Tag Archives: teaching assistant

So I went to a disco…

8 May

A few weeks ago I went out on Saturday with high school aged friends to what I was told was a school-based sort of club night but not a school disco, although the fact that the Italian word for club is discoteca always makes me think that they will be full of people with afros and flares. As I was unsure on the etiquette for this night since I didn’t really know what it was all about, I prelashed a bit before assuming I could have something to drink there.

The location was something akin to a town hall that had been decked out with decks, flashy lights and some artsy sofas to make it seem more clubby. My best guess is that this is an event that happens once a month to please the people of Spoleto since there are no clubs here. When we got in, I was confused by the age range since there were people as young as 14 but also people my age and a few random 50 year olds.

The first thing I usually do when I get into a club is grab a drink, but apparently that wasn’t the done thing. I don’t even know if alcohol was on sale, but if it was, no one was buying it. In fact hardly anyone was buying anything from the bar, not even water despite the ridiculous temperatures inside, which just adds to my believe that Italians run solely on caffeine.

To paint a picture, I’d describe the general vibe as being like Bunker if no one was drinking but smoking was allowed inside, which is an unpleasant combination. One thing is for sure: young Italian people LOVE to dance. Never anywhere else have I seen a group of sober 14-18 year olds dance for 3 hours straight without a break to drink, chat, or just sit down for a bit.

What I particularly enjoyed is how even towards the end of the night at 3am when the dancefloor had cleared substantially and there were only guys left, they were still dancing. Many young men here favour an Inspector Norse style dance, complete with arm movements, which perked up my night a huge amount when I was struggling with being very sober in the middle of the night in a smoky room full of teenagers.

The standard dress code for girls was: slightly eurotrashy, synthetic materials, stuff you would never ever see people wearing even on the hottest summer day. For guys the uniform haircut of the moment is a short back and sides, quiff on top kinda deal, although there was one excellently dressed young gentleman who I recognise as a friend of a friend who wore a suit and bow tie complete with a moustache like Michael Cera’s alter ego in ‘Youth in Revolt’. I take my hat off to him for his ballsy choice in facial hair.

I got home at 3.30am, completely sober and wondering exactly what my €10 entry fee paid for. And so ended the tamest 20th of April that ever there was.

Even more dancing:

The last 2 weeks were completely taken over by rehearsals and shows, as I have mentioned, although now that’s all over I am taking a break from dance to write my essay (kill me now).

Here’s a few funny show-related tales:

Each of the 3 shows I was in were with other groups of dancers, so I got to witness a few different (and often weird) styles of dance. In the first show we were on after a contemporary group. Contemporary has never been my favourite style since I find it a bit too wishy-washy and ‘interpretive’ for my liking, which was exemplified in the one I saw where they swayed around stage to a soundtrack of a classical piano piece with a woman saying random German words and numbers over the top. I’m still not persuaded.

Another dance involved three women on skis wrapped in tight gold foil outfits with pointy gold hats shuffling around the stage. I don’t really know what else to say about that. To balance out the weirdness they were followed by two finely chiselled topless men doing acrobatic stuff. I don’t know why they had to be topless but I’m not complaining.

In the final show, which was performed with a dance school, I really got to understand why they always say never to work with children in theatre. Trying to explain to 5 year olds why it’s important not to talk in the wings is practically impossible, as well as trying to stop them pulling on various ropes/curtains/cables backstage.

The best bit was at the end of a dance where the girls must have only been about 4, when the lights faded they decided to stay on stage and chase each other round in the dark, then one girl sat down in the middle of the stage and started to take off her tutu. In the end a very angry ballet teacher stormed out and dragged them off stage, which was lucky since they were very close to have a lemming moment involving the orchestra pit.

Overall I had a great time though and it made me miss Bristol Uni’s Dance Soc show which I couldn’t be involved in this year, but I’ll be back!

100ish days of Spoleto

2 May

Due to being very busy for the past week or so, this post’s title is a more crap version of what I was originally intending to name it, but I can’t be bothered to try and think of a witty alternative. It’s more like 104 days now.

First up, a couple of days ago the blog reached the scary milestone of 5000 hits! Thankyou to all of you who include reading this in their procrastination time. It would probably be more helpful for your future to go back to revision/dissertations, so shoo.

Recently I seem to have spent most of my time rehearsing for a dance show next weekend, although another couple of shows have somehow popped up in the meantime, which apparently slipped past me when they were announced. This led to me rocking up to what I thought was a dress rehearsal at the theatre last Friday, only to find a strangely large number of people milling around eating aperitivi nibbles and a lot of other dancers in full costume. At least it meant that I didn’t really have time to get nervous! The performance was part of a maratona di danza show for ‘Spoleto a Colori’, the week-long mini festival thing that has been going on here. Here’s a picture of the group:

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As part of the festival, there was a Holi-style ‘ColorMob’ last Thursday evening, which was great fun albeit pretty messy, and I now own a pair of murky grey looking Converses.

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ColorMob

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This weekend I finally got to visit the Vatican museums. This involved one of the all-to-familiar early morning trains (the first of the day in fact) heading to Rome at 6am on Sunday. I met Jo at Roma Termini, since she’d been on a trip to Sicily (lucky bitch), and eventually got to the Vatican by 8.30am to find the biggest queue I have ever seen for anything, and that was just along 1 of the 3 walls of the city that the line covered.

It took about 2 hours of standing in 27 degree sunshine (Jo took a leaf out of the Asian tourists’ book and used her umbrella as a parasol) and making friends with a student from Hong Kong before we eventually got in. Every last Sunday of the month it is free entry, meaning it is packed and everywhere you go you feel like a group of sheep being herded around.

After a few hours of traipsing round squished between all the other tourists, we got to see the Sistine Chapel then decided to call it quits. A word to anyone who ever was/is/will be a tourist: YOU ARE NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON HERE. If everyone just followed this simple guideline, the world would be a far happier place.

Vatican Vatican

Super busy

Super busy

Vatican Rome

Had to wear jeans for the vatican, quietly melting

Had to wear jeans for the Vatican, quietly melting

On Sunday evening Jo came back to Spoleto where she stayed for a couple of days. I showed her all the great sights of Spoleto (La Rocca and the aqueduct) and we ate far too much ice cream. It was nice being able to act as a tourguide, and to have some solidarity in wearing a dress when the weather is over 25 degrees despite the stares and unwanted comments from guys.

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The other day I ended up wearing leggings under my dress, which made me look a bit like a mum, but that still wasn’t covered up enough for April. I was told earlier today that people don’t wear summery clothing until summer, even though it’s already that hot, so it’s unlikely I will blend in anytime before I leave.

Speaking of which, I have a bit over a month left here, with lots to pack in before. Most importantly, my 2nd year abroad essay is beckoning, and I’ve already shot myself in the foot by choosing a title that requires me to track down a lot of people to interview which involves far more self-motivation than I can muster right now.

Sights of the day

In a little garden square near Piazza Garibaldi I was excited to find it was named after Baden-Powell. I spent a couple of years helping out with Beavers (the cute youngest Scouts) so I was impressed to see that his influence is so far-reaching. However, I’m pretty sure there’s a typo on this sign. Awkward.

Italianisms: Part 1

19 Apr

This post is dedicated to all the weird and wonderful little things that make Italy Italy and that make the Italians Italian, some of which I find amusing, others which drive me crazy.

I’ve already mentioned several times how Italy suffers from a major case of technophobia, and recently I found out just how deeply ingrained (engrained?) it is within the language itself. One of the first words I ever learnt in Italian is macchina, meaning ‘car’, although it translates more literally as ‘machine’. Ok sure, I’ll accept that, back when cars were first invented I guess they were novelty machines.

I also found out that a camera is called a macchinetta, or ‘little machine’. Maybe pushing it, but I’ll let that one slide. However this extends even further, as I discovered watching the Italian-dubbed version of How It’s Made. While the English track in the background would say something like ‘the dough is transferred from the industrial-sized mixer to the divider using a conveyor’, the Italian version would translate as ‘the dough is transferred from the machine to the machine using the little machine’, as apparently it’s not possible to distinguish between anything that looks remotely mechanical or electricity-based. They all run on witchcraft anyway right?

Next up are a couple of things I’ve noticed both here and in France:

Although the English are known for being conservative prudes, we still manage to say the rather straight-to-the-point ‘oh I’m just going to the toilet’ without any embarrassment. The Italian/French way of doing things just makes me cringe: I have heard university students and grown adults say (in Italian) fare pipì or (in French) faire pipi which literally translate as ‘go for a wee wee’. Come on guys we’re not 5 years old any more.

Secondly, I find it slightly bizarre how often I have heard people say ‘that’s disgusting’. I swear people in the UK hardly ever find things so repulsive that they need to point it out, especially not 3 times a day which is the average amount I hear this phrase. There’s also a scale of disgustingness which translates quite well between the languages, with the use of the handy cover-all verb/noun/adjective ‘fuck’.

Italian : fa schifo                           fa schifoso

French: c’est dégoûtant            c’est dégueulasse

English: that’s disgusting           that’s fucking disgusting

So now if you ever need to complain about something being gross (which apparently EVERYTHING is over here), you’re well-prepared.

Moving on, we’ve had some beautiful weather here this week, with quite a few days averaging 26 degrees. Being the optimistic Brit that I am, I’ve been straight out in the sun in a bikini and shorts getting some vitamin D in me, much to the displeasure of the retirees who live nearby. Having found a field the size of Stoke Park (sorry for the very Guildford-specific reference) I was surprised to find it completely empty.

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

Italians making the most of a beautiful day

I settled down for a couple of hours with some Murakami (definitely give at least one of his books a read) and the whole time saw a grand total of 4 other people, all of whom were walking through the field to get somewhere else rather than relaxing for a bit. A woman in her 60s from Lombardia came over to chat after her chihuahua decided I was its new best friend, and she ended up talking at me for 50 minutes about: problems in Spoleto, problems with living alone, problems with her apartment building, problems with Italian police, problems with immigrants and people from Napoli, the holocaust (?!), and finally her dog’s dietary requirements.

Aside from not going outside to enjoy the weather, people also don’t seem to dress according to temperature, but rather according to season/month. It may be unseasonally warm, but it’s still April, and that means coats/jackets/scarves/boots/trousers. I’ve only seen people in tshirts for the first time in the last couple of days, and the only people I’ve seen in shorts are middle-aged men jogging. I don’t  really own shorts longer than hotpants because I don’t want a weird mid-thigh tan line, but this realllly doesn’t go down well with the locals who openly stare at my naked legs as I walk around.

What makes me laugh even more is how one person even complained to me how they were too hot (while wearing black trousers and a puffa jacket) as if there was just no way of avoiding it. Logical thinking is not Italy’s strong point, and most choices made are based less on ‘what could make me feel more comfortable/happy’ and more on ‘what would be the right thing to do in other people’s eyes’.

Logic also doesn’t make an appearance when it comes to healthcare. Italian’s are hypochondriacs who still subscribe to the belief that you can catch illnesses from cold air, but not just in winter! The dreaded colpo d’aria (blast of air?) can occur any time of year without warning if you are silly enough to leave any area of skin exposed, and you have to make sure you also wear your maglietta di salute (vest of health) to prevent this wind attacking you. Of course I think it’s all bullshit and the nation is just suffering from a widespread case of mass hysteria, but that’s just my opinion.

At dance this week we’ve had longer classes which means everyone leaving red-faced and sweaty and generally gross, but still everyone insists on putting on a couple of jackets and zipping them up to the neck when they leave despite the toasty temperatures outside. When I asked what the hell they were doing, they explained that when you are sweaty and go outside without covering up, the sweat cools down and then you get ill from it…

Hmm. There seems to have been a major breakdown in communication somewhere down the line in understanding the purpose of sweat in the first place. I also find it worrying that educated people my age still believe this kind of stuff. But hey, it’s not my place to say, I will freely walk outside cooling down after exercise while everyone else runs to their cars to avoid the killer Italian air.

My own Nonna has many strong beliefs about what causes illness, and she still has a go at me if I walk around her house without shoes or socks on as it will definitely give me a cold. I love you Nonna, but until you can give me an explanation for how being barefoot makes you ill, I’m not going to change my ways.

Oh and lastly, it’s both difficult and expensive to find tampons in this country. I can only blame Catholicism for this.

Well I think that’s enough for now! I’ve named this part 1 since I’m pretty certain there’s much more I have to say about Italian culture which I’ve forgotten to put in this post, but which I will surely remember as soon as I click ‘Publish’.

Napoli

16 Apr

On Friday I jumped on an 8.30 train (practically lunchtime compared to the ones I’m used to getting) and headed to Naples to spend the weekend with Jo. I was pretty excited since I’ve never been anywhere south of Rome and wanted to see what the big deal about the ‘north/south’ divide is.

I changed at Rome and got a superfast Frecciarossa to Naples which only took an hour.  I tried to hide my excitement when I found out that we were going 300 km/h, such a novelty to me. After a wait at the main station for Jo’s train to get in, we headed off to the hostel, during which time we found that a) it was far too hot to be wearing jeans but b) we would definitely stand out as pasty British tourists if we put shorts on.

We stayed at Hostel of the Sun, which is probably one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in purely because the staff are awesome. From the moment you check in they remember who you are for your whole stay, and are great for advice on where to visit and when, where to find the best pizza, what type of tram tickets to buy to get to x location, etc. etc.

Friday afternoon was spent exploring the historic centre and the harbour area. What definitely struck me about Naples is that compared to the other Italian cities I have been to, it is definitely more dirty/gritty/proper Italian. There are tiny streets and back alleys squashed between tall apartment buildings where every balcony has laundry hanging from it and everyone rushes around on mopeds.

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We also had some amazing pizza at the popular Di Matteo’s, although we foolishly believed it when we were told it would only be a 10 minute wait, which ended up being more like 40 minutes, but all worth it in the end.

Di Matteo

On Saturday we headed to Herculaneum, one the smaller less famous towns wiped out by Vesuvius’ eruption. We decided to skip Pompeii since it takes pretty much a full day to look round it and we didn’t have that much time. For anyone else spending just a weekend in Naples, you can see Herculaneum in about 2 hours, meaning there is also enough time to go to Sorrento in the same day, which is just what we did.

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Sorrento is beautiful and noticeably cleaner and more well-kept than Naples, but it is also incredibly touristy, and this was only in April. Jo and I played ‘spot the English’ all weekend since they clearly stand out as being the most naked yet palest people on the streets. Other great tourist stereotypes to look out for there are ‘mahogany-toned pensioners who now spend their lives on the decks of cruise ships’ and ‘rich American high-schoolers taking their DSLR on a trip to “Europe” ‘. While there we almost met up with Serena, who was on Erasmus in Bristol last year.

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On Sunday we set off on a walk further west round the harbour, where it seemed pretty much everyone had come outside due to the beautiful weather, still wearing coats and scarves of course (apart from the leathery old men sunbathing in Speedos on the rocks…yum). Trying to take advantage of the sunshine we settled on the grass which is apparently just not the done thing, despite not being against any rules, and led to a lot of confused stares from the locals. After an amazing lunch at Trattoria e Pizzeria Antica Capri, we took the funicolare up to the medieval fortress Castel Sant’Elmo so we could see the whole city. Beautiful.

Teatro di San Carlo – filming location of ‘Ballerini – dietro il sipario’, my fave MTV show here

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Castel Sant'Elmo

Castel Sant’Elmo – most fortressy fortress I’ve ever seen

View from the top of Castel Sant’Elmo

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Sadly in the afternoon we had to head back to Napoli Centrale to catch our respective trains. I had high hopes for getting back in time for dinner, but since only about 10% of the trains I have taken here have left on time, I shouldn’t have been so optimistic. When I got to Rome my connecting 6pm train to Spoleto just stayed on the departures board without a platform number until 40 minutes after its departure time, when they just took it off the board with no cancellation announcement. This led to 15 minutes of queueing for customer services only to be told the next train would be at 8.

There are also only about 5 chairs in all of Roma Centrale station, and the spare one I did manage to find was in the middle of a group of crackheads arguing over some ‘owed money’. I made a swift departure and decided it would probably be a better idea to just sit on the floor.

When I was finally on the train back the ticket inspector lady apologised for my train cancellation, putting it down as just one of Italy’s many problems, and rather poetically said ‘Amo l’Italia, ma è già morta’ (I am in love with Italy, but it is already dead). There must be something ingrained in all Italians which makes them speak in such a literary way, as the next day one of my students said to me ‘L’amore, che dolore’, meaning ‘Love, what pain’. Life sure is tough when you’re 9.

Sights of the day

Food prices in Naples are insanely low. €3.00 for a margherita??

Pizza

We found an actual shop selling religious robes and cassocks and habits and whatever else it is the hip modern clergy wears nowadays. It wasn’t just a tourist thing either, there was a real nun looking round inside.

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The habit the Italians have of changing English/foreign names into more ‘italianised’ ones has started to get to me recently, starting with when I was teaching about the British royal family and everyone kept talking about some ‘Prince Carlo’. For a long time I thought there was a mystery illegitimate Italian prince within the family who I hadn’t heard about because it had been kept tightly under wraps (maybe Philip’s a bit of a wanderer), but then I realised they were talking about Prince Charles.

Similarly, I don’t think it’s right to change Charles Dickens to Carlo Dickens, or to change Nicolas Nickleby to Nicola Nickleby (in case you were wondering, Nicola is a boy’s name in Italian, they haven’t just switched round the genders in the story for banter).

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Seems like a logical pairing to me

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Only medics will probably understand the link here, but in Herculaneum there is a faded painting on the wall which is apparently of a man and his ‘giant phallus’ (as my recorded tour guide told me) whose name is in fact Priapus.

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This shop offers INTENSE CONVENIENCE.

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5kg of Nutella. I should invest.

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21

5 Apr

Yes I know it’s been a shamefully long time since I’ve done a post but I’ve been busy. Honest. Since I last updated, I’ve been back to England for a lovely Easter holiday which also included my Dad’s birthday and my 21st.

First stop on my trip back was Bristol, to catch up with friends and try and persuade those who are graduating to do a Masters or just hang around Bristol for another year, regardless of whether they’ll actually have somewhere to live or not. I spent the 3 days there soaking up the Englishness, getting in some much-needed creme eggs and Exhibition cider (not together, that’s disgusting) as well as attending a massive birthday party which ended at 5am when the landlady came to physically remove everyone. Cheers Debs.

On Saturday I headed home for my dad’s birthday, followed by a very civilised meal and drinks with friends on Sunday to celebrate my 21st.

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I’m really not as messy an eater as I look, I blame the waiter who made me do a shot hidden in a glass of cream with no hands. You can grow old but you don’t have to grow up.

On my actual birthday (Monday) I went for a lovely meal at The River Café with my family, where I actually got to meet the owner Ruth Rogers as she was working there that night so I got her to sign my menu! If anyone ever has the opportunity to eat there, definitely go for the caramel ice cream. Even if it’s not usually your kinda thing, it’s pretty much the best dessert ever.

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Note my brother looking dapper as ever.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing at home, enjoying the company of my family (plus the free internet and fully-stocked fridge), as well as managing to give blood on the Friday as I hadn’t donated since last May. Shame on all of you sitting around keeping all your blood to yourself, there are other people who need it more than you you know! (*Ahem* mum and dad, you work in healthcare, get on it) Click here to get started.

On Easter Saturday I trekked up to Milton Keynes for another party. Alcohol + freezing temperatures = I think I got frostbite in my toes, but it was worth it. Easter itself was a day of hungover packing, and trying to work out how to get to Spoleto from Perugia airport which isn’t as easy as you think.

I headed back to Italy on Monday, thankfully managing to catch the only train for 4 hours after telling my maniac taxi driver that I had just 15 minutes to get from the airport to the station. This is the only time I will ever be glad for Italian drivers ignoring speed limits/rules of the road.

This week has meant a bit of a change to my timetable as in order to work at all 5 of the schools of the Secondo Circolo I had to do 3 before Easter and the other 2 after, although I will be staying with 1 school all the way through as I need some continuity to write about in some report thing I’ll have to do in June. I got to visit the school in Santa Croce for the first time on Wednesday, which was a pretty weird experience as it only has 16 pupils. Even though it is still in Spoleto, it’s on the outskirts where many Moroccan immigrants live, which answered the first question which popped into my head when I arrived which was ‘Why is everyone here so much more tanned than me??’

I’m not the only one who has questioned the cost-effectiveness of keeping such a small school open, and I’ve been told that some shady dealings involving false applications and the like occur in order to keep it open and save the teachers’ jobs. The nice thing about teaching such small classes (the older one containing just 5 pupils aged 10-12) is that you can have more one-on-one conversation time and you can cover more in one lesson, although there are more awkward silences where no one wants to say anything (basically the same as any tutorial at uni then).

Now you’re all caught up on my recent japes, and hopefully there will be many more to look forward to in the 9 weeks I have left here, starting with a trip to Naples with Jo next weekend!

The Spoleto bubble

18 Mar

After 2 months here, I’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of Spoleto pretty well. While it has some of the features of a traditional small town like villas, beautiful mountains, historic buildings and protected sites, it also has a side to it that I wasn’t expecting at all. There’s a bit of a Desperate Housewives feel around here – there’s a lot of pressure on the women to stay young, have the latest clothes and accessories, have the cleanest nicest houses, stuff like that. There’s also a lot of gossip going around among both adults and teens, although I find it all pretty trivial because it reminds me of high school. Everyone here knows everyone, and knows everyone’s business, which makes Spoleto actually quite insular despite being so close to Rome.

Another aspect of Italian life which I find quite amusing is the standard Saturday night activities for young people (mostly younger than me though, generally 14-18). From around 5.30/6pm everyone goes to hang out in Piazza Garibaldi, apparently even if it’s really cold. Their version of hanging out isn’t quite like mine, which would involve drinks and catching up with friends, and probably finding somewhere to sit. Here, groups gather but never stay in one spot for more than a few minutes, and there is always sense of waiting for other people to arrive or that something is about to happen or we are about to go somewhere, although nothing actually happens until about 8.30 when everyone goes for dinner.

You end up with groups moving around the square, picking up new people and losing other ones in a constant state of ‘about to go do something’ without doing anything or settling anywhere to have a proper chat. This might sound like a very German way of thinking, but I think there are far more efficient ways of socialising than what the kids here call ‘hanging out’, but I call ‘loitering’. I no I just realised I’m turning into a grumpy old woman. Blame the impending birthday (1 week today!)

Some stuff I have been up to recently:

  • Hip hop dance classes

A lot of fun, although when I look up in the mirror and see myself dancing to Busta Rhymes all I see is the whitest white girl that ever there was. But at least I’m enjoying myself.

  • Teaching at the Catholic school in the centre

The nuns have hired me to teach an hour a week to the tiniest of tiny kids, ranging from 2 1/2 to 5 years old. They are adorable, but they also have non-existent attention spans. Even 5 minutes on one activity is too much for them, and they are pretty blunt about it when they don’t want to do something. Some classic statements from the children include “I don’t want to hear this song” and “No. Stop. Enough.” 1 hour with 3 year olds is 5 hours in real time.

  • Tutoring

I have been helping out a woman who lives near me with her English skills. Teaching an adult one-on-one is also a lot more difficult than teaching year 5, as you can’t hide the fact that you’re learning English behind games and colouring in, and you have to find something that is more stimulating than describing what all your favourite objects are. However it is quite fun to be able to have more in-depth conversations than with the children.

  • Adventuring

(But slightly less further afield this time.) On Saturday afternoon I went to Assisi for a couple of hours. Assisi is where St. Francis comes from, and is the guy who the new Pope based his name on. Speaking of the Pope, I seem to have a knack of being in the wrong place at the right time for major world events, which has led me to being in both China and the UK during the Olympics but seeing neither of them, and living less than 2 hours from Rome but not going to see the Pope. I’m not that bothered though, Popes are much of a muchness and have very little impact on my life.

Back to St. Francis, he liked giving his money away and helping animals, and even saved the town of Gubbio from a wolf who was terrorising the villagers back in the day. This all ties in nicely with the fact that I went to Gubbio yesterday with one of the teachers and her family, as it is her hometown. For those less interested in religion and more in science, Gubbio is also the town where there was first discovered a layer of clay separating 2 different layers of limestone which proved that the dinosaurs had been wiped out by a meteor (sorry if my facts aren’t bang on). So clearly it’s a town with something for everyone.

  • Avoiding my weird neighbour

In an apartment downstairs there’s this really weird guy who lives with his mum and his son. He doesn’t seem to have a job, so every time I enter the building he opens his front door a tiny bit and watches me go up the stairs, which is fucking creepy if you ask me. He’s also teaching his 4 year old to do it, I feel pretty sorry for the kid. What’s worse is that when I first moved in, I was told to pay money to this guy for the cleaning of the stairs and stuff. When I knocked on his door he happily took the money, I had no idea what he was saying as he doesn’t speak clearly, but I assumed it was all sorted.

A few days later a very official business-y looking women came to my door and said she was there to collect the communal cleaning money. When I told her I had already paid it the creepy guy, she said he has nothing to do with it and that he hadn’t given her any money and not to talk to him cos he’s strange. So that bastard has 6 whole euros of mine, and continues to watch me whenever I come in the building.

Assisi:

Don’t let the clear skies fool you, it was freeeeezing.

Assisi

Assisi

Pink marble

Pink marble

Assisi Assisi Assisi Assisi Assisi

Gubbio:

Gubbio Gubbio

Used for the Festa dei Ceri

Used for the Festa dei Ceri

Gubbio Gubbio

Sights of the day:

Worst clothes shop name and also worst logo ever.

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One of the year 5 classes had a creative show and tell last week and one student made this awesome Red Bull can aeroplane. Future Flugtag participant?

Gives you wings

A rough guide to teaching when you are completely unqualified

11 Mar

English language assistants are quite lucky in that we are all (for the most part) ‘experts’ in our subject, without even having to try. At least this works when you’re teaching young’uns like I am, where a basic knowledge of how to conjugate the verbs ‘to have’ and ‘to be’ is enough to create at least half an hour of work for a class of 9/10 year-olds. Any time you’re not doing grammar or laying down the basics of English, you can always talk about cultural differences between Italy and England as this always fascinates the children.

Last week I spent over an hour answering the kids’ questions about education in the UK. They were outraged that English children don’t have to go to school on a Saturday, and classes start slightly later (usually 9am instead of the Italian 8.15, 45 minutes makes a surprising amount of difference). Sometimes my knowledge doesn’t quite stretch as far as my students’ demands though eg. ‘Who was the architect of every different landmark in London?’ Italian children seem to be slightly more culturally curious that their British counterparts.

Sometimes they really surprise me, like a few weeks ago when I mentioned how the Italian elections were coming up and one young boy went off on a rant about politics and Mario Monti, which threw me slightly as most English children probably couldn’t tell you more about our politicians other than ‘Boris Johnson is a funny man with very blonde hair’.

Another subject students really enjoy is learning about British money. I brought in my English purse and let them have a proper look at all the coins and the only note I had with me which was a 20. Some of the great comments I heard include ‘Wow the Queen looks really manly’ and ‘But you don’t ACTUALLY use these as money do you?’. When I explained that no, this isn’t Monopoly money, it’s the real deal, the little girl rolled her eyes as if the UK is the spoilt brat in the playground who wants to have their own special toy to themselves instead of joining in with all their other European friends. Maybe we are to some extent, but the pound has worked pretty well for us so far.

The idea of the English/Scottish divide also came up when talking about money, as I explained that Scotland has it’s own currency which is still really the pound. I tried to use Michael McIntyre’s ‘legal tender’ joke to explain the slight tensions between the two countries, but British comedy doesn’t translate very well and went down like a lead balloon.

Here’s a quick tip for other assistants: if you have any £ notes, teach the kids the happy/sad queen trick. They absolutely love it. Another activity to fill in the time is to give them all an English version of their name. If you really can’t think of an equivalent, let them pick their own name.

One of the biggest problems I have for teaching English is pronunciation. Italian is a phonetic language, so the children read out words as they are written using Italian syllables. This can be a little frustrating as they don’t quite grasp the idea that English pronunciation makes absolutely no sense at all and there is usually little connection between spelling and pronunciation…just think how the following words are said: through, tough, though. You see?

Even when they have learnt to pronounce words really well from just hearing them, as soon as they find out how it’s is spelled they go back to trying to say it the ‘Italian way’ eg. favourite becomes ‘fah-vo-rit’, republic becomes ‘reh-poo-blic’. The most you can do here is get the class to repeat the correct pronunciation a few times to try and get it to stick. If they are a bit older, you can try writing a ‘suggested pronunciation’ using Italian syllables eg. write republic as ripablik, but only do this if they are old enough to understand this is just a pronunciation guide and not the actual way to spell it.

Another big problem is the letter h. In Italian, it isn’t pronounced at the beginning of a word, in English it (mostly) is. As it isn’t a naturally occurring sound in Italian you need to really over-emphasise the ‘aspirated’ sound of the h for words like his, her, house, hello, or you’ll hear a lot of ‘is’, ‘er’, ‘ouse’ and ‘ello’. Strangely, I also hear a lot of ‘h’s being added to the beginning of words where it doesn’t exist. A common example of this is the sentence ‘It is raining’ which becomes ‘Hit his raining.’ I don’t know if this is hypercorrection because they think you say h at the beginning of all words starting with a vowel, or they just can’t tell whether they’re saying h or not.

There is a similar issue with words that end in a consonant, especially -t, -d and  -s. In Italian most words end in a vowel so it is tricky for the children to finish with a consonant, which is why the stereotype exists that all Italians speak-a like-a this-a. The -s one is especially a problem because it can make or break whether a word is plural. I’m not sure how to deal with this one, so if anyone has any advice please let me know.

Sorry those last few paragraphs were pretty dry. On the lighter side, one thing I love about teaching is how cute the children can be. I’m quiet lucky as, being a short-term assistant and not a full-time teacher, I basically have diplomatic immunity. This means that I never have kids get angry or shout at me personally, and on the occasion when they’re being too rowdy or just don’t want to pay attention I know I can whip out the old ‘If you don’t want to listen then I don’t want to teach you, I’m just going to go now’ to which the reply is a chorus of ‘Nononono staaaay’. The cutest thing is turning up to teach the younger years and being dump-tackled by a gaggle of little girls who all want a hug. Adorable.

I like to think that no child is inherently evil, and if they’re acting out there’s usually an underlying reason, as opposed to them just wanting to ruin your morning. In the class I talked about a few weeks ago, where there was a girl who refused to do any work or even talk, I decided to try chatting to her at breaktime to see what was up. It turned out she was just sad that no one would play with her, so we gathered up some chalk and started a game of hangman on the board, and soon a few others noticed and wanted to join in. Result: sullen grumpy girl becomes talkative happy girl. Mission accomplished.

I realise this post has gone slightly off track from the title and is more anecdotal than helpful…however if I do think of any groundbreaking teaching tips I’ll write another post about it.

In the classroom

This is a very ‘me’ problem, but I’m sure you’ve all experienced when you repeat a word to yourself too many times and it loses any meaning? Well this happens to me all the time when I’m teaching, so I’ve had many many embarrassing moments where I’ve gone to write on the board how to spell something simple like ‘colour’ and gone ‘Shit…is that actually a word? That doesn’t look right’. Cue awkward googling to check I’m right. Some of the teachers must think I’m an idiot.

A weird phenomenon I noticed in a year 3 class at one school is that there are LOADS of twins. Way above what should be average. I was also told that two of the boys where actually part of triplets, but the girl one goes to a different school. There must have been something in the water back in 2005.

Another embarrassing fact is that all of the kids are way cooler than me. They are all really well dressed and have awesome high tops and haircuts, while I had a 20kg weight limit coming here so my rotation of school-appropriate clothing is small. One fashion-conscious 4 year old even told me that he didn’t appreciate how I was wearing a chequered shirt undone over another top, and was very concerned as to why I hadn’t used the buttons.

Sights of the day

I love all of the little trinkets and drawings I’ve been given by students. Here are a few bits and bobs:

A pen holder...which at the moment only contains a cocktail stirrer,

A pen holder…which at the moment only contains a cocktail stirrer,

A ladybug/'coccinella' paper weight. In Italy ladybugs are said to bring good luck,

A ladybug/’coccinella’ paper weight. In Italy ladybugs are said to bring good luck,

I had completely forgotten that scoubidous exist but they were all the rage when I was in year 7, and apparently they're still going strong here.

I had completely forgotten that scoubidous exist but they were all the rage when I was in year 7, and apparently they’re still going strong here.

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