stay on your toes
As a freelancer, you must constantly be one your toes.
A pillar that seemed like a sure source of income has turned into a minimal addition to my skill set and has forced me to look for an alternative mainstay.
As my focus is on language and words, I first thought to go more in the direction of graphic design. But then I figured, if I’d have wanted to become a graphic designer, I would have already become one, or I’d have more personal interest in graphic design programs (which honestly bore me).
So, over the summer, I took stock of myself and asked myself: what is it that I’ve always wanted to do? Whenever I’ve been between jobs, searching, I’ve always come back to my love for words—and my dream of writing. Throughout my life, however, finding my voice and showing my voice has been quite a struggle. I became quite accustomed to just being the editor in the background. Actually, writing this blog has helped quite a bit in this respect.
writing to change the world
I still find myself caught between languages—I should also be writing in German, especially if I hope to get published one day, as I live in a German-speaking country. And yet, I have the feeling that I have something to say and I should hone my communication skills in this area, so I have decided to work more in this direction. Currently, I am reading Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World, since the state of the world has left me feeling like there is a lot not being said that needs to be.
So let me begin by writing about something that has not been talked about much in Austrian media: the situation of adult educators in Austria at the moment. Coincidently, this is the reason for my need for an alternative mainstay.
Adult Education in Austria: the system
Adult educators in Austria must be certified. For me, this meant traveling to other cities for weekend workshops—about 10 times over two semesters. As a freelance adult educator, of course you have to pay for traveling expenses and hotels yourself. In addition, adult educators in Basic Education are required to complete a weekend of further training once a year. Depending on what is being offered that year, that might also include travelling.
(I don’t have a problem with traveling, and I also appreciate further training. I also don’t mind giving up weekends that could be spent with family members or friends or simply relaxing, as I’m used to working weekends for clients and sometimes preparing for classes. I gladly took part in these certification programs and further training. However, I assumed I would be able to stay in Adult Education—in whichever form—for the foreseeable future; read on for more details.)
Who are adult educators?
Most of the adult educators I have come across are mothers whose children are out of the house and who found their calling in teaching. Only a very small fraction of adult educators actually make a living off of doing just that. This situation is caused by the fact that Adult Education organizations in Austria do not employ their educators, with very few exceptions.
Some people, like me, have freelance commission work to fall back on when courses fall through. Most, though, simply lose work if a course does not come about. Who else, then, could (or even would) take on the demanding job of teaching without the security of employment, but people (a.k.a. women) who are not totally dependent on income and have time on their hands?
change of pace
In 2015, the demand for courses in Adult Education rose drastically, due to the increase of asylum seekers in Europe, and as much, in Austria. Suddenly, there was an abundance of courses being offered—mainly German language courses, and Adult Education organizations desperately needed teachers. So, many people without previous experience got certified and taught courses. Some were better educated than others, as certification programs also suddenly came into being that hadn’t existed before. After the first “wave” of students was sent through the required language classes, demand decreased again and many colleagues moved on to other career opportunities with more security.
Some, however, still teach to this day. Like me. I caught the teaching bug and have widened my teaching horizon to various target groups since I began teaching literacy courses: from teenagers to asylum seekers, from students of university to adults seeking work-life balance. The diversity of audiences, language levels, and course topics is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a freelance educator.
hit the brakes
This year, the newly elected right-wing government drastically cut funding for courses in Adult and Basic Education. This means that almost all of my colleagues—all of whom are women, with only one exception—no longer have a single course to teach. And I won’t either, come January 2019.
Seemingly unconnected political decisions have impacted lives in manifold ways: there’s still a demand for courses (at least in Basic Education) and yet this demand is simply not met because our government is no longer willing to fund them. There are teachers who would love to teach and are no longer able to. And there are people like me, who have invested their time and money in building a career in Adult Education and are now forced to turn away and work in a different field.
into thin air
It is absolutely infuriating to me that the public is not informed of these budget cuts and their ramifications. If this were to happen in an insurance company, or to public officials, there would be a public outcry. However, because it’s “just” women that are affected, and mainly freelancers (who do not have a labor union), not a word is lost. What is most devastating: the know-how, competencies and social skills that have been built up and shared by adult educators over the past years are simply vanishing into thin air.
vote to fund education
Governments that economize education are bad enough. But governments that use women when they are needed most and leave them with nothing to fall back on—not a word lost—those governments are the worst. They are the ones without foresight or empathy.
So the next time you get a chance to vote and the parties at stake are discussing the importance of education, I urge you to think about all aspects of what “funding education” or “cutting funding” might entail. What it really means for the students and the teachers; for the adults and the teenagers; for those looking for a better job or those in dire need of one; for those who might be the ones to pay for your pension in a few years—or not, if they aren’t educated enough or didn’t get a chance to re-train to keep themselves out of poverty.
life-long learning is key
As a teacher of Basic Education, there is one thing I have seen time and again: Life-long learning is the only way adults can reach their full potential, and truly the only way future generations will survive this ever-changing economy. Take it from me, a freelancer with multiple university degrees, training courses and certifications, who once again is forced to go into a new direction: Education is key. Cutting funding for education is the worst thing a country can do for its future, and for its present.