Last week was my first week of being in my placement here in Italy. I am placed in a middle school, where I will be working with all of the students that go to the school, specifically during their English time. As someone that is used to being in elementary school classrooms, this is a big adjustment for me, let alone the cultural and linguistic differences that I have to navigate. I have two cooperating teachers that I am working with who have very different teaching styles. It is very interesting for me to get to see both. The English lessons that they have seem to come from a scripted curriculum. The students work on exercises in their workbook accompanied by listening and speaking practice. In some of the classrooms, I am working with the teacher to help students practice their conversational skills as she continues to follow this curriculum. In my other classrooms, I am teaching the students about Japanese food, then American food, so we can compare and contrast the different cultural influences and how they show through in the food we eat between Japan, America, and Italy. I am struggling to come up with ways to approach these lessons and make them engaging for the students. I barely have enough background knowledge on them to know what skills they have that I should be building on and what ways that I can support them in areas they need to improve on. Having never even observed a typical lesson in these classes, I’m not sure what kind of activities and teaching style the students are used to. I’m unaware of the resources that are available to me in the classroom/at the school, which also makes it difficult to plan for activities. In this way, planning for these lessons has been a real challenge. Although I am used to working with students who have different first languages, working with a whole class of students like this is completely different. I’m trying to think of ways that I can connect with these students during the one hour a week I have with them. Being in this placement really makes me think how amazing it is that middle school teachers teach so many different students.
Aside from what I’m learning through attempting to teach, I’m also learning a lot about the Italian education system through my conversations with my cooperating teacher and the Italian culture classes we are taking in the afternoon. From what I understand, teachers seem to get very few hours and are paid very little compared to what we are in the United States. I was talking to my cooperating teacher today about applying for jobs, and she was so surprised to hear that we apply to jobs individually through schools. She informed me that here, they have to apply through a general application and can only choose one city and 20 schools that they would like to apply to. Then, based on points (I am unsure of how these points are allocated and will have to ask her more about it) the teacher candidates are placed on a list. From there, the schools will call the candidates they would like to interview. I was most surprised when she told me that teachers often do not know whether or not they have a job for the school year until September 1st. Even if you do have a job, you may not be full time (18 hours), meaning that you wouldn’t get a full salary. Given the fact that there is little job security and little pay, I am not surprised that teachers often go one strike here (although it is only for a day, and seems to be somewhat ineffective). It has definitely put a lot into perspective for me. I’ve been so caught up in how broken our education system seems to be that I never thought about teachers having it much worse than we do in other places. With that being said, I am very surprised by the state of the education system here, because I had a general image of European countries having excellent education systems. This may be true in several other European countries, but certainly is not a generalization that can be made for all.