Teaching with Mrs. Doubtfire

When I first came to Italy and even before, all I wanted to do was do. I wanted to go go go and rest when I’m dead. So you can imagine how disappointed I was initially when I was placed  in middle of no where known as Montelupone.  Why wasn’t I placed in Civitanova, the small but thriving central city in Marche nicely located on the coast with easy access to a vital connecting train station?  Although my American friends/ fellow Teaching Assistants and I often met in Civitanova for apertivo (happy hour drinks and appetizers) or a stroll along the beach, depending on my host parents to make the 30 minute drive to and from, had me feeling too much like a helpless teenager again.

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But as time passed and I moved to Potenza Picena, faced another period of cultural adjustment, I  realized that I was actually lucky to not only have new kinds of challenges that differed from the mundane ones I faced back home, but also to have the time to reflect on it. For the first time in a long time,  I could actually stop and simmer on how I felt about each moment, let that feeling resonate and allow myself to either accept it or diffuse it, and then let it dissolve into positive renewable energy, like pollen breaking from a flower… rather than reject it, contain it, restrain it, or let it fester until it evaporates from existence.

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These moments of reflection usually came after a long day of teaching.  You learn a lot about yourself as a teacher. Your sensitivities, your aptitude, your presence, your control over a room, and your nurturing nature (or lack there of).  I learned that it’s not hard to capture the student’s attention, but it’s close to impossible to keep it. My go to game is Simon Says. The kids LOVE IT, demand it.  It’s through this game that I learned I’m more theatric than I imagined I could be. I acted out my lessons more than I verbally explained them. You’d think this had everything to do with the language barrier, but in all honestly I think it had more to do with what the kids responded to.

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Up until now, I haven’t addressed what it’s like to work at an Italian school, because truth be told, it’s the part of Italy I  least enjoyed and what’s the point of focusing on the negative? But I will simply state there was a clear lack of organization on the school’s part that tainted the experience. Once that could have been easily solved with just a few conversations internally. And although I tried to get everyone on the same page, it was damn near impossible when you’re transitioning through 4 schools, coordinating with at least 20 teachers, and seeing well over 400 students. I felt spread  thinner than cheese on crackers. I wish I could say that the kids were a redeeming factor, and although they had their precious moments, their bad attitudes and lack of respect made me a little jaded to their charm.  And boy, do they do know how to turn on the charm. All it takes is for someone to draw a cute but unflattering portrait of you (hey…it’s the thought the counts) or write you an adoring poem in english for you to almost forget about how much yelling you just did in class… key word here being almost ; )

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But I’m happy to say that a redeeming quality of this teaching experience does exist and it comes in the form of Rosaria. Rosaria was my coordinator. She’s one of the first people I connected with before coming to Italy and she’s certainly the first to make me feel welcomed and taken care of. She is an English teacher at both the middle school in Montelupone and Potenza Picena and, unlike most English teachers in the Marche region, she actually speaks fluent english and with a subtle hint of an British accent. Oh, did I mention that I taught British english not American english? And if you think there are no differences grammatically, you’re wrong.  Anyway, those first few weeks accompanying Rosaria to her classes in Montelupone were invaluable to my experience because she eased and guided me into it. It was only after, in Potenza Picena when I was on my own, that the experience took a turn for the worse. But Rosaria invited me to her home. I met her husband, kids, she introduced me to other visiting English teachers outside of my American circle, one of which was a cute Englishman that I got really “close” to, more to come on that in later posts (wink wink), and put together a great going away dinner for me at the end of my stay in Potenza. I’m eternally grateful to Rosaria’s support and delightful presence.

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Italian English Language teachers from the Potenza Picena middle school and I at my farewell dinner. Rosaria bottom right.

There’s one teacher that I have to mention whose name is also Alessandra.  Alessandra was a good teacher and like Rosaria, fluent and classically trained in British english. But her british accent, caked with an Italian accent of course, was borderline comical. She acted and sounded like Mrs. Doubtfire … yes the classic  movie where Robyn Williams dresses up like an old English woman to be nanny to his kids. Her sentences were slow and annunciated, she said quirky chipper things with an air of an 80 years old woman slowly loosing her mind although she couldn’t be more than 40. She was both pleasant and loopy. Sometimes she’d space out and then snap back to attention with an euphoric “ohhh, yes yes, how lovely!” Needless to say she was not all there, but nothing but nice and patient with me.

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Alessandra on the left

Besides my small moments of self-discovery in the classroom, my #1 takeaway from this experience is that problems are everywhere. Teachers have a reason to bitch about their bosses and kids come from dysfunctional families everywhere in the world. And it really does break my heart when they talk about how their single mother is never around, or how their parents are fighting over custody, or struggling to pay the bills. Lord knows I’ve been there, and it’s ironically comforting to discover that distance doesn’t change adversity, and if at the very least, we can bask in that affinity like we’re basking in the sun.

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