The Puglia Diaries

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


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School’s Out – Ciao Ragazzi

I’ve been on holiday for more than a month now, soaking up the sun and occasional thunderstorms, since my contract as a British Council Language Assistant ended on the 30th of May. Eight months of correcting the same mistakes, of delivering lessons and racking my brains for interesting activities came abruptly to a close. It felt like no time had passed at all since I first stepped in front of the first class, the 5°AS, to introduce myself and give a lesson about Red Nose Day.

After I got back from my weekend in Turin, the days rolled by alarmingly fast until I was into my last week as an assistant. The stage of saying goodbye to the classes was dragged out for a whole week as I announced that it would be my last lesson and that I’d be going back to the UK next year, not teaching there again. The classes all reacted differently, some totally unconcerned, some with applause (ok) and some wanting group pictures. Here are some of the results:

I did my rounds and did recaps on the material studied over the year and surprisingly enough, some things did stick with the students. Not a huge amount, but at least something went into their memory and stayed there for a few months. I corrected the last bunch of tests, thanked the teachers and closed the school door for the last time as a member of staff on Friday morning at 11, leaving the situation to degenerate into inevitable pre-summer holiday chaos.

About a week later, I went back to the school to say goodbye again, this time to the headmaster and the administration office. The custom in Italy is that if it is your birthday, saint day, leaving day, whatever, you bring the cake. So I prepared a bunch of tea biscuits. I iced them and transported them as well as I good, but even if they were a bit smudged, they were still good enough to pass around.

This was not even the final goodbye. On the 14th of June, I attended the final Saturday morning staff meeting, which was to be followed by a little buffet of croissants and panzerottini. I arrived after the boring bits, took a seat for about five minutes and was then called to the front to say my farewell into the microphone. I was told to do it in English, so with a flashback to my first hello right back in September, I spoke to the vast roomful of staff and said how fast the year had gone and how great it had been. Then, as usual, the emotion got too much for me. The retiring teachers beside me were tearful, the head teacher was looking moved and when I relinquished the microphone, it happened. I cried in front of everyone – how humiliating but in their opinion, endearing.

I made my way back to my seat, was given a squeeze by a couple of English teachers, a tissue by another and a liquorice sweet by the Italian teacher (for old time’s sake). People came to me left, right and centre to offer me somewhere to stay if I wanted to come back, to ask when I was leaving, to give me encouragement. It would have been quite heart warming if I could have stopped blubbering. I took some photos with the English teachers, which I am quite happy not to see because no doubt my face is a pink, watery blotch-fest in them. I chatted to lots of teachers and secretaries before really leaving the school for the final time, trotting off into the sunshine knowing that I’ll be back there to visit some day, no doubt. After all, my time at I.T.I.S. Galileo Ferraris has been important in shaping my career prospects and my language skills, as well as giving me much more confidence in all areas of public speaking. Presentations next year, no problem. I won’t have twenty-five pairs of probing eyes watching me explain the present perfect.

After working with 7 of 8 different teachers and encountering 700 pupils, it’s been a chance to meet lots of new people and to really see how a school works from a teacher’s point of view. Let me tell you, it’s not all fun and games and you get fewer holidays that you imagine. I’ve decided that teaching in a secondary school probably isn’t the job for me, but teaching English as a foreign language really has its interesting elements, so taking a qualification might be an option for the future. Aside from that, it’s time to use this experience for thinking about what I really want to do as a career: a bit of a daunting prospect. Perhaps if the Internet hasn’t been taken over and modified by robots yet, I will look back at this blog post in five years time and think ‘oh how things have changed, I have all my questions answered and a path planned out’. I doubt it though – different things happen and new questions always appear. Closing a chapter of working at the I.T.I.S. will lead to a new part of life, third year at university and then who knows… Wish me luck!


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The Italian Job (I HAD TO)

Up until now, my posts on this blog have mainly been concerned with how much fun I am having gallivanting around in a region where November is like the British summer. When I’m not meeting new people, seeing new places and eating Italian food, I do have to go to work. Even if it’s only for twelve hours a week.

I can’t really tell you what a typical week at the school is like, because there is no typical week. Because of class tests, assemblies, strikes and timetable changes, I adapt my schedule weekly. So far, I have worked with five teachers and perhaps twenty classes, meaning that I’ve encountered a fair few new faces and tasked with learning over two hundred names. I have a pretty decent memory but it has quickly become saturated, especially since some teachers call the students by their last names and others by their first. The names I remember are usually those belonging to the students that talk to me most, or alternately the ones that sound cool. Because let’s be honest, Italian names just sound nicer than English ones.

With each class, I help with a different topic. The Mechanics and the Electronics section are covering economy, globalisation and the job market. I also did a lesson yesterday about Electromagnetism, which reminded me why I hated physics so much at school. I have read texts aloud about the invention of paper, ‘supervolcanoes’, Google and more. In some of the classes, I get to help with English literature. One group is studying Shakespeare and another the Romantic period. It is slightly disconcerting that they are learning about the same things I studied in a second year university module at Leeds, but at least I know enough about the Ancient Mariner to be a credible teacher.

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My Romantic pals Shelley, Wordsworth and Coleridge will follow me forever.

Public speaking was never my forte but I now feel comfortable walking into the class and facing twenty-five expectant teenagers. I have mastered the art of looking grave and disappointed when they are noisy, and can deliver a reading in a decidedly frosty tone to silence them for a few minutes. Let’s just say that English isn’t their favourite subject, so especially near the end of the school day, a lot of shouting and running goes on inside the classroom. I nearly lost it one time, but generally my patience goes quite a long way.

The language lab is an especially exciting event for them. I have taken a few classes there to play songs by The Lumineers and Bob Marley. Often, the listening exercise degenerates when they figure out there is a microphone attached to their headphones, and that if they say rude words, all the others can hear them. Sigh. Today, three students explained the meaning of No Woman, No Cry to me, while the others wailed the chorus in the background.

 Every morning, I wake up a whole hour before leaving so I can slowly enjoy the best part of the morning: breakfast. I have a leisurely half hour walk to school. On Thursdays, I can weave my way through the weekly market, packed with shoes, bags, household things, clothes…Sometimes I go out for a coffee with the other teachers, other times I stay in the staff room and prepare lessons. This week, I have had actual tests to correct: having the students’ marks in my hands makes me feel like a proper teacher. I now empathise with my language teachers at school. There is that feeling of satisfaction in ticking a right answer and the desire to shake their little shoulders at the truly awful mistakes. I can feel my facial expressions altering with each different test I mark.

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This is me looking happy because BREAKFAST

All in all, this language assistantship job suits me fine. I work for two or three hours a day and never finish later than 1pm. I know where to make photocopies and how to work the coffee machine. I even got a round of applause from the students once, yay me.