giovedì 28 ottobre 2010

la riforma

The teachers have been a little grumpier this year. Or, at least, the circles under their eyes have deepened. Perhaps the reason is la riforma Gelmini, the reform proposed by education minister Mariastella Gelmini and passed last year by Berlusconi's government. Gelmini began in 2008 to fire teachers, justifying her actions by saying that the school was for instructing, not for insuring jobs. This newest reform has further cut school budgets, reduced hours in certain subjects, cut hours from teacher's pay provided for substituting, and in some cases doubled the size of classes. One of my teachers has told me that this is all an effort to slowly transfer education responsibilities from the public sector to the private one.

For example, four of my third year classes at Cremona have been combined into two mega classes of thirty students. Thirty sixteen-year-olds, corralled together in one room! In my class with Prof. Scafi we divide into two groups as we've always done, but an intimate discussion is a bit daunting even with 15 students.

As a result, strikes have been occurring almost every week. But they're gentle (not in the style of the French, for sure), two times just for the first hour on Friday. Many teachers, confronted with this brevity, come to school anyway even if they agree with the idea of striking. My friend X, a middle school science teacher, told us over dinner that he thought the strikes weren't enough. Non crea abbastanza disagio, it's doesn't cause enough disruption to just skip the first hour. We need to block the schools for a week, keep the kids at home, before the power will feel anything.

Technically, the strikes are for the teachers, not the students, but of course when the kids listen to an announcement that their first hour of lessons can't be guaranteed, they hear, "NO SCHOOL ON FRIDAY!" and disappear for the whole day.

The concept of striking in general is new to me. That even the teenagers can skip school for ideological reasons seems a little tricky. It might be too easy to excuse shirking responsibilities with political motives. But still, people taking any action at all when they want to communicate their frustration with the government is già something I appreciate.

In my lesson about the Declaration of Independence in my other 30-student third year class, I began by asking the students if they had any complaints about how teenagers were treated at the school. They mumbled and a few said no. I asked them if that was the case, why did they go on strike on Friday? More mumbling, a few answered that they disagreed with the reforms. Don't forget to be informed, I told them, when you take action. Maybe they were, they just didn't want to risk explaining in English.

I'm the opposite. I think and inform myself and think and end up going about my day lo stesso. Though Fridays I don't have class, so maybe I was striking by default.

Bonus: This is the education minister on the cover of a right wing news magazine, Panaroma. Welcome to Berlusconi's administration.

mercoledì 27 ottobre 2010

Encyclopedia Britannica says of Italy...

"less a single nation than a collection of culturally related points in an uncommonly pleasing setting."

So true. So confused. So pleasing.

martedì 26 ottobre 2010

what goes on between classes...

Just another exemplary student at my high school sprecando some extra energy.

writer's block a good thing to get when you've just restarted a blog. Also when you have to write a personal statement for grad school applications. And when you really would like to get back on the fiction-writing horse (which for me is a bareback bucking mustang. Or catatonic). I told myself I needed to write something today, though, so here I am.

In school, I am finding that my responsibilities are multiplying in my second year, which makes perfect sense given that I now have 8 months additional experience. I assign homework in one class now, and in another I have begun to interrogare, or give oral tests in class. This all makes me feel very Real Teacher-like, which is nice, since I hadn't expected my role to change very much.

Given that I have 12 classes plus 2 at the classics high school down the road, I've been exposed to a great variety of students and volontà to learn. Today I started thinking about what makes a "bad class," whether that's ever a fair name. One of my fifth year classes at the technical institute where I teach gives me more trouble than any of the others. One the first day of lessons, the kids were rowdy, talked over one another, spoke only in Italian, didn't pay attention to anything I said. One boy, when I asked him what he did over the summer, told me, "I dreamed Rachel every night." Another told me that a girl in the class hates America, though the girl denied it. For the rest of the lesson he glared at me and the space in front of his desk. They threw pencils across the room, carved initials into their desks. I had to circle the class like a teaching-assistant bird of prey, descending on the distracted kids.

But the more time I spend with the class, the more I realize that independent students are not cattivi and are not hopeless. As a group they are casinisti, no doubt. But some of them try. And those that don't, when I corner them and help them answer a question, they try too. Like when they have to explain the meaning of a word in English, first they say Non lo so, prof, dai but with my hints and help they figure it out in Italian. Then of course there's the Ma non so spiegare in inglese, I don't know how to explain in English, which I pretend not to understand. Come on, I say, give it a try. You can do it. And they try, and they do. It's such a tiny victory, just one word and one definition in English, but to me today it felt big. Which makes me wish I could spend an hour with each of them, pushing them along until they figure out how to move forward by themselves.

Bah. Maybe with some more experience I will figure these dilemmas out. For now I'm just a fledgling myself, trying to wing it.

venerdì 15 ottobre 2010

home again, home again, where is home again?

I'm back. In Milan, I mean. It might seem like I just left (I did, four scant months ago) and that I just wrote that I was home in the U.S. Though, really, I'm not so sure where home is anymore.

Coming back to Milan was a hard decision, and then easy. I agonized over whether I would be able to make it through another winter of fog and bone-soaking rain, whether I was coming back for the wrong reasons, whether I shouldn't settle down with a Real Grown-Up Person Job already. My brother helped me break it down nicely, though: live in the U.S. with no guarantee of a job, especially not an intellectually stimulating one, probably in Northampton where the winters suck just as much if not more as the Milanese ones...or return to Italy for maybe my last opportunity to live in Europe, where I have a job I like and find interesting that (just barely) supports me, friends, and someone I love. Oh, I thought. Well, when you put it that way...

Quindi, eccomi qua.
The summer felt like a brief american pause in a continuum, my life italiana. Arriving in Milan I was suprised by how comfortable I felt. My amoroso met me with a bunch of wilted flowers picked from the Parco delle Cave and helped me carry me egregiously large bags. My speaking wasn't so rusty after a summer of skype dates. I knew the train and the station where it arrived and the bar nearby where we stopped to recharge my phone. I knew the tram to take to get to the apartment where I would be staying with a lovely professoressa. Everything was much easier.

(My ensuing apartment hunt was easier too, though made longer and more frustrating by my knowledge of neighborhoods and average rents and bedbugs and old world attitudes towards guests. The specter of bedbugs haunts my dreams.)

Now I've found a place to live after three weeks and a run-in with old Sicilian sexism and I've begun working. Same characters, different year. The kids know me and greet me in the hallways (a quick and urget "Hi RAYchel!") as I round the corner of the stairs. A couple of my classes erupted in delight when they saw me walk in the door, but they're more happy for not having a test than for speaking English with me. Still, it feels good.

So I'm starting up the blog again. I have to keep stock of the wonderful things my kids do, and I have to keep stock of myself.