I’m not a regular morning coffee drinker, but she was, and enjoyed espresso especially . . .  When the Austrian teachers stayed with us, they had very little independence regarding transportation, as most places in Lake Country are only drivable distances. When I was in Vienna, I had to always plan for a longer commute time using the public transportation, but by the third day I could navigate the city system pretty well [without an Austrian host with me]. I liked the ability to explore independently if I needed to. 

How has going to Austria affected the way that you teach?

WEBER: When we were in Austria, we went to schools and taught in classes every day. There were so many things I saw in their school that I want to share with the KM Perform staff. A lot of that has to do with how students get credit and how systems are organized. Likewise, the Austrians were very impressed with the amount of hands-on work we do in KM Perform.

KEAN: The time in Austria has reminded me about the power of site-based learning and getting out of the classroom. . . as well as cross-cultural connections and why I love teaching social studies. . . Mr. Weber and I already have several seminar ideas related to the Austrian exchange, both collaborative projects we can do with the Austrian teachers/classes [and] some new topics to think about. I’m personally very excited to do a [seminar focused] on [the] “Great Cities of the World,” as I was so wowed by Vienna as a historical and current international capital.

 

This program has been beneficial to our KM Perform staff members in many ways. We are looking forward to see what steps Ms. Kean and Mr. Weber take in the future to apply the things they learned in Austria to their teaching now that they have returned to America.