Do you know your past perfect from your present continuous? Can you pick out a zero conditional from a catalogue of first, second and third conditionals? If yes, then the chances are youre among the hundreds, if not thousands, of English speakers who spend their days in Rome teaching English as a foreign language. With a degree from a British or American university or a teaching qualification such as TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language), teaching English is probably the easiest way for mother-tongue speakers to find work in Rome.
Although provisions for teaching foreign languages have improved considerably in Italian schools over the last 20 years, many Italian professionals struggle to get by in a language that they realise has become essential for doing business in an increasingly globalised market. In the liceo (secondary school) system, Italian students are fed a poorly balanced diet of pre-packaged grammar and meagre extracts from Shakespeare, and often find themselves lacking either the confidence or the practice to translate the raw materials of the classroom into the more valuable stuff of conversation and listening skills. Consequently, there is a huge demand for English teachers.
If youre thinking of teaching English in Rome, you need to be aware of the wide variety of schools and methods employed around the city. Some schools use traditional means, working from textbooks that teach grammar systematically and encouraging discussion from a variety of articles and visual stimuli. Others have adopted or adapted techniques designed by educators such as Shenker or Callan; they promise swift results through a barrage of language drills, such as Is the table longer than the book? Is the table longer than the book? To which compliant students respond, Yes, the table is longer than the book. Other schools again train prospective teachers in their own distinctive and often innovative pedagogic styles, from the keyed-up (using computers and DVDs in lessons) to the off-key (teaching songs and nursery rhymes).
Some schools require teaching qualifications, while others are happy to offer teaching positions to mother-tongue speakers with a degree. There is also a discrepancy between schools that demand European Union (EU) working papers and those that are willing to employ non-EU nationals; there are many American citizens who are, theoretically, illegally employed at language schools in Rome though many Italian students specifically request to be taught by teachers with an English accent.
Whichever method appeals to or appals you, a few caveats ought to be taken into account before you leap onto the EFL bandwagon. Days can be long and tiring; as a lot of teaching takes place in-house at companies, a large proportion of any working day can be spent commuting between lessons and few schools offer any financial recompense for travel time, although many remunerate their teachers for monthly season tickets. Horror stories abound in the teaching community about unpaid wages. Two teachers who recently left a well-established school in Rome claim to be owed about 200 each, while another teacher recounts how 700 evaporated when she changed jobs several years ago.
Having said this, there are distinct advantages of being associated with a well-known school. Teaching can be a lonely business, and its obviously rewarding to work in an environment where administrators and secretarial staff are warm and friendly to loyal teachers. Whether in groups or as individuals, Italian students are almost always a pleasure to teach; they are genuinely appreciative, frequently funny and above all willing to learn. Any teachers portfolio of students is likely to include a colourful cross-section of characters, from bankers to bambini and from models to missionaries.
Holding a post at a recognised language school, its much easier to dabble in the other option open to English teachers working freelance as a private teacher. Not only does employment at a school increase professional credibility, but students are likely to approach you about the possibility of teaching their friends, relatives or children. Private students can also be found by posting advertisements in the various English-language bookshops in Rome and on the notice boards dotted around Romes university campuses. Many teachers rely on their private students to make ends meet, and hourly rates range from anything between 15 and 35, depending on travel time, experience, quality of teaching and, in some cases, audacity.
Without the structure of a syllabus or prescribed teaching method, private teachers need to take greater responsibility in terms of lesson preparation and tailoring lessons to the particular needs and abilities of their students. Teachers should, of course, be careful about inviting students into their apartments or agreeing to pay home-visits tellingly, adverts seeking an American or English girl for language exchanges pepper notice boards in Rome. Despite these challenges, teaching English as a foreign language in Rome offers teachers a great deal of variety and you never know, you might even learn something.