One of the cool things about a blog is that it’s sort of a “living” document; a dynamic relationship between a writer and his/her readers. This interaction obviously influences, if not dictates, the evolution of the content. Consequently, the topics that I now discuss are not the same as the ones that I wrote about a year ago. For example, back then I was enthusiastically documenting my battle against the evil forces of Italian bureaucracy. I don’t talk about that much anymore because, alas, they have won. I’m not too proud to admit defeat. Indeed, my former quixotic passion now looks laughable, almost quaint, with the benefit of hindsight.
Another topic that I’ve sort of put aside concerns my job of teaching English in Rome. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy discussing it from time to time. But based on reader comments and feedback, the larger cultural topics seem to engage (or enrage) more people. So that’s where my blog is at right now. But the truth is, teaching English in Rome is a lot of fun and still one of the few jobs (maybe the only one these days) that is relatively easy for a non-Italian to find.
Along the way, I published my strategies in a little eBook which, to my great surprise, has actually abetted a good number of people in the same folly. Successfully, in fact! (Depending on how you define success, of course.) So, being the magnanimous soul that I am, I’ve decided to post an excerpt from that book here in honor of my one year anniversary as a blogger. That, and the fact that I had no other material ready for my self-imposed deadline. OK, here it is…
Teaching English in Rome
Rome presents a unique opportunity because it is a large international city in a country that has a history of poor English instruction in the school system compared to the rest of Europe. In general, their citizens are highly educated—just not in languages. So when they graduate from university, they find themselves with an excellent education in their chosen field, but without the one absolutely necessary skill to compete in the international job market. English. Consequently the proliferation of English schools in the last decade or so has opened up a huge market for native speakers.
One of the first questions is usually, “Do you really need to get certified?” My answer would be no, you don’t need to, but it sure helps give you a head start on the learning curve. The classic T.E.F.L. certification course is an intensive four-week, on-site program which combines classroom instruction with how-to-teach practical exercises. A good school will incorporate live teaching with real students as part of this training. Your instruction will include a review of English grammar, language acquisition theory, phonetics, lesson planning, and classroom techniques for different types of situations (adult vs. children; large class vs. small groups).
There’s also a “shortcut” to T.E.F.L certification that’s not a bad alternative for some. It is an online, self-paced course that still results in a genuine certificate after successful completion. I know, it sounds a bit shady, but really it’s not. It’s a perfectly legitimate option, especially for those who already feel comfortable teaching, or at least speaking in front of others. You’ll still cover all of the topics that are discussed in the live course, but online and at your own speed. Obviously, you’ll miss the opportunity to practice what you’re learning in front of an actual classroom, but you’ll still learn the most essential material for teaching English.
It’s worth mentioning that for most new English teachers, the grammar review is much more difficult than you’d anticipate. As native speakers, we know our language intuitively and never really give notice to sentence structure or verb tenses. And even if we do understand the basics of grammar, few of us can actually explain them to another person—especially when that person doesn’t speak our language very well (or at all) in the first place. Therefore, in my opinion, the grammar review is often the most valuable part of the T.E.F.L. certification process. It makes you much more confident when clarifying a subtle point to a student.
You’ll notice that the average online course only costs about $200-300, whereas the full on-site course costs upwards of $1,400. That’s a huge savings, obviously, and I’m not sure that you get an additional $1,200 of value for the extra money. However, going through the classroom experience is fun. You make friends, learn from experienced teachers, and get a real “feel” for what it’s like to teach English in Italy. An added benefit is that you also start to make some contacts for job hunting (although finding a job is the least of the challenges).
I’ve come across another option which strikes me as a great compromise. Check out the website Teaching English in Italy and you can find out the whole scoop on this intensive weekend certification course in Florence. It’s 20 hours of classroom time and you’ll learn onsite from qualified instructors. They do it six times a year and the price is extremely reasonable at only 195 euros. The next available dates are November 29th – December 1st. Make a week out of it and spend some time in Florence, too!
Making a European Standard C.V.
Regardless of your level of training or experience as a teacher, it is a good idea to make a European C.V. for yourself. Include all of your job history, even if it doesn’t relate to teaching. And Italian employers are big on titles and degrees, so put down anything that sounds impressive, even if it really isn’t. If you have a university degree—and I’m talking about a four-year bachelor’s degree—you can call yourself Dottore or Dottoressa in Italy. Do not hesitate to do so, because it will send the message that you are a serious person. In any case, it’s unlikely that they’ll give your C.V. more than a cursory glance; the person who reads it may not even speak fluent English his/herself and they’ll mostly just use it for your contact information. Still, embellish it as best as you can (without actually fibbing, of course) in order to “fare una bella figura,” to make a good impression.
There are some differences between the European C.V. and the standard American résumé. First of all, it should contain a photo. Second, include your age and marital status and other personal information. They can, and will, ask you these even though it would be considered politically incorrect in the States. Don’t fight it; just put it on your C.V. from the get-go. That said, the style or format of you C.V. isn’t that big of a deal and it will NOT make a difference in whether you get the job. Mostly it will be based on 1) if they like you; 2) if they happen to need teachers at the moment.
So here’s the link to the European C.V. template. Just do it in English and don’t bother having it translated into Italian. You’re applying for a position as an English teacher, after all.
Types of Teaching Jobs Available
Private Language Schools
This category, with all its sub-variations, offers the most opportunities and so we’ll focus the bulk of our discussion on this option. There are literally dozens of private schools around the city, each constantly scrambling to fill up their classrooms, and then scrambling to find teachers to do the job. Needless to say, some companies are better to work for than others. In a country where “relaxed” business practices are often the norm, language schools have a particularly bad reputation for being difficult to work for. The most common complaint is getting them to pay you on time and/or for the full amount that they owe you. I’ve been lucky; I’ve only heard about this sort of thing second hand. But believe me, it exists. With the large number of schools out there, there are still plenty of really good schools to work for and you do NOT have to accept disrespectful treatment from anyone.
When working for a private school, they may either have you teach in the actual classroom on site, or they may send you out to work at the business place of a client. Often, you’ll be asked to do a combination of the two.
Teaching in the actual classrooms is nice because you can go there and settle in for the day and your students will come to you. Also, you’ll have the benefits of having the staff on hand to assist you when needed, as well as supplemental teaching materials and equipment at your disposal such as a copy machine. The classes themselves will likely vary in both size and level. They can have up to 15 students or they can be one on one. In any case, you’ll be paid an hourly wage for the number of hours that you teach…NOT for the number of hours that you’re at the school. In other words, if you’re there from 9-5, but only teach four, one-hour classes, you’ll be paid for four hours, not eight. This is an industry-wide standard, so you’ll just have to accept it. The good schools, however, will do their very best to compress your schedule as much as possible so that you don’t have a lot of dead time. Still, you’ll be “at work” for some hours that you won’t get compensated for.
It should also be mentioned that it is unlikely that you’ll actually work 9-5 in this scenario. More likely you’ll work 8-2 or 4-9 or something like that. In fact, you’re schedule will probably vary depending on the day of the week. Some schools also have Saturday hours, which new teachers will be asked (maybe required) to teach.
A growing trend, however, is for the schools to “outsource” you directly to corporate clients. These can be government agencies, private banks, international corporations, or any other company that does business within the European community or abroad. A nice thing about this for the teacher is that it generally is a consistent 9-5 schedule. Also, the students are very educated and motivated. The downside is that this may require some amount of travel time, since the lessons will not be at the school. As a compensation for this, most reputable schools will give you a travel allowance in addition to your hourly wage.
As I said, working for a private language school offers the most opportunities as well as the ability to get started immediately (if they hire you, you’ll likely be asked to start right away). But it’s not for everyone.
Giving Private Lessons
This might be a good route for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to work a little harder. If done efficiently, this is the most lucrative way to go. But you’ll have to do everything yourself: find your own students, plan all the lessons, collect the money, schedule and confirm appointments, deal with tardiness/absences, etc. If it sounds like a headache, well, it is. Also know that most individual private lessons will be after work (6 p.m. to 10 p.m.), Monday through Thursday, or on Saturday mornings. Make sure that you’re O.K. with that schedule before you choose this option.
“What’s the upside?” you may ask. The two major advantages are freedom and money—freedom because you can pick and choose your students to your liking and money because you can charge twice as much as you’d make at a school. But this is a bit deceiving because by working for yourself, you’ll be putting in a good bit of time outside of the lessons, and so when you calculate your hourly wage, it doesn’t really seem like you’re making that much more money on a per hour basis.
How to Look for a Job
So what’s the best way to search for a job? In the U.S., we’re very much acclimated to the electronic job search these days. Emails with attachments are the standard. You can also use this approach in Italy, although don’t expect the same degree of interaction. Here’s a few websites to get started:
There are general job sites (http://www.careerbuilder.com, http://www.jobinrome.com/, http://rome.it.craigslist.it/), TEFL-specific sites (http://www.eslcafe.com/joblist/), and sites specific to Rome. Many of the sites that I recommend for apartment hunting can also be used for job hunting. I’ve noticed that http://www.wantedinrome.com/ is particularly good for English teaching jobs. Also check expat notice boards such as Expats Living in Rome on Facebook. The general TEFL-specific sites are O.K., but you’ll have to wade through the hundreds of jobs being offered in East Asia in order to find the handful that are offered in Rome.
A few more:
However, a better method—and the one that I use—is simply sending out an individual email to each school that you are interested in working for. Don’t worry too much if they’re hiring or not hiring—trust me, they’re all hiring at various times throughout the year. Send out 8-10 queries initially and then wait a few days to see who responds, at which point you’ll be asked to present yourself in person for an interview. The first time that I did this I got two job offers right away and another one a few weeks later. The other seven didn’t even bother to reply.
A much better approach, if you want to be more proactive, is to print out some C.V.s and deliver them by hand to a few selected schools. This will give you a chance to “sell yourself,” and also prove to them that you’re currently living in Rome and ready to work.
Now go out there and find a job! In bocca al lupo!