An ESL teacher in Italy

David's diary

Let's get introduced...

It's only fair to start with a quick introduction. My name is David and I'm an ESL teacher currently working in Italy. I've been teaching here for about five years now, though I can't remember for sure when I first got here! I threw all my diaries away in a spring-clean frenzy a little while ago, forgetting I'm terrible at remembering dates. So that's me.

I didn't choose to teach English in Italy after doing a lot of planning and research. Far from it. I quit a very good job in the UK after being saddled with a manager I couldn't work with, and an ex-girlfriend suggested I move to live with her in Italy.

'Come to Italy' she told me 'It's easy to find a job because you're English, and English people are all paid really well here.' What she actually meant was that she normally met English people in one of two places; the stables where she kept her horse and where a few rich ex-pats also kept theirs, and the local language school, which charged an absolute fortune for English lessons.

Not knowing any of this, I arrived here on the shores of Lago Maggiore and settled down to find a job.

I quickly realised that there were precious few jobs advertised in the newspapers - most of the adverts were offering unpaid work to the army of unemployed Italian graduates desperate for work. I discovered that there wasn't a huge amount of demand for a Business Manager / Trainer who spoke English very well and could order a coffee in Italian.

'Be a teacher' was my girlfriend's advice, as if it was only a matter of choice, not skill or anything like that. Still, once I started expressing an interest in teaching jobs I started getting job offers. More or less immediately.

Training and qualifications

You've seen all the adverts; 'ESL teacher wanted, must have CELTA and minimum 2 years' experience'. I'm sure some of them mean what they say, but not here in Italy. In fact, these requirements aren't even addressed at you. They're intended to reassure any students who happen to spot the adverts. In the majority of language schools here in Italy, qualifications count less than how desperate for work and how cheap you are. It's sad, but it's true.

One school, only one, asked me if I'd consider talking a CELTA. I don't have one, you see. I have two degrees and did all but the last 10 weeks of a PGCE before dropping out due to illness, and I have worked in a training capacity for the largest part of my career, but I don't have a CELTA.

You'd imagine I was an unattractive proposition to most schools, but you'd be wrong. As an English teacher I had everything they wanted; I was British and so didn't need a visa, I was new to Italy, so didn't know how things worked, was living with a girlfriend and so had subsidised living costs and I was grateful for the opportunity to do something interesting. I should have added 'cheap' but it has peculiar connotations.

Anyway, I got a job working for a large teaching group, a franchise group, which we won't name. I looked forward to the training. It lasted 8 hours. Teacher training, with this particular group, involved sitting with a group of 5 other unqualified teachers and being shown how to teach 'What is this? Is it a pen? No, it isn't, it's a book' to a make-believe group of beginner students. That's as deep as it got.

Two half-days of training later, I found myself standing in front of the receptionist's desk (who doubled as lesson coordinator) listening to my schedule for the following week. I was given one of the three teacher books and student books that I'd be using. Only one, because the others were missing. I was told to read it before the lesson.

My victims in that first week were two mid-level executives in a private bank, a marketing specialist and his administrative manager in a pharmaceutical company, plus a secretary, if I'm not wrong. All one-to-one lessons, no groups. Although my extensive training course had prepared me for teaching elementary students to differentiate between a pen and a book, none of my students were below A2. One was probably borderline C1, though the books I was using weren't classified in that way. 'He's book 4A' was what I was told.

Luckily, I'm not the kind to vomit in fear or run out of my lessons in tears, but I probably didn't teach too much English in those first few months. That's a pity because I met some lovely people and hate to think I may have let them down. Anyway, I slowly taught myself how to teach in spite of my employers, without paying for a CELTA.

pen on paper

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An ESL Teacher's Diary

Although David is not my real name and the photo I'm using in my diary isn't of me, I exist. I've been teaching in Italy now since early 2007 but now I only work privately. I spend a lot of time helping other teachers settle into the area and helping them find work. If you're interested in contacting me, send an email marked 'FAO David's Diary' via the website's contact page.

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