In your teaching experience and average life in Lombardy, these reflexions will be very, very important. In general, to understand and face an unclear behavior or situation, you will have to learn to ask yourself what is BELOW the surface of that behavior and situation. To achieve this comprehension, it is essential to ask questions to the people on the inside: your tutor, teachers, your (evenutal) host family, and the other people who are near you in this experience.
To help you in your journey, we have prepared this memo. This memo contains useful information and crucial questions to ask those who surround you. Prepared by a team of SITE coordinators and ex-interns, the Memo is a collection of tips, personal experiences and general information on what to expect when you begin teaching in Lombardy. Bring the memo with you and re-read it occasionally- it will be useful!
IL SOGGIORNO: VITA IN FAMIGLIA O APPARTAMENTO?
La vita in famiglia
Host families can be a wonderful, wonderful arrangement when living abroad. Ideally, they can provide a support system; through constant interaction, you will get to know your host families well, and perhaps even become very close with them. Aside from providing a support system in a foreign location (as well as physical place of residence) the host family arrangement theoretically can be excellent for practicing your foreign language skills, on a consistent daily basis.
Ideally, a host-family accommodation is the perfect way to adapt to living abroad. The key word here is “ideally.” There are many aspects to seriously consider when looking at being a prospective host guest during the Lombardia Internship- and some students may not find themselves happy in a host family situation. Are you a good candidate for a host family? The first thing to remember about host families, is that, they are, families. Obvious, but this factor is sometimes overlooked when students reside with foreign families. These are people who are interrupting their daily lives to allow a stranger to take residence temporarily under their roof. Depending on who your host family is, they may not only feed you, and put a roof over your head, but some may take you in as a member of their family. Or, on a very different spectrum, your host family may be expecting you to be a highly independent resident, who baby sits regularly, and interrupts their family dynamic, minimally.
How will you know what to expect? You can’t, although it is helpful to ask certain questions to gather more information about your potential hosting situation. Has your family had host students before? Sure, some may be used to host students; perhaps they have hosted students for years. Perhaps they already have very specific rules and regulations for what they expect from you. Or perhaps the family has never hosted anyone before, and has absolutely no idea of what to expect from the situation.
First, ask what the family expects of you. The questions written in Italian below (domande da chiedere alla famiglia ospitante) are an excellent jumping off point- and all should be clarified before you arrive in Italy or as soon as you get to know a family that is willing to host you in Italy.
Domande da chiedere alla famiglia ospitante (host family)
- volete che io faccia da baby sitter ai vostri figli? Che faccia i compiti con loro? O che faccia conversazione di inglese e li assista nello studio dell'inglese?
- Eventualmente, preferite un tempo preciso giornaliero o alcune ore distribuite durante la settimana?
- Quante sere, eventualmente, dovrò garantire per il baby sitting?
- Avrò il fine settimana libero o dovrò stare a casa il venerdì o il sabato per permettervi di uscire?
- Devo essere autonomo/a nella preparazione del cibo, la lavatrice, ed altre necessità? Devo comprare il cibo da solo/a o il cibo sarà offerto dalla famiglia?
- Chiedete qualche rimborso per le spese di cibo e altro?
However, keep in mind, that even if you have concrete “terms” for your stay, the proposed dynamic of your time with your host family may very well change- and, if you agree to stay with a host family, you both need to be flexible to change, and willing to communicate, in case there are issues that need to be addressed. And, while we have listed some useful questions that you should ask your host family, there are some important questions that you might want to ask yourself about the reality of host family life, and how you might react to any number of the situations (or similar scenarios) these questions pose:
-How willing are you to adapt your own personal lifestyle to that of a family?
-How willing are you to follow a curfew if your host family implements one? How about other house rules?
- If your host family does indeed feed you, should you help with household tasks such as washing the dishes or setting the table?
-If your host family expects you to perform a task/ participate in a routine that was not priorily agreed upon, how would you react?
-Will your social life negatively affect your relationship with a host family? Will you spend nights not at your host home? Would you be willing to bring “guests” back to your host home?
-What will your sleeping arrangements be? Will you have to share a room, which could involve sharing your personal space?)If you are a messy person and your host family is very orderly, will this be problematic for you?
-Will you be able to observe your family’s behavior and act accordingly? Do they seem to expect you to “hang out” with them? What time do they eat? How much time do people generally spend in the shower? Should you call if you are not going to be present at a meal?
-What if you are in charge of your own food arrangements? How and when will you feed yourself in a manner that does not interfere with the going’s on of the household?
These are just a few questions/ scenarios that need to be considered during your time as a potential host guest.
Bottom line, living with a host family is a situation that will require flexibility, regardless of what the family expects from you. As a recent college graduate, you may not be used to living in a mixed age environment: and a host family is not a college dorm. While no one can tell you what to expect from living with a host family, or a magic formula for making your host stay successful, keep in mind that you are staying with a family, and that as strange as that might be for you sometimes, the family, no matter how many times they have (or haven’t) hosted someone before, might find your presence in their house strange for them as well.
Respect, open-mindedness, and good communication skills are the best way to make a host-stay function as smoothly as possible.
If you chose to live in an apartment, these are some things that you need to consider:
-is the price of the apartment “all inclusive,” or does it exclude utilities, such as gas, electric, etc... usually internet access is not included, but purchasing a “chiavetta” (internet USB port) from an Italian mobile phone provider is a cheap alternative
-how did you find the apartment? if you use an agency, there is usually a “finder’s fee” equivalent to about one month’s rent, plus a security deposit
-is the apartment completely furnished? also, do you need to purchase items such as plates, silverware, etc?
-how far away from school is the apartment? will you need a bike or bus ride to get there?
-do you need a roommate to help reduce the costs of living?
You may want to ask these questions directly to your landlord or the agent, so we are providing them in Italian as well:
- il prezzo dell’appartamento è “tutto compreso” oppure ci sono anche le bollette del gas/elelettricità/riscaldamento da pagare?
- bisogna anche pagare le spese di ricerca appartamento ad un’agenzia immobiliare (quella che ha trovato l’appartamento per voi?)
- l’appartamento è completamente arredato (anche con pentole piatti ecc)?
- come è collegato alla scuola (si può andare a scuola a piedi/bicicletta/bus?)
-avete bisogno di un/a coinquilino/a? Come troverete lui o lei?
What follows is a collection from the former assistants’s suggestions, that we have streamlined and organized by category.
L’organizzazione della scuola
Remember that Italian High school is NOT an American college: the organization is very different, and often is not what you are used to! You need to be very flexible, adapt easily, and be independent as well. Remeber that there are different types of schools: the Liceo classico, the liceo scientifico, the Istituto tecnico and the Istituto professionale (here students are usually less interested in study but they may be more more dynamic, at times).
The physical appearance of the school and the classrooms
No Italian State school is created equal. There are some old, and some new. Some with electronic facilities in almost every room (perhaps similar to most in the States), and some without. I worked at a school that physically looks like it’s about ready to crumble. The classrooms where I taught had one (or sometimes two) blackboards, complete with sponge erasers. Sometimes there wasn’t an exposed plug in the room, and the walls were almost always covered with graffiti. Sometimes I could print things because the printer in the Teacher’s ‘Aula’ didn’t have paper; or copy things, because the copier didn’t have paper. And, as another intern mentioned, this is where being friends with the custodians, or bidelli (all how many? 30+ of them), and the secretaries came in handy. However, I had to learn to take it easy, and to sometimes have a back-up plan if I couldn’t make a copy of something immediately.
Of course you should explore what your school has available when you arrive (for example, maybe they subscribe to the English language magazine, Speak Up!), but bring all the materials you can think of that might help you teach with you! You won’t realize until you’re out of the States, but it can be incredibly difficult or time-consuming finding appropriate English/American resources. As suggested, bring photos (even the most banal ones--you and your family, your town, your college or a typical high school, etc), and make sure your computer (if you bring one) is stocked with music (songs that may be good for teaching, like the Beatles, or for a cultural experience, like country and gospel music!). Take a trip to your local Salvation Army or Goodwill and browse through the books and movies they have; perhaps you could take a few with you (like Remember the Titans--it covers segregation and football and it’s interesting even if you don’t understand every word!). Save a few interesting or ‘current events’ newspaper or magazine articles. Take a trip through the games section of a store...
These are the heart and soul of the school. They help you get paid, find and communicate with teachers, locate missing classes, and do everything else that you can’t do by yourself. Get to know them! They’ll make your life far easier.
A past assistant: “I could fill up a book with all of the things I’ve learned these past two years about teaching, what works (for me), what doesn’t, how to handle students in certain situations, etc. Not only would it be a phenomenally boring book, but it would also take a lot of the fun out of your own experience. All I’ll say here is that my classes worked best when I remembered that I wasn’t here to be another teacher. I was here to be the young, foreign, recently-graduated-from-college English language assistant. Because of the nature of my position, I was able to have a lot more fun with the students than a normal teacher might be able to afford. And the more fun I was having, the more engaged the students were, and the better the lesson went. Inevitably, some of the classes tried to take advantage of my youth, my limited Italian abilities, and my lack of authority, and when this happened, I felt like I had to be strict in order to accomplish what I wanted with the lesson. Usually, however, this strictness turned out to be counterproductive”
That said, we believe that a few inputs are possible and helpful. Here are a few tricks of the trade:
- Come up with your own lessons. Often, teachers will provide a lesson topic (ex. food in the USA) but you should be the one to organize the lesson.
- Find the material that you will need for your lesson
- Occasionally, some teachers will not give precise indications on what they want you to teach, so it will be you who has to come up with lessons and activities. Always keep a diary/journal to track what classes you have met and what activities you have done with them.
- Remember: you are here to stimulate oral English ability, not only in linguistic terms, but also to get to know American culture (habits, music, sports, schooling, college life, history, and geography)!
- Let your lessons reflect your youth: Prepare lessons that will be fun, using lots of visual material (photos, postcards, etc.) Use powerpoints to further your lessons- this way you have your lesson ready and you can reuse it for other classes.
- Other then presentations, prepare other activities for your lesson plans such as oral activities (role-plays, questions. answers) for students to do in couples or small groups. For many of these activities, you can make papers for role-play/ couple activities, and if you ask students not to write on them, they can be re-used with other classes.
- Always keep with you a short “backup activity” in case you finish a lesson early.
- As soon as you arrive at a school, it is very useful to do some “class observation” to better understand the level of english comprehension of the class, and to see how the students behave.
La classe: heads up
The class experience is very different from that you could have in a North American school. Students may be quite active and in certain situations it may be difficult to impose one’s authority. This is some useful advice:
Respect! Respect is the most important factor. Showing respect doesn’t mean you should let students ‘walk all over you;’ it just means you shouldn’t try to be the commander of law and order every time you enter the classroom. Students are much less likely to do what you’d like them to do if you demand their attention every moment. It’s natural that kids of their age exchange comments every now and then. And remember what age they are--if they have an attitude, it probably has nothing to do with you, so chill! Choose your battles when it comes to discipline.
Interest. Remember this: if you’re not interested in the students, how can you expect them to be interested in you? If you’re not interested in the lesson, how can you expect them to be interested in it?
Move around in the classroom. Don’t just sit there at the front if students are working on something. Students often don’t raise their hands (at least at the technical school), so go around and see what’s happening. A lot of times they have questions they wouldn’t otherwise bother asking (they’re not like Americans who often want everyone to hear the genius of their question ;). On the same token, when teaching, don’t wait for volunteers. Call on students--make it a goal for every student to speak once during the class.
Make students move around. Remember, you’re the young cool American. Don’t be afraid to do silly activities to engage students; to wake them up a bit (like the Hokey-Pokey!...or perhaps some line dancing!).
Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself. You will make mistakes. The students will laugh at you. Laugh along!
Other past assistants had further teaching advice/ personal experiences to share:
Using Italian – To use or not to use? This is the question.
A former assistant shares: I have had enough experience with younger students to know that, if you are doing CLIL,# don’t be afraid to speak Italian every now and then. It will reassure the students that you are really there to help them understand English. When I teach, I will say something in English, and maybe quickly repeat it in Italian so they stay with me, as my lessons can get a little fast paced; I will say something like “Water is a renewable resource...è una risorsa rinnovabile...avete sentito? Renewable.” And I will have them repeat the new word so they can get a chance to say it themselves.
We are told not to speak Italian while we teach, in fact, I was told to hide my Italian skills entirely when I first arrived at my school. With the older kids, this may not be problematic, since their English is already at a higher level, but with the younger kids, it might just prove to be counterproductive to the CLIL project. If you are teaching English, and only English, yes, I fully agree, you shouldn’t stray away from it. But when you have a deadline (that is, when you have 4 weeks to teach 4 lessons of The Digestion System for example, not speaking Italian at all can really slow you down and hinder their learning).”
Try to make your explanations as clear as possible! If your supervising teacher (which in most case should be in the room with you) knows English enough to understand what is being said, and notices that his/her classroom is not understanding you, they will have a tendency to re-explain everything in Italian, which is again counterproductive. Talk with the teacher after or before the class to decide a common line of action.
Ask frequently “Do you understand? Avete capito?” A former assistant shares how he made sure his students were keeping up: is The majority of the time, they will say “yes” and sometimes they will even say this just so you can keep going (even if they really didn’t understand a thing!) My trick is to say “Ok then, you explain to me what I just said!” (try this more with students who don’t participate much). Some of my students successfully repeat almost word for word what I said, others in broken English, which is great for younger students because their English will not be perfect at that level anyway, so to have them relay back to you in a logical manner is exactly what you want!! In the case that they re-explain in Italian (even successfully) is great, because it means that you have conveyed to them your point. But in this case, I would take the time to give them the words necessary in order to formulate that same sentence in English.
When speaking English, most North Americans have a tendency to speak in a way that muffles out some letters. For example, when we say worlds like "water" or "butter", the words usually come out "wadder" or "budder". We are not conscious of it, but our students (most of them) don't understand that you just said "water" or "butter". They will have most likely have heard this in the British English, where the "t" is actually pronounced correctly. Just be aware of this as you want to be as clear as possible. You don't want your pronunciation to be an obstacle.
The most valuable advice from past assistants?
“HAVE FUN WITH IT!!”
This program exists just as much for you as it does for the students you teach. Which means that you should have fun with it. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy your time at school, but even if you don’t, make sure to enjoy your time in Italy, as it will fly by.