Thursday, 26 May 2016

Thinking of becoming a TEFL teacher in Italy? part 2

So if I didn't put you off too much with my last post here's part two with the juicy cultural stuff. The majority of this is about the Italian school system but I believe knowing all this helps even with adult classes because if you know the students' cultural conditioning in the learning environment it makes everything 10 times easier.

The Nuns

6. Most schools start at about 8am and go on until 13-14.00 when students go home for lunch. Many schools go on until 16.30 however, so nearly all your evening classes will start at 17.00 for kids. Thats a VERY long day. Go easy on your students in the evenings, especially the little ones who are understandably frazzled. They don't get much in the way of outside playtime, so you might want to include some action in the lesson plan to allow them to let off steam.

7. Primary school starts aged 6 although that last year of nursery school is mandatory but some of your students might be anticipati so they might be a year or so younger. They won't know how to read or write or even do numbers until half way through that first year so if you've got that age group (la prima) you'll have to reinvent the course book.

Here is how the grades work out with the school years in the UK.
nursery school: students use the teachers first name with the prefix Maestro/a (Maestra Paola) and use the informal tu.
ages 3-5 (year R and 1)

primary school:
prima - year 2 (6-7)
seconda - year 3 (7-8)
terza - year 4 (8-9)
quarta - year 5 (9-10)
quinta - year 6 (10-11)

lower secondary (middle) school: students must start formally adressing the teacher with Lei and say Professore or 'Prof' with surnames (Professoressa Rossi).
prima media - year 7 (11-12)
seconda media - year 8 (12-13)
terza media - year 9 (13-14) and the year students do the end of middle school exams.

upper secondary (high) school:
prima liceo: year 10 (14-15)
seconda liceo: year 11 (15-16)
terza liceo: year 12 (16-17)
quarta liceo: year 13 (17-18)
quinta liceo: age 18-19 and the year students do the exams for their highschool diploma.

Busy Hands

8. By the time you get to teenage classes then some of your students may have been bocciati and been made to repeat a year, so they will be older than the rest of the class. This happens when their grades fall below a certain average or they fail too many subjects or they are too badly behaved. This can be especially odd by the time you get to secondary school which people typically finish aged 19 but obviously can end up finishing at 20-21.

That said, working in a private school, I have yet to actually see this happen.

9. In terms of discipline, things are very different from the UK. No detentions or other traditional punishments are envisaged apart from suspension and exclusion. I used to make my students write lines until an Italian colleague told me that she was certain it was a form of abuse and I risked going prison. Personally, I think she was overreacting but the Italian students certainly aren't used to doing them. The traditional form of punishment is the note home, or even worse a note home AND a note on the class register. Too many notes home and the student's behaviour grade will be lowered on the end of semester report card and maybe even suspension. There's not much middle ground there to work with, but the biggest problem with this is that nowadays over half of parents believe whatever their kids tell them and so it's fairly ineffective as a method. This means you will have to rule by force of personality, especially in middle school. Time to start strengthening the vocal chords maybe.

10.  In Italian schools the pagella (report card) is extremely important and it is given to the students at the end of semester 1 in February and at the end of semester 2 in June. There are no written comments, only numbers from 1-10 for each subject and one for behaviour.  6 is a pass and 10 is superstardom, while typically teachers won't go lower than 4 so as to give the students the chance to get their average back up. The exceptions are at primary school where anything lower than a 7 is considered harsh and at all levels getting a 6 for behaviour means you've been close to criminal.

11. That grade will be the average of assignments and tests etc done during the semester. Italian students are CONSTANTLY tested. Teachers favour interrogazioni where they ask the student questions in front of the whole class who must listen. This seems almost cruel to me but apparently it's to stop a teacher from giving a low grade out of spite.

12.  The consequence of this is that students are very grade orientated and see little reason to put effort into work that won't go towards the average. Fa media? is a question I get whenever I set an assignment. You can tell them that learning is important regardless, you can refuse to tell them what is graded and what is not, or you can do it the Italian way and test them a lot.

13. Unsurpisingly perhaps then, Italy loves the Cambridge ESOL exams which are created and run by Cambridge University. If you aren't familiar with them now you soon will need to be as they go from kids (Starters, Movers, Flyers) to adults (FCE, CAE...) and students from 7 upwards will be working towards them.

14. Your business students will be late. Often very late. This does not mean however that they won't notice if YOU are late.

15. Your students, of all ages, will expect a course book and a tests of some kind, otherwise they won't consider you a proper teacher or it a proper course.

School Corridor

16. Dress appropriately. Dress codes in schools are more relaxed - teachers wear jeans and trainers often but for men no shorts, T-shirts, sandals and definitely no flip flops. For women remember that, especially in religious schools, skirts above the knee and strappy tops or bare shoulders are a no-no along with cleavage of any kind.

17. Typically you will start work in a school (unless it's a big international one) with no training or explanations as to registers, or school rules etc. So remember to ask on your first day if you can find someone who looks like they know their stuff:

- what are the rules about toilet breaks and break time for the students
- how to sign the register
- what the students are supposed to be doing after your lesson and if you have to accompany them anywhere
- if there are any students in your class with health problems or learning difficulties.
- where the teacher's toilets are
- who to contact if someone is unwell

Good Luck!

Monday, 23 May 2016

Thinking of becoming a TEFL teacher in Italy? Part 1

As May closes, so does my seventh year of teaching in Italy. This makes me feel unnecessarily old but that's another story. So I thought I would celebrate with a list of things I wish I had known before becoming a teacher in Italy. I hope that someone else, at least, can profit from my hard-earned experience.

For part 1 I'm going to start with the drier but no less important stuff. THE CASH.

*Takes gloves off*

Brief Peace

1. Let's talk money. The net pay will be low unless you work in nero (for cash in hand). Your residency permit will need proof of employment so working informally is not for you. So lets be clear we aren't getting into this job for the money. We do it for the glory!

Pay really varies from region to region - my first job in Veneto was 23 teaching hours a week for 720 euros a month. In Milan I got a job at a large private language school for about 1200 euros a month doing 27-30 hours (sometimes as many as 40) a week. In school I now get about 750 euros a month for 12 hours of teaching since my pay-cut expired. None of this is enough to enable you to pay rent for a flat by yourself but there are worse paying jobs in Italy as there is no minimum wage. What's more there are often 13 months in an Italian financial year (yippee!) but...

2. The contracts will be short and your summers will be on seeking unemployment benefits or working at summer camps. If you are relying on yourself alone this will be tough (especially because unemployment benefits don't come through until months later). Many TEFL teachers are unable to do the job long term because of this. Although technically after 3 or 4 academic years they are obliged to hire you properly, the law is always changing and they can always drive you away if they really want to. If you get pregnant, there is no way your contract is getting renewed as the employers have to pay maternity leave out of their own pockets.

Old School Technology

3. You might be thinking that working 12 hours for 750 euros sounds great, but remember those are the actual teaching hours. Meetings with parents (one hour a week), meetings at school (one afternoon a week), covering break times, school trips etc, timetable gaps, training courses etc... actually see me at that particular school 3 days of the week.

Working in state secondary schools will give you the best pay to hours ratio. However you will need to be fully qualified (to work at a middle school for example you will need a masters degree in your subject as well as a PGCE or equivalent!) and be prepared to get your paperwork in order to prove that. Italian teachers are constantly jumping through hoops to do this as the government keeps moving the goalposts. Right now most of my colleagues have just taken part in a farce of a competitive exam to see if they can get a place in a (higher-paying) state school after having shelled out 3,000 on a university course a year ago to do the same thing.

Becoming a conversatore or conversatrice is a good option if you haven't got a degree in education but you are a native English speaker. This involves giving "conversation" lessons to anything from small groups to large classes, with or without the presence of the class teacher.

You can also work at private schools as long as they aren't paritaria (following the state school regulations) because they can hire who they want. Ironically meaning private schools often have the least qualified staff around.

Global Warming
4. British Council and International House etc are also big employers, but they will work you hard for your money. Saturdays, evenings, drinks with friends after work will all be a fond memory as you will be too busy travelling around or giving lessons. In Milan, the British Council has the reputation for paying the best but you need quite a lot of experience and to have residency status before they will consider you.

Useful advice I was given when I was starting out was to be very suspicious of a contract asking for anything over 25 teaching hours per week. I personally find that every extra hour over that number feels like three. Of course a two hour lesson is less work than two one hour lessons and if you don't have to travel between lessons that makes everything much more manageable. Smaller schools will give you extra responsibilities like being in the office to answer the phone or locking up the premises after everyone else has left which also need to be factored into your decision making process.

5. Always read your contract very thoroughly (check that net/gross bit very carefully) and don't get pressured into signing. If it's in Italian get someone you can trust to read it for you. I've been caught out in the several times by employers I thought were trustworthy. If it's a trade union contract then it'll be 100 pages long and non-negotiable on the details, so you might as well as sign the damn thing after checking the obvious (pay/dates).

The School Fish

I hope that didn't put you off too much. It's a great job to take while you're young and wanting to travel in any case. If you are looking to settle down and make a decent living I hear legal translations are where it's at for the Native English Speaker.

Still with me? Then onwards to part 2!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Eurovision 2016

Aaaand it's that time of year again. The Eurovision song contest final is on tomorrow evening and I can't wait.

This year's entries are all pretty fair - nothing outrageously bad or good, which is disappointing, but at the same time I don't really watch Eurovision for the music. I've trawelled through about half the videos and not realy found anything funny either but the voting is always mystifying and wonderful.
So I'm excited but not THAT excited. That said -


...So what are the main things to know about Eurovision this year?
  1. Russia vs Ukraine
This year's got a bit political. The Ukranian song is about the singer's grandparents' experiences as Crimean Tartars. Last year Ukraine was in too much turmoil to participate. the bookies have it in third place, while the Russian entry is number 1. The Russian entry is OK, but a bit wearing after a while. However the bookies generally have more success at picking a winer than I do.


Ukraine (of the two I prefer this one)

            2.  Sweden risk winning again.

This year's affair is already more sober as it costs a lot to host the event and they are heading in the direction of beating the Irish record. If they win this year as well it will be time to find the Swedish equivalent of Jedward to keep the votes at bay.
Sweden - I liked this one.

            3. Italy vs UK

Italy and the UK are battling it out for 8th and 9th place according to the bookies, although we've got the edge as we are at the end, whereas the Italy is on at the beginning. (Yes, that's right they actually think the UK have a half decent chance this year!)

Kudos to the Italians for singing in their native language.

UK - some good live performances as pushed them higher up the favourites table.

                4. France

People rate them this year. A French win really would be a turn up for the books (they're not going to win).

Kudos to the French for singing partialy in English


Oh I nearly forgot to mention....

Don't be surprised by an Australian win this year because they're back and they've got a much better song than last time. 

An Autstralian win is just what Eurovision needs this year!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Milan vs Rome


The New York Times has recently published an article on the fall of Rome and the ascent of Milan. It's an old debate that recently Milan seems to be winning. I'm not surprised. Living in Milan is a far cry from the majority of expat lives I read about in the blogs I follow, and I think it's spoiling me for life in other parts of Italy. 

There's something to be said for clean streets, good public transport and recycling... even if we haven't got the colosseum. 

All hail the new Italian capital!