The Puglia Diaries

The thrills and spills of a British Council Language Assistant in Molfetta, Italy

The Student becomes the ‘Teacher’

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I.T.I.S Galileo Ferraris is an industrial and technical school in Molfetta. The students are no doubt computer whizzes and electronic geniuses but they still need to learn English.

There are 44 classes in the institute: in the first part of the year I will be dealing with four or five of them. Learning all of the students’ names will certainly be a good exercise for my memory. I don’t yet know exactly what days I will be teaching but in any case, a school day in Italy runs from 8am until 1pm. So free afternoons, hurray!

Being a technical school, Galileo Ferraris’ pupils are mostly boys. I hate gender stereotypes, but that is just the way it is. The corridors were filled with a rowdy bunch of young men, gangly, stocky, short and tall. They seem friendly enough and even stood up when I came into the classroom (a welcome to teacherdom).

They were very interested in my age, though. One of the first things teachers remarked upon was my youthful appearance: I have been ascribed terms like ‘giovanissima’ and ‘piccolina’, which in my line of work may not be the best epithet. Yes, I am only a fraction older than the students I will be teaching because Italians leave school at the age of 19. Yes, I will have to dress ‘older’ because with an Eastpak, jeans and trainers I would blend into the casual school masses. If I conceal my age and the fact I speak Italian, then hopefully I will have the upper hand.

Photo on 2013-09-18 at 16.41

I even bought new shoes for the occasion: which incidentally gave me blisters :(

I was shown the language lab and given books to photocopy, as well as potential instructions for conversation topics and so on. It’s quite fun actually, sitting down and imagining role-play exercises for other people to do. Poor kids – I am determined that they will speak to me and I won’t give up until I find something they like.

This afternoon I went to my first staff meeting. It was not an intimate and organised affair over tea and biscuits: the army of teachers were organised classroom style in a long room, and it was chaos.

I agreed with the teacher next to me who said ‘Italians like talking too much’ between her shushing of the other staff members. It basically resembled a small-scale political rally. I watched irate teachers argue the merits of catch-up lessons and school trip funding, with the English teacher acting as my unofficial translator and dishing the dirt on the side. I will be honest and say that I was lost for about 98% of the time, which means it came as a surprise when I was invited to the front by the principal and vice-principal to introduce myself. Apparently I can speak Italian under pressure because a short explanation of my presence somehow tumbled out of my mouth and I got a round of applause.

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Sneaky photo of the school

I am quite looking forward to actually getting in front of a class. I need to revise my English grammar because I have no clue what modal verbs are. I have been watching online video resources that range from the useful to the bizarre. I have two more days in Molfetta before I fly up to Turin to receive a bit of training before starting the job next Tuesday. Let’s hope the students don’t eat me.

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Author: Elly Cooke

Recent graduate of English Literature and Italian from the University of Leeds. Book lover and part-time Italian speaker.

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