Take Your Reader to Work Day: ČVUT

I often realize, when I am talking to friends or family back in America, that they have no real idea of where I work. They understand I teach, but, after that...it gets fuzzy.

So, this is about where I work!

Here. I work here.

I am now in my fourth semester as an external teacher at České vysoké učení technické v Praze -- commonly referred to by its initials as ČVUT (pronounced roughly as cheh-veh-ooh-teh). Literally translated, the school's name is the "Czech Technical Higher Learning in Prague,"  but the school's proper English name is Czech Technical University, or CTU. As the name suggests, the unversity focuses on technical fields--American readers can imagine it as a sort of Czech MIT or CalTech. It's one of the top univeristies in the country and does pretty well in international rankings, as well (though I am deeply dubious about university rankings, generally).

One key difference between ČVUT and its American counterparts, however, is that ČVUT is a public institution and 100% free through the age of 26. That includes both Bachelor's and Master's studies, provided you don't have a degree already--one of each per person, please. While there are private universities in the Czech Republic, they're generally not as good as the public ones and have undergone a variety of scandals. So, most Czechs still apply to and, if accepted, attend one of the nation's 25 or so public universities. (I'll write another time about how getting into college works...) At ČVUT, between 25% and 50% (!) of students don't complete their first year, depending on their field; roughly 50% of undergraduates complete their degree, usually in 3 years. 

The ČVUT logo--the Bohemian two-tailed lion holding a compass...I think?

ČVUT has 8 "faculties" (what at an American university would probably be called "colleges")--self-contained schools within the university dedicated to different broad specializations. The 8 faculties are Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Nuclear Sciences and Physical Engineering, Architecture, Transportation Sciences, Biomedical Engineering, and Information Technology. All told, across all faculties, at every level (Bachelor's, Master's, Ph.D), ČVUT has about 20,000 students. Proportionally speaking, an American university with the same percentage of the entire population would have to have (does math) 650,000 students. It offers over 120 degrees in Czech, over 80 in English, and has some 3,000 international students. So, it's big.

A large lecture at ČVUT. This isn't how I teach--thank God.

Within each faculty, there are departments (katedra). I teach under the auspcies of the Department of Languages in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, which has about 3,000 students. We're a sort of auxilliary department--no-one at ČVUT majors in languages--but we provide classes in a variety of languages, most commonly English, all on an elective basis. We also administer a mandatory English proficiency exam. The uinversity overall has very high standards for being able to study and work in a second language (imagine that!), so many students take language courses, especially during their first year or when they're working on their Master's. Generally, the Faculty of Electrical Engineering covers everything from classic electronics and electrical systems to robotics and software engineering.

This is more like what I do. In fact, I teach in that room! And yes, it still has chalkboards.

My classes are usually between 10 and 14 students and meet once a week for 90 minutes. This semester I'm teaching three different kinds of courses. Half of my classes are conversation-focused--students come, I have a variety of tasks and games centered around a theme (movies, travel, sports, etc.), and the students practice their conversational skills in English. These classes are always pretty relaxed and fun, and it's a good chance for me to get to know them a bit as people and for them to work on more casual, everyday English. I also teach more formal classes centered on Academic English (designed to help students pass that mandatory language exam) and Business English (new this semester and aimed at helping students be more fluent in the English used in business settings). In the past, I have also taught Presentation Skills, which is exactly what it sounds like.

What's most interesting to me about all of this is that, as I said, *none* of my students are language majors. They are future software engineers, power plant technicians, robotics researchers, professors--whatever. Sure, you could think of an English Conversation course as a few "easy" credits--but it's only "easy" because the English language expectations placed on Czech (and Slovak and Ukranian and Russian) students are so high. Most of my students are better with English than I ever was at French, a language I considered majoring in.  

One final fun fact: my faculty is in a building that still has paternosters! What are those, you ask? They are a type of elevator, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that doesn't have doors and doesn't stop, ever. Instead, a series of cars is moved by gears and wheels and makes a circuit, going up on side, over the top, down the over, through the bottom, and then coming back to where it started. The name comes from this sort of chain of cabins, almost like a rosary--hence pater noster, or "Our Father." Passengers get on and off while the cabin is still moving, though they move slowly enough that this isn't as tricky as it sounds if you're able-bodied. 
A gif is worth a thousand words.

Paternosters are almost exclusively found in continental Europe, especially in Germany and the Czech Republic, and are a rarely built now due to safety concerns. However, if used properly, they're actually more efficient than traditional elevators. And more fun, too! As you can see, the cabins don't change their orientation at any time during the cycle, so people can ride them in a complete loop, above the top floor and below the bottom floor, though that is against the rules, so I, of course, have never done it. However, someone else did the full loop on one of the ones at ČVUT and made a video! Enjoy!

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