Bottom of the pay league
In the courtyard outside the Scuola Elementare Kennedy in Conegiliano, near Venice, the headteacher is welcoming the second- year children back to school. She explains that the staff are eager to get back to work.
Patrizia Gamba, who teaches at the school, smiles knowingly. The first day back is a good time to take stock. This year, more than most, teachers are in the public eye, with a major reform of the system looming, and large sums earmarked for teacher development.
But teachers have little to shout about. With a take-home pay of around 2 million lire (Pounds 715) a month after 10 years' service, it would be hard to find anyone with a professional qualification who earns less.
It is now virtually impossible to support a family on a teacher's salary, which explains why the bulk of the profession is made up of women whose partners are the main earners.
Italian teachers are at the bottom of the European salary league, along with colleagues from Turkey and Greece, where the cost of living is lower.
With the erosion of spending power, status is at an all-time low. But there are causes of satisfaction. Patrizia, who has been teaching for 19 years, when she passed a concorso ( a competitive exam which is the only way into a public-sector job) is enthusiastic about the new modular organisation of primary schools which has replaced the previous one-class one-teacher model.
"With team teaching we have become more specialised," she explained. "I now teach maths, science and music."
Teacher-pupil relations are good in both secondary and primary schools, due, at least in part, to an overall teacher-pupil ratio of 1:10 (the best in Europe). But Patrizia has reservations about schools competing against each other to attract pupils. "I'm not against the idea of competition," she says, "but we must wait and see what form it might take."
She thinks it is harder to be a new teacher now than 20 years ago: "Children increasingly want to be the centre of attention. And parents are more demanding, too, although this can be positive. But too much still depends on teacher goodwill, which is unpaid." People outside the profession might be envious of the eight-week summer holiday, she added, but didn't seem to realise teachers needed the first month "just to pick up the pieces" of their lives.