The Puglia Diaries

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

The Total Teaching Experience

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These past couple of weeks at school have been quite turbulent, for several reasons. Last week, I worked a total of twenty hours to get Friday off to go to Rome, including a trip to the theatre and parents’ evening. This week, I have been diligently trying to put in my 12 hours with no clue what is going on.

So last week’s themes were ‘Homes from the Future’ and Parkour. Extreme sports seemed to capture the interest of even the most reluctant students, and before I knew it I was listening to a full account of what happened when someone’s friend rollerbladed across a motorway. The following lesson, one of the students showed me a video of him jumping and crashing. None of this made me want to try Parkour. This is the video I showed them, which I can now recite word perfect.

On Wednesday, I turned up to school and saw five coaches waiting outside. That morning, a mass exodus of 12 classes was planned: a trip to the theatre in a nearby town. I was told that I could go along with one of the classes, and so ended up half-chaperoning them onto a bus. I sat among the students, chatting to them about my university and listening to their throwback choice of music (it was Whamtastic). Not entirely sure if I was supposed to be the responsible adult, I tried to keep track of my students but kept being distracted by a load of my other students who seemed pleased to see me there. Sandwiched between students from the 5th Scientific and 4th IT class, I prepared myself for the show, which would be about safety in the workplace. The promising title ‘Broken Lives’ did not disappoint: a series of scenes followed where characters told their stories of a normal day of work, which ended in an accident and death. Just as I was starting to feel mournful, the scenes in dialect began. I don’t know if it was the dialect of Bari or Naples, but trust me, it was a whole other language. The students to my left and right asked if I understood and told me not to worry because it was difficult for them to understand too. My cluelessness seemed to be quite amusing for them: after the show, I was asked ten times if I had followed the action. Nope. The tragedy was lost on me but I came away with this written version of the play: I’ll read it if I ever want to gain awareness of potential accidents or feel depressed.

Photo on 2013-12-13 at 19.35 #3

Cheerful reading

Thursday evening offered a new perspective of the teaching job: parents’ evening. This event is when a teacher can feel like a celebrity. Whereas in the daytime the students couldn’t really care less about seeing you, on this one evening, people queue outside the door for a chance to talk to you for 5 minutes. To be honest, next to the actual English teacher, I didn’t really bring anything to the table. I shook about fifty parental hands and watched some of my students squirm under the meeting of home and school life. It was interesting to hear the teacher’s comments, to get a sense of what the students are like at home and to see how alike the parents and their children looked. I listened and nodded for three hours but only daydreamed about my dinner when parents came in for students I didn’t teach, honest. It was a chance to see the whole awkward parent-teacher conference thing from the other side. And it isn’t any less awkward.

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So if last week was packed with long mornings and extra educational input, this week has been entirely different. Because of a national uprising against the austerity government and the generally corrupt Italian politicians, there have been no students for me to teach. On Monday, I came fully prepared to give three engaging and interactive lessons about Romeo and Juliet, job interviews and climate change but was faced with rows of empty desks as all students were on strike. On Wednesday, seven came into one class, and none in another. On Thursday, I walked into a class of 5, started a lesson about CVs only to be interrupted every five seconds by the students filtering in from the crowd in front of the school. We were informed that the first two hours of school were to be dedicated to ‘discussing the situation’ of how to protest. So I sat down and listened to the harangue of the class representative and miniature heated debates about whether it was worth going to university and taxes and all the other things concerning the Italian youth of today. I chipped in about our lovely £9,000 tuition fees and they continued to ‘discuss’. In a way, I think they are right to organise a protest, to try to achieve change, but I think that some of them just want an extra couple of weeks on their Christmas holiday. The last two hours of the day could be carried out as normal; this week’s topic was street art and Banksy, which got some students interested. In fact one of the classes became so engaged that at the end of the lesson, they gathered round me in a pack and asked semi-correct questions about where I’m from, how long I’m staying, what the sea is like in England…They must have been invading my personal space because as I unconsciously backed away, one of the students said ‘Don’t crowd her!’.

Banksy-Dreams

Hoping the kids don’t feel like this :(

This morning, I moseyed off to school and soon came across a crowd of protestors. I crossed the road and carried on to the beat of drums, chants and the sounds of a horn. I got to school just in time, slipped through the gates and was told that no students had turned up. It was soon time for a full lockdown. The gates were pulled closed in front of the school and the teachers gathered in front of the doors to watch the approaching crowds. Okay, it sounds dramatic like that, but this group was flanked by police cars and waving banners and an Italian flag. I was soon able to skip out for a coffee with other teachers, come back to the staff and correct some Shakespeare essays in relative peace. Then I went home again, not having taught anyone again. Oh well, even if I didn’t spend much time in front of a class, this week has taught me new aspects of life in an Italian school. It’s all experience after all.

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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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