Each year, the Austrian Ministry of Education, Art, and Culture places native speakers of English in high school-age classrooms to lead conversation, help teachers, and give lessons about the English-speaking world. Typically, English Language Teaching Assistants (TAs) are assigned to two schools (in some cases one or on rare occasion three), and must spend a specific number of hours in the classroom per week (twelve for US assistants, fifteen for UK assistants). Each TA receives a monthly salary of about 1200 Euro, from which taxes (which go toward federally mandated health insurance) are deducted.
Applying to Teach in Austria
U.S. college seniors can apply through the Austrian-American Educational Commission/Fulbright Commission and must write a personal statement, supply at least two letters of recommendation, and provide some sort of proof that they can speak German. UK students must supply a recommendation and a CV, and can apply through the British Council and their home university. The Austrian Ministry of Education also has a form that all prospective language assistants need to complete in order to be considered. Application deadlines vary depending on the TA’s home country, so see the Fulbright and British Council websites for more details.
Preparation for Language Assistants upon Arrival Abroad
At the beginning of each year, the assistants take part in a week-long seminar, either in the southeastern city of Graz or the western mountain village of Hinterglemm, depending on which region a TA has been assigned to. During this week, the assistants learn about the Austrian school system, tips for teaching, and activities and strategies to use in the classroom. TAs must also prepare and present a brief lesson to their colleagues (acting as Austrian “students”), and each assistant receives constructive feedback on the presentation.
Inside the Austrian Classroom
So what happens once the assistants leave the supportive environment of the seminar and set foot in the real classroom? Each English teacher has her own style, so TAs have to be flexible as far as lesson planning goes. In some classes, assistants will serve simply as a “human dictionary” (which, of course, is not supposed to be the TAs’ sole job). More often, however, Austrian students will benefit from a lesson taught entirely by the assistant, with the teacher hanging out in the back of the classroom to observe and contribute occasionally to the discussion.
A Rewarding Teaching Experience
If you are looking for an exciting year abroad, where you will learn about Austrian culture and gain new perspectives on your own culture, have a great deal of independence, and live in a beautiful country, the English Language Teaching Assistantship in Austria may be just right for you.
Keep Austria’s Educational & Career Tracks in Mind during Lessons
The Austrian school system can seem somewhat complex for someone unfamiliar with how it works. Here is a breakdown of the different levels and track options within those levels that can serve as a reference for anyone considering teaching in Austria.
What are the Primary School Levels in Austria
Children begin Kindergarten as early as two or three years old in Austria. It is, of course, also called Kindergarten in Austria. After Kindergarten, children move on to the Volksschule. This is primary/grammar school and continues through age ten.
Choices for Type of Education begins Early in Austria
Students in Austria have various track options after attending the Volksschule. The decision as to which track a student pursues can be made as early as the age of 10 or 11 and as late as 14 or 15. Students at this level have usually begun foreign language study (most commonly English) so those interested in teaching English in Austria will likely be working with secondary school students.
Types of Secondary Schools in Austria
Gymnasium is the school track that starts at approximately age 11 and ends at 19 with the Matura, a series of exams in several subjects that enables students who pass it to pursue study at an Austrian university. Much of the final school year is spent on preparation for the Matura, and students often have a special project to complete in addition to the individual subject tests.
The Realgymnasium is similar to Gymnasium, but typically there is more of a focus on math, science, and practical knowledge. Students at the Realgymnasium will also be taking the Matura. In addition to the Gymnasium and Realgymnasium, there are several types of secondary schools that specialize in one or two particular career fields.
Secondary Schools with Vocational or Technical Specializations
In addition to the Gymnasium, there are various specialty schools, technical and vocational schools for students interested in a particular occupation. Some graduates of these schools go on to university after completion of the Matura, while others pursue an occupation or another upper-level school, such as a Fachhochschule (school of applied sciences).
Here are just a few types of specialty schools:
- (Bundes)Handelsakademie (HAK/BHAK): School usually focused on business and economics.
- Bundesbildungsanstalt fuer Kindergartenpaedagogik (BAKIP): School for future Kindergarten teachers.
- Hohere technische Lehranstalt (HTL): Engineering school.
- There are also schools for tourism, social pedagogy, fashion, and the performing arts, to name just a few. Students at these schools also prepare for the Matura.
Austrian Universities and Postsecondary Institutions
Two common types of postsecondary schools are:
- Universität: University offering a Magister degree (typically a five year program), and Masters and/or Doctoral programs. (Many teachers in Austria have the title Magister, abbreviated Mag.) Some Austrian universities are beginning to offer Bachelor’s degrees.
- Fachhochschule: A school of applied sciences, typically for business. Programs usually last approximately three years, and many students go on to careers in international business. Strong English language ability is usually encouraged in a Fachhochschule.
- How Future Teachers in Austria Can Learn More About the Austrian School System
For further information about the Austrian school system and an in-depth look at the types of schools throughout the country, the Austrian-American Educational Commission’s handbook for participants in the English Language Teaching Assistantship program is an excellent resource not just for teaching assistants on the program, but for those interested in teaching in Austria in general.
Knowing the basics of the Austrian school system is useful when it comes to understanding what a teaching experience in Austria will consist of. It is also useful for knowing what students have in mind for their future education, and what to prepare students for when teaching them.