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Teaching English in Italy

Insider Knowledge on Landing a Job in a Public School

The first teaching position I was offered involved teaching a group of Italian teenagers for 90 minutes twice a week.

I turned it down immediately despite the school being in a very chic district of Milan. The very thought of dealing with what I thought would be rowdy, spoilt uncontrollable brats was enough to send me in the opposite direction and into Italy’s top companies to teach executives Business English instead.

Yet two years later, teaching pre-teens and teenagers in Italian high schools is what I like best and genuinely gets me out of bed in the morning.

The main advantage is that you can earn more in the state system and be finished by 2 p.m., whereas private language schools often pay peanuts and expect you to work until 10 or 11 p.m.

Contracts for "esperti madrelingua inglesi" or native language experts are lucrative. They are often awarded to established language schools who get paid more than 40 euros an hour. But while you do the actual teaching, you only get a fraction of this - around 10 euros.

This means that teaching 8.30 a.m. till 1 p.m. every day five days a week, I clear around 1,600 euros and have my evenings free. In a private language school I would have to work in the afternoons and evenings. Depending on the location, I would earn around 800 euros.

Although it is more time consuming and effort, stamping out your cvs and cover letters and sending them personally rather than relying on a language school is probably advantageous in the long run.

Students at Italian universities are not compelled to spend a year abroad, which means that their knowledge is often academic and their pronunciation poor. This obviously has knock-on effects should they go on to become language teachers. Consequently, there is a high demand for qualified native English teachers in the state system.

The demand for English teachers spans all ages, starting with the optional scuola materna for children from 3 to 6 years. With the exception of several border regions, including Varese bordering Switzerland and Alto Adige bordering Austria, learning English is compulsory from the Scuola Elementare onwards. The Scuola Elementary is for children aged between 6 and 11. Then there is the Scuola Media (11 - 14) and the scuola superiore from 14 to 17, 18, or 19 depending on the type of school chosen. A list of schools can be found in a hard copy of the Pagine Gialle (yellow pages) or online at www.paginegialle.it.

The process of landing a job, however, is not a straightforward process. Regardless that you are there to teach your language, you will often need a good command of Italian as most schools seem unwilling to take you on unless this is the case - and you must submit your cv and cover letter in Italian. To make sure it goes directly to the relevant person, send your letter to the Head of English. Or better still - go to the school in person at breaktime and refuse to budge until you see the Head of English. Then, when you do, hand over your cv and cover letter and market yourself on the spot.

Even if the teachers don’t want your services now, do something to mark yourself out. Offer to have a coffee with the teachers once a week so they can practice their language on you or ask to see a lesson in action. By getting a good rapport going early on, you stand a better job of being picked the for the selection process the following year.

As with all jobs within the public system, you have to enter a "concorso" or selection process. What this actually entails depends on the school that is employing you. Once you've found out about the "bando" or the announcement that a contract is available, it could be a simple matter of sending in your cv. Alternatively you may have to go through a rigorous selection process. Last year, I played a four-month game of cat and mouse as I was called for interview at the university. I had several interviews each time with the same person, who simply insisted there was not yet a job available - despite assurances by his secretary to the contrary.

Last night, however, I simply wasn’t looking for a job when I was given one. I was in a pizzeria chatting away to friends about my holiday back in England. “Aspetta, aspetta”, said Valentina, pulling a wad of papers out of her bag. “A school is looking for an English expert and this is the entrance paper. Send me your cv tomorrow and I’ll make sure you get the job.” Yes, it really was as simple as that.

Becoming a expert is the easiest way of being taken on by a public school in Italy. Because unless you have an Italian degree and Italian teaching qualifications or you manage the difficult task of convincing Italian authorities that you’re own American/British education degree is valid, you will have a tricky time being taken on as a teacher in your own right.

Although you have already qualified as a teacher and have the relevant piece of paper to prove it, the regular day-to-day English teacher must be in the room with you at all times. This can be a good or bad experience depending on the type of teacher you are assigned to. For six months I worked with Gian Franco, a brilliant teacher in Cagliari. He regularly went to England, spoke excellent English, and was always dreaming up new ways of getting the students to use the language - everything from writing and designing newspapers to writing and filming a play that was then sent to one of the UK’s top post-production companies for a professional finish.

On the other hand I have been in situations where teachers have shouted down at students and sent them out of the room for making "mistakes" that were actually correct. And in another classroom I had to condone teenagers snogging on the back bench their everyday teacher thought it was funny.

Teaching in Italian public schools is a rewarding but challenging experience and most schools look for TEFL-qualified teachers who already have experience teaching adults before their baptism into fire into the state system..

In one class they were so disorderly and unwillingly to learn that I every lesson I had to call time out to tackle discipline, give fail-standard grades, and take several kids to the headmaster to be told off.

So I was stunned, shocked, and a little bit tearful when they came to find me in the staff room on my 27th birthday and handed me a huge mass of red roses and a card signed by all 36 pupils. “Thanks” it said. “For making us realize that English is easy and fun and we can already say a lot. We won’t forget you.” I won’t forget them either.

Tips on teaching in the state system

  • Highlight any experience you have with young learners, either teaching or voluntary work.
  • Take your CV and cover letter to the school and deliver it in person to the Head of English.
  • Don’t give up. If they don’t accept you the first time, send your cv again and again.
  • Do something to get yourself noticed. Help with school play or English conversation on a voluntary basis.

Tips on teaching English

  • Even the most talkative young learners turn non-communicative when they have to speak.
  • Make lessons fun and play games where the kids don’t realize they are learning.
  • Make lessons memorable. Teenagers' egos are often fragile so you have lessons boost their self-esteem.
  • Never criticize their English and let them know you love teaching them.
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