When we graduate from high school it is fair enough to say that most of us are happy that it is over and ready to move on with our lives. We don’t really think that we will ever have to go back to high school… unless you become a teacher. I’ve been teaching English here in Italy for five years and this has given me the opportunity to work in a private elementary school with children, various language schools with adults of all ages and I’ve had numerous private students aged three to sixty. I’d felt that I had mastered the art of teaching another language to all ages and levels, that was until I was faced with my biggest challenge yet: substitute teaching at a public high school. The first day I arrived I came face to face with what looked more like an abandoned building than a school. I waited at the front entrance for the secretary to buzz me in before I headed down the bleak hallway to meet with the head teacher of the English department. She gave me the attendance sheets for my four new classes, showed me to my classroom and wished me luck. Boy did I need it! I definitely wasn’t prepared for the wild pack of 25 students armed with paper airplanes and I-phones ready to push me to my limits and put my teaching skills to the ultimate test. As much as I wanted to run out of the classroom back to my “well-behaved” students who are actually interested in learning English, I stood my ground and survived my first week of high school. Italian high school is quite different from American high school. There are many different types of high schools. To name a few:
“Classic” Liceo Classico- studying Latin, Greek, Italian, philosophy, history
“Linguistic” Liceo Linguistico- specializing in foreign languages
“Human Sciences” Liceo Scienze Umano- studying anthropology, sociology, law, politics
“Scientific” Liceo Scientifico- focusing more on math and science
“Artistic” Liceo Artistico- classes such as art history as well as practical art classes
Students choose which type of high school they want to attend for five years. The class you are put into has every year mapped out with exactly what classes you have to take every year. There are no options/elective courses. The students stay in the same classroom and have the same classmates for the whole five years. The teachers are the ones that move from one classroom to the next to teach the various classes. Going back to Italian high school has made me realize that we don’t have it so bad at American high school. We have the opportunity to choose our courses within a general framework, pick elective courses and take part in extra curricular activities such as student government, music and sports. Some Italians even have to go to school on Saturday! Now I’m not saying that the American school system is better, but having taught in an Italian high school has made me appreciate the flexibility and choice I had to create my academic path when I was a high school student. I am now in the third week of my five-week teaching assignment and fortunately I have finally gained the respect of many of my students. I understand that not all of them are interested in learning English, but it is something that they have to do because it is a requirement for their school. Now I know that we thought high school was tough when we were students, but I think it’s a lot tougher being the teacher. Even though I am starting to get the hang of things, I know that once these classes are over it will be like graduating all over again and I will be finished with high school forever!