I’m tired

I apologise for the rant that follows, but sometimes I just need to get things out of my chest, and this is one of those times.

Despite the best efforts of the institution I work for to actively promote equality, we still get loads of requests for madrelingua (native speakers). And do you know where these requests come from most of the times? From other NNESTs. This is so disheartening.

We often do something called ‘lettorato’, which means we teach in class during school time (with the class teacher present), to provide a communicative component to classroom teaching. We do this in all types of schools, from primary to high schools, and we generally get very positive feedback.

However, I also often get the oh-so-you-are-Italian look from the class teacher, especially in higher-level schools such as high schools. The students themselves generally ask me if I’m from London, from the USA or from England (Australia, South Africa, Ireland or Scotland are not in their mental map of English-speaking countries, apparently). But then when I tell them I’m Italian, they just accept the fact and get on with things.

But teachers look bitterly disappointed. They sometimes go as far as to tell me not to mention this to the students — why exactly is not clear. We even had schools complain and require us to change teachers because some of us were not madrelingua. This starts to feel a lot like Uncle Ruckus in the Boondocks, really.

I also have positive stories of students requesting madrelingua, and then being happy with me and seeing the progress. But again, what hurts the most are those I regard as colleagues believing I am not capable of doing my job just because I was born in the same place where they were born.

I don’t know who or what taught them to think like this. I just hope one day they will change their mind. Otherwise the war is already lost.

7 thoughts on “I’m tired”

  1. Hi Giulia, I am also tired. There seem to be multiple tug-of-wars happening at once among school managers, students, the public, madrelinguas and non-native teachers of which the latter often shoot into their own camp. Have you tried initiating a public debate in Italy, in Italian? It’s a genuine question. I’m thinking over our choices.

    1. No, I haven’t. I wouldn’t know where to start. I think it should come as a directive from the Ministry, but it’s hard when this way of thinking is so embedded in everyone’s mind.

  2. I’ve seen similar reactions from State school Ts here in France, especially regarding how culture is taught as part of curriculum.
    There is a reluctance to let go of imagery such as red buses, Union Jacks, and “the language of Shakespeare”. English is taught from the cultural perspective of the UK/US rather than an international means of communication as you can see from this website outling the curriculum:
    When you look a little closer at the curriculum, they do mention “diversité” and “engager une conversation spontanée en anglais avec d’autres personnes, qu’elles soient natives d’un pays anglophone ou non” but only at the higher level of English just before students graduate. I would love students to see from Day 1 that English is not just something from “over there”, that is accessible to them, can belong to them, and is probably part of their lives no matter what country they live in.

    The reaction of parents, who often use English at work in international contexts, has already changed to some extent. The reaction of teachers has to change too. The question is will it change because parents push for it (doubtful except for the super-involved parent), or because teachers open their classes up to the world more? e.g. through shared Skype classes between Germany and France, shared projects in English – it’s very hard to find partner classes in the UK nowadays, so twinning is with other EU countries.

    The other option is to get teachers from different contexts talking outside of the walls of their own school.
    It’s a shame that that there is so little crossover between the world of ELT and State school Ts (in training programmes, on social media groups, …), it often feels like we are living in parallel universes. So your co-teaching project sounds like a really worthwhile one! Both ELT and State school teachers probably need to get out of our bubbles from time to time, if only to question assumptions and start a discussion. The results will come – Please keep going!

    1. Thank you for your comment Eily, I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately part of the problem is also that language schools (including the one I work with) have used the Union Jack cliché to promote their courses as a ‘taste of Britishness’. After so many years, you can’t really expect people to change their mind in a heartbeat.
      I also agree that there should be more dialogue between state school teachers and ELT, this could start by inviting state school teachers to ELT events and meet ups. I think in this sense our school is doing its part, but there still is a strong feeling of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

  3. Hi Julia,
    It is very annoying when state schools request ‘native’ speakers, I agree. However, I think the problem with lettorato is that the lettrice has traditionally always been mother tongue. As I understand it, the point is that this (presumably) provides the students with a different cultural perspective and exposure to a native speaker accent. The class teacher is thus probably thinking that if the lettrice, too, is Italian, she could just as well have done the job herself. I would therefore guess that the class teachers feel threatened professionally. In exam prep courses in Italian state schools (as a comparison) the NNST issue isn’t such a big deal. In these cases the class teacher isn’t present, and it is accepted that the visiting teacher is there not because she is ‘mother tongue’ but because she knows how to prepare the kids for the exam. Perhaps the problem is the outdated concept of ‘lettorato’ itself. And btw I totally agree about all the horrible Union Jack/double decker bus/ royal family imagery.!

    1. Hi Lindsey, thanks for your comment. I too have come to the conclusion that during lettorato the teacher feels threatened in her role when the lettrice is Italian too.

      So my next question is: why doesn’t this teacher do a more communicative, engaging lesson herself, rather than relying on the old and slightly offensive institution of ‘lettorato’?

      I have not found an answer to this question yet, and would love to be able to discuss such issues with state school teachers directly.

      1. Lindsey Clark

        Hi Giulia,

        I think the answer to that is that state school teachers in Italy (correct me if I’m wrong) receive very little, if any, didactic training and CPD. They are never observed teaching, for example, or asked to reflect on lessons, or required to submit lesson plans. It seems to me that they are simply ‘thrown in’ to the classroom and copy what their colleagues are doing and/or follow a course book.

        However, they tend to have excellent subject (declarative) knowledge, often having a degree in English and of course being learners of English themselves. Thus, lessons are often grammar-focused, since this is what teachers feel comfortable with, and this is how they themselves have learned the language.

        Teachers in the state system in the UK, on the other hand, display the opposite characteristics (see here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14681366.2017.1312494) since they receive extensive pedagogic training but as (usually) first language English users, have procedural rather than declarative knowledge. That is, they know HOW to use English but cannot explain WHY it is used in such a way. In this they are beaten hands down by the second language English users for obvious reasons!

        Me too, I would like to hear what Italian state school teachers have to say to see if my assumptions are right…

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