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!

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