1. The classrooms belong to the students, not the teachers
Here in America, I have my own classroom, where students come to me every day. I really love having my own classroom because it is my space that I can personalize, decorate the walls, and create a safe space for all students. In Italy, teachers travel to students' classrooms so they run around between classes. One pro to that was that all teachers gather in a common area in between classes, which creates a rich sense of community and camaraderie among the teachers.
2. Their lunches are much longer than ours!
Oh what a dream it was to have a lunch longer than 22 minutes! In Italy, lunch is the biggest meal to be eaten socially whereas here in America we eat large dinners. Most shops and stores close for lunch so that people may go out to eat. There is no cafeteria in the high school and therefore, students and teachers go to local restaurants and cafes. They usually have at least an hour for lunch.
3. The government controls where the teachers are sent
Here in public schools in Massachusetts, teachers are given professional status after 3 or 4 years (depending on the district). As long as teachers prove that they are competent, good teachers, they will be given professional status once they meet the 3/4 year mark. In Italy, the term "professional status teacher" is replaced with "permanent teacher," and the principal and the government decide where the teacher is placed. Each year a teacher fills out his/her top choices for district and then the government places his/her where they see fit. Usually, the principal has the power to choose who he/she wants to stay, but ultimately, the choice is made by the Italian government. This makes it difficult to settle down because a teacher could potentially move schools each year.
4. The school day and week are structured differently
In Cles, Italy, students go to school Monday-Saturday. Most days students go to school from 7:50am-12:20 pm and then are free to leave. Then on Thursday or Friday evening, students have an additional class that they must attend. Additionally, students go to high school for 5 years rather than 4 years, graduating at 19 years old. When you think about it, the amount of time is probably about the same, even though we go to school 5 days for 4 years and they go to school 6 days for 5 years. Speaking to my students though, the days are much less stressful and busy, so many of them would welcome this change.
5. Their rules are stricter than ours in some ways, but more lax in others
Cell phones are completely banned in Istituto Pilati, both for teachers and students. Here at BHS, we have an open policy on technology (cell phones, tablets, and laptops). Also, in Italy, many more students smoke and drink alcohol. I was very surprised at the amount of students who smoked, but I think that's more a part of the European culture. Here in America, alcohol and cigarettes are taboo for teenagers. I even saw some students and teachers sporting alcohol related gym clothing.
6. Sports are huge here in America
I received lots of questions about sports in America (the concept of cheerleaders was very new to Italian students). American movies and television really rule the entertainment culture of Italy, and many Italian students see what American schools are like in pop culture. Here in America students join sports teams for after school competitions. In Italy, that doesn't exist in public schools; students must pay to join private sports teams.
7. Students choose their "major" before they enter high school
8. Italian students use public transportation
There are no school busses in Italy! For me, a school bus is a symbol of education. Luisa was so surprised and excited to see American students using school buses. The large bright yellow vehicles are such an anomaly to those outside of America. In Cles, the school is very close to public transportation and most students use trains to get to school and home. Teenagers do not get their licenses until they turn 18 years old.
9. Prom is an American thing
Luisa was so excited to ask my fashion design students about prom. She had never been to prom because it really is an American thing. She was wowed by the amount of energy, time, and money spent on planning prom. She had seen what prom is like in movies and tv shows, but I don't think she was prepared to understand how important prom is to high school students.
10. High school students are pretty much the same
They're the same everywhere. Hormones, angst, emotions, and every other amazing thing that makes a teenager a teenager is the same in Italy. They just speak another language! They remind me why I became a high school teacher in the first place.
A final note...
I had such an amazing experience living life (and eating!) as a true Italian. My time there was life-changing; I was able to think and reflect not only about myself as an educator, but I was also able to practice mindfulness, meditation, and self-reflection. And to be honest, I don't think I could leave Burlington and move to Italy! Burlington really is a holistic community that involves so many parts that make up a whole. Between teachers, parents, students, and the rest of the community, the Burlington school district is my home.
I teach art at Burlington High School in Burlington, Massachusetts. My goals include teaching my students to live and thrive with 21st century learning skills while helping them to learn valuable creative artistic thinking and technical skill.