Teacher Stories: Nizar Mousa - Vienna, Austria

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This story was collected as part of Teachers in Crisis Contexts (TiCC) Event Series to ensure that the voices and experiences of teachers working in crisis and displacement permeate all aspects of the event. For more stories, click here

It is very impressive to experience your profession in another language and country!

A pathway to re-qualification for internationally trained (refugee) teachers in Austria

Nizar as a volunteer at the The Kurdish Social and Cultural CentreName: Nizar Mousa 

Role: Biology Teacher

Program: ZEKU-Certificate Course: “Educational Basics for Displaced Teachers”

Location: Vienna, Austria 

Nizar studied agriculture at the Bachelor's level at Al Furat University, Syria. He then began a Master's program in crop protection. He could not complete it due to political circumstances. In Syria, he made initial experiences teaching biology at private schools and at tutoring. In 2015, he came to Vienna, Austria, and applied for the re-qualification program at the University of Vienna. He successfully completed the one-year ZEKU program. 

Which teaching experiences that you gained in Syria help you in your job as a teacher in Austria?

“Compared to my Austrian colleagues who studied two or more subjects, I only studied one subject in Syria. Thus, my technical and didactic knowledge in biology is very solid. And I can focus on the pedagogical work with the students.”

In comparison with other countries, teachers in Austria have to take on both academic knowledge transfer and social tasks. Additional or extra pedagogies like social workers, psychologists, translators, etc. are often commuting between several schools. Nevertheless, the heterogeneity of the students requires that social learning take a high priority in teachers´ job description. Due to his highly qualified education in biology, Nizar can thus fully concentrate on didactic transfer and social learning.    

 “In Syria, I worked with high school students. This taught me how to introduce students to research-based learning. I think it is also important for students in the lower grades to teach them how to be curious, open-minded, critical and self-reflected.”

Because of his experience working with older students and their preparation for college, he recognizes the importance of self-regulated learning. His goal is to prepare the students for a self-directed life, he attempts, by teaching them critical thinking. In doing so, he takes the approach of research-based learning. It is important that students not only memorize knowledge, but also recall and transfer it in other contexts.

What did you learn in the ZEKU - certificate course that helps you in your current job as a teacher?

“I learned a lot of theoretical information about the Austrian school system and collected first practical experiences in local schools. Through this, I have learned European principles.”

Nizar finds the Austrian school system relatively complex and confusing. The ZEKU course provided Nizar with a good introduction to the Austrian school system. He learned a lot about the structure, the differentiation of school types, learning culture and the roles of the different stakeholders. In the internship, he then had the opportunity to see the theoretically acquired knowledge in everyday school life. Also the first teaching experiences during the internships showed him that teaching in Austria involved much more than just academic knowledge transfer. Therefore, the course offered him the opportunity to broaden and actualize his professional knowledge of the Austrian school context.

What is your advantage when compared to Austrian teachers?

“I function as a role model for my students. Many of my students have a migrant background and speak two or more languages. I always tell them that it is an advantage being bilingual and belonging to more than one culture.”

Nazir in class with his studentsMany students in Austria have a migration background or relatives from/in other countries, since Austria is a country with a multicultural society and history. Nizar, himself not born in Austria, shows the students how it feels to belong to more than one culture. The role model function allows students to identify with him. They realize that speaking more than one language is an advantage for communicating with different people.

“I have a very good relationship with the parents of my students. We can communicate in Kurdish and Arabic, in English and in German. Many do not understand the school system, their children’s tasks and learnings. I explain it to them. We also talk about the different understandings of education.” 

Nizar describes his role as representing the school system to his students' parents. The involvement of parents is central in order to provide students with a suitable learning environment. Because of his multilingualism, Nizar is able to communicate with parents who do not speak German not only about official matters, but also to discuss informal knowledge such as cultural rules, learning activities, and the importance of education. The parents respect him as a contact person because they also identify with him.  

“I missed something important when you asked what I learned from the ZEKU course: the importance of institutional involvement. It supported my dream of working as a teacher again. It was the first step into the Austria school system. After a while, I realized that there are no institutional contact points for Kurdish and Syrian people in Vienna even if the institutional involvement is essential to access the system. As a result, I founded an association: The Kurdish Social and Cultural Centre in Vienna. Beside my job as a teacher, I am the president of this association and work there as a volunteering teacher.”

The Kurdish Social and Cultural Centre (KSKZ) in Vienna founded by Nizar offers an institutional frame for (children) refugees and migrants with Kurdish and Syrian background. The association organizes different cultural, social but also educational activities. For example, students can attend a six-week summer school during their holidays. KSKZ supports them in German, English and Mathematics. They also offer German courses for adults with Kurdish or Arabic as their first language.

The views expressed in this blog are the author's own.