An ESL teacher in Italy

David's diary

How much are teachers worth?

I'm not suggesting that teachers can be bought on the second-hand market, just asking how much a decent English teacher should be paid.

If you look on the free advertising websites in Italy, you'd suppose that the average teacher charges between €10 and €15 an hour, and a typical 'skype teacher' asks for €5 to €10 an hour per student. Those English teachers using this tactic to advertise lessons in 'Business English' plainly need lessons in irony.

Even a cheap drunk-addled prostitute tries her luck before dropping to her knees. I don't have experience of such transactions but, from what I've heard, working girls will barter; starting with a respectably high price and slowly backing down as appearances and circumstances are used against them. More than a few English teachers, on the other hand, start low and never rise from their knees.

How much are teachers worth?

A lot of these teachers would be better off working for the local language schools. The majority here pay between €13 and €28 an hour, with the average being about €20. What's more, they'll employ pretty much anybody. Few language schools genuinely require qualifications, and experience is simply a bonus. As shabby as many schools are, they at least pay more than some private teachers demand for private lessons. All that said, you'd be right to suppose that there's more to it than meets the eye. It's called 'the Italian way'.

Currently, individuals and companies are able to save themselves money by going to the schools involved in the educational subsidies scam with the local government. Apparently, (I've kept my toes out of the water) schools pay a fat bribe to a civil servant to get added to the list of schools which can participate. Once on the list, they get paid money for every student they enrol. I'm reliably informed that several schools enrol fake students - people who arrive for one lesson and then are never seen again....yet the classroom registers are full of their signatures.

I've never been able to find out how much these subsidies are, but they're enough for some schools to offer totally free lessons. Others, like one I worked for, target richer companies, offer 'discounted' lessons and pocket the money from both sides. Good business if you can get it. What's more, most of the teachers work for €15 to €20 an hour.

I've only come into direct contact with the subsidy scams once. The Milan authority was paying €80 euros an hour to a 'training agency' which was required to provide business clients with English lessons. The training agency had no intention of providing the services they were paid to provide, preferring to pay someone else. In this case they had found a self-employed teacher to provide the lessons. This teacher wasn't able to do all the work himself, so he hunted around Milan for other teachers to help out. The invoicing procedure was absurdly convoluted, presumably to hide what was going on. What it boils down to is that the Milano government paid a friendly 'training agency' €80 an hour for lessons that were actually provided by teachers, two steps removed, for €20 or so euros an hour. The other €65 vanished into the pockets of people further up the food chain. Anybody fancy a bet that the mafia isn't in any way involved with English lessons in Milan?

All in all, the net result of these little scams is that schools and 'training bodies' are dropping advertisements for free English courses more or less anywhere they can. According to friends who still work for schools in Milan, most of these courses have lower academic value that the etchings you'll find on a toilet door. These scams take money from the mouths of the teachers living in the city and takes money from every local taxpayer. Welcome to Milan.

What can you do with a smelly student?

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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