Teaching: The Greatest Hits (So Far)

I’ve now been an English language assistant for just over two months now, which seems like a good time to stop, reflect, and mainly, to share some of my favourite memories. So here, with all the grace and smooth transitional ability of a Buzzfeed intern in his first day on the job, is my Top 5: Teaching Moments of TB1:

5) My first day. I’d been informed that the gender balance at the school was skewed, but I was still caught off guard by the sheer scale of it. Let me put it this way. They divided up the six bathrooms in the building in accordance with the gender balance, which produced a final score of: Female Bathrooms 6 – 0 Male Bathrooms (I was reliably informed that the bathrooms were all mixed-gender, but I was not about to risk getting a reputation on my very first day as the creepy teaching assistant who goes into girl’s bathrooms). I also spent that day trying to memorise the names of my students, but gave up when I realised that they were all seemingly called Sara, Chiara or Alessia, with maybe a few Giulia’s thrown in for variation.

4) One time at uni in England I had done a short, one-off job for the university. It was a one hour meeting with prospective mature students, and my pay came to £7.75. In order to receive that money, I had to fill out forms, find out my NI number, provide my bank details, and wait until the end of the month. A world away from the translation I did here. I spent 6 hours on that translation, a four page document on “Cultural Cognitive Dissonance in Ethnic Minorities and Migrants” which I didn’t understand the vast part of (not even the title, if we’re being honest). I came into the office the next day to sort out payment for it, and was offered 40 euros, despite being told by another professor to expect 75. I negotiated them up to 70, at which point the secretary simply opened a drawer, took out an envelope of cash, withdrew a few notes, and handed them over. Ahh Italy, don’t ever change.

3) The students were asked to translate a text on marketing which I was to read out to them. Before starting, they were given the topic and some key words. This text dealt with the business and advertising model of Tinder, the popular dating app. If you’re reading this in England or in the States, you may be thinking that my explaining to you that Tinder is “the popular dating app” is patronising. You know what Tinder is. Of course you do. Who doesn’t? Well, a whole class full of Italian 18-19 year olds, apparently. Watching the professor – a dignified woman in her 40’s – having to explain how Tinder works and why you might use it, to a class full of completely blank faces, definitely ranks as a high point.

2) Tuesday afternoons. Dialogica. After a morning spent reading the same text to four consecutive classes, Tuesday afternoons consist of three consecutive lessons in which the professor and I act out a scene in which she speaks only Italian and I speak only English. One student stands between us and translates everything we say into the other language, allowing us to converse. This particular Tuesday, the lucky student was in for a treat. The scene was a police investigation, and I was a British tourist arrested for possession of drugs. Halfway through the scene I get frustrated (as does anyone who has to deal with Italian authorities, whether or not they’re facing a lengthy period behind bars), and unexpectedly start swearing loudly and repeatedly at the professor, playing the police officer. The student stood between us had to translate, word for word, every expletive that came out of my mouth, straight at their professor, with the most mortified and apologetic look imaginable on their face. Extra credit goes to one of the students in the last class who put her hand up to ask the teacher what “bollocks” meant, and then asked her if she could write it up on the board.

1) The winner happened about two weeks into the term. I was sat in the Aula Magna, the biggest classroom, with me and the professor sat on a raised platform facing the students. They were reading out loud; a text about global happiness levels. At one point, the professor, who was using the text to check up on their vocab skills, asked the student who was reading to explain the difference between “happiness” and “satisfaction”. The student struggled for a minute, although it became clear that she was attempting to explain that they were basically different levels of the same thing. To make things easier, the professor asked her to give an example. Her entirely innocent answer, word-for-word, was: “Sometimes a guy satisfies you, but he doesn’t make you happy”. A clear winner.

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-The Wandering Jew-


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