English as a second language was never like this before: The youngsters in some city schools are giving lessons to their teachers.
"We made a deal. Our teacher said he'd learn English from us - if we'd learn math from him," says 13-year-old Amato Vasquez of Washington Irving High School.His teacher is one of 23 Austrians hired this year to help fill a shortage of math and science teachers in New York City, which includes the nation's largest school district. So far, the experiment is working.
Ina Maria Anderwald is another recruit getting a crash course in English.
On the third day of class this semester, she picked up some chalk to teach algebra. "We learn about polynomials now," the spirited 26-year-old teacher told her class.
"Poly. . .," she began writing on the blackboard. "How do you spell that?" she asked, and a few voices yelled out the letters.
"Thank you!" she answered, before proceeding to tell them about "BEE-nomials." That's binomials, some corrected her, while others giggled. She smiled.
What the Austrian teachers lack in sophisticated English skills they make up for in enthusiasm teaching math and science, jobs the city was having trouble filling.
New York's was among the nation's first school districts to launch such an ambitious international bid for teachers. With 1.1 million students and 65,000 teachers, New York can't find enough qualified math and science instructors and is considering hiring more from Scotland and Switzerland.
Austria, meanwhile, has hundreds of qualified teachers in both fields who can't find work. Many learned of the Big Apple's career opportunities from fliers that promised: "If you can read this, have we got a deal for you."
The idea of recruiting teachers in Austria came from Alfred Posamentier, a math education professor from the City University of New York who spent a year at Vienna University.
Almost 400 Austrian candidates applied. Interviews were conducted via video conferences. The ones who landed jobs were hired on a one-year contract subject to renewal.
Their training included a City University course that could be called New York 101, including answers to such questions as "What's a bagel?" and "What's a nerd?"
At Washington Irving High, Eckhard Savinc teaches 25 math classes a week for $29,611 a year - a huge raise over his $10,500 salary in Austria.
"He makes things easier, he has a way of explaining it so it's fun," said Mohammed Kaba, 15.
Savinc's first day of class was awful, with students "talking all the time, loud."
So he regrouped. "I told them the rules," said the blond, boyish 27-year-old teacher. "They have to raise their hands to speak, do their homework and stop talking."
The discipline, delivered with soft-spoken European charm, worked magic. By the third class, the 15 students were listening intently to Savinc - and respectfully helping him out when he searches for a word in English.
Colleague Hans Fritz, also 27, broke the ice with some humor by asking his ninth-grade class if they knew where Austria is. "Asia," said one boy. "Russia," guessed another.
Fritz drew a map of Europe and pointed out his country. He told his students to bring spiral notebooks to the next class.
Next, he strolled to the blackboard and solemnly implored them to bring the most important thing to class: "YOUR HEAD," he scrawled, getting laughs.
Fritz, Savinc and Anderwald, friends from college, pay $350 each for the three-bedroom apartment they share in the Bronx. Their furnishings at first amounted to three mattresses, three camping chairs and three desks.
No matter, says Savinc: They're in New York City, "where I've dreamed of coming for 10 years."