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Teacher of the year

To teach is to learn

"You're the best" is the unanimous message of his students.

And that means a lot to Danube International School teacher Thilo Förtsch, 44, who this year for the second year in a row collected the coveted top teacher award voted on by pupils at the Danube International School Vienna.

He grew up in South Africa, is married with two children and has been teaching Geography and Physical Education at the school since 2001.

And on the last day of the school year he turned up in his knee-length denim shorts and a sporty T-shirt, and casually made his way onto the stage to get the award amid raucous applause from the assembled students for the once again triumphant acceptance of the "Teacher of the Semester" award.

Mr Förtsch has now won the award two years in a row, so Austrian Times hyper local reporter Mina Petrova decided to meet him to uncover the secret of his popularity.

Asked why he came to Austria, and he replies "Mainly because of my wife" and laughs. For those who don't know, his wife is Austrian and the couple decided to return to her homeland for their new life together.

Previously he taught at Frankfurt International School, and before that at the German School of Pretoria", and before that I went to the army, and before that I went to high school."

In between he graduated in Geography from the University of Pretoria, but modestly admits that even though he's been voted top teacher he wasn’t always a top student.

He is the youngest of four brothers, and his older brothers "especially number two and three were academically quite strong, so I could benefit from their reputation", he explains.

"The teachers thought that I was just as capable as my brothers, but I was always younger than all of my classmates, so I was a bit behind, I think, I always had that feeling ‘I don’t get it’.

"I was sporty, so I got by with that. Languages were fine (he is bilingual in both English/German and also learnt Afrikaans at school), Geography was always my favourite, but I wasn’t any hotshot at school, not at all.

"Having matriculated so young, at seventeen, I didn’t know what to study, went to the army, and that’s when a lot of things started settling in my mind."

He was coaching the local German football team (football, he explains, is his main passion besides being a Geography teacher) and realised he had a talent for instructing and training others, so "the next step, becoming a teacher, wasn’t that far off. Everyone expected me to study something, so I thought – OK, how about teaching?"

It is a decision he never regretted, but what does he relish about teaching?

He said: "I like my subject, I like kids, I can relate to them well I think, because I’ve been a pretty rebellious student myself, so I can somehow understand them and relate to what they are going through, but I am also very enthusiastic about the material I teach, and I think that’s important as well. But I think I have a knack for teaching people something: coaching, teaching somebody to play tennis, anything."

Another of his secrets is his relaxed, jovial manner: "I am not pretending to be anything else than I really am. In life, there are just so many aspects out there that you can treat with a certain amount of humour", and any of his students will tell you that hardly a lesson goes by when they haven’t had cause to laugh about something.

He doesn’t hesitate for a moment when asked his motto in life: "Don’t worry about things you cannot change."

He adds: "Having come from an African background, I take things maybe slower than others, and I think that’s an important thing to do in life – not to race ahead, be first everywhere, be the best… you see that in a lot of European kids and there’s a lot of talk about being the best, what they have, where they’ve been.

"That doesn’t matter, you will never always win and you will not always be first, so just take it slow and always look ahead. Just chill for a while."

Good advice indeed – and that's why this article was slow to come to the pages. And as for Mr Förtsch, he's already preparing for his next class of students mixed in with his regular agenda of sports leisure, tourism and extreme climates.

* This article was written by Mina Petrova.

Austrian Times


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