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.

Stairwell
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!

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