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What’s it like to teach in Rome?

What other profession offers such joy? asks teacher and librarian Sally Cameron as she shares a typical day at school

What's it like to teach in Rome?

What other profession offers such joy? asks teacher and librarian Sally Cameron as she shares a typical day at school

There are more than 700 students representing 60 nationalities and diverse religions at our school. We’re a fee-paying, non-profit Catholic international school and follow the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards and benchmarks. However, our social studies programmes differ in content from American programmes as we have aligned them with the Italian system. This ensures our students are ready to take their middle school Italian exams without having them do a double programme. Students must pass these exams in order to go to high school, so we need to ensure that every student headed down this path is properly prepared.

The day starts early for my family. Like many faculty and staff who are “old timers” we live out of the city in the countryside. It’s the only way to be able to afford staying. We drive 30km to school but traffic is intense and road conditions often bad, so we need to leave home at 6.30am. We stop at a bar (a coffee bar!), on the way for a Hobbit’s breakfast and tend to arrive at school around 7.30am.

Classes begin at 8.30am though we have many students arriving early by bus, and others dropped early so parents can get to work. I open the library at 8am so these students have a warm, friendly place to be until the bell goes.

These morning times in the library are one of my favourite parts of the day. The students are allowed to play the board and card games, and you’ll find groups of students aged 7-11 playing Uno or Ludo together, there will be patient fifth graders teaching starstruck first graders how the chess pieces move, breath-holdingly intense games of Pick-Up-Sticks, the hilarity of Guess Who and a flurry of students handing in their permission slips for Harry Potter night. The hubbub can get loud, especially on cold or rainy mornings, but it’s happy noise; it sounds like community.

In the quiet, after students have tidied up and been dismissed off to class, I can go and grab a cup of tea, check-in the returned books, get them reshelved and work on other aspects of being a librarian. I open a package that arrived the night before, it’s a book a fifth grader has been asking for, number seven in the series and has gone missing three times already…I decide to deliver immediately. It's a great start to your day when you get a big spontaneous hug from a 10-year-old boy because of a book.

We have assembly once a week, and teachers take turns to have their students present work. Mine is coming up the first week of March, in collaboration with our IT teacher. We will be taking students from across the grade levels to present all about carnival. Each grade level is researching a different aspect of carnival during their library and computer classes, and in assembly the students will be able to see the complete picture of: Lent, how carnival is celebrated around the world, how it is celebrated in different regions of Italy, and how the commedia dell’arte influenced celebrations in Italy.

What's it like to teach in Rome?

After assembly I teach “creating good research questions” to fifth grade and fourth grade. They come with their iPads which today are handy for translating questions and directions for our EAL students. Our classes last 40 mins each, which takes us up to lunchtime from 11.30am – 12.30pm. When I’m on duty, I spend the first half of lunch in the library and then eat on my feet while I supervise in the lunchroom. On days when I do not have duty I open the library so those who do not enjoy recess, or those who hate the cold, may come for refuge. They play games, read, and have a current fascination for tracing book covers.

Following lunch I teach Grade 4 (questions), Grade 1 (brainstorming all the places that one can find information) and then race down to the early childhood to read stories.

I arrive breathless and red-faced, with a tinsel crown sliding down the back of my head which has gifted me static hair like a dandelion clock, to have an earnest three-year-old tell me: “Oh! You look so beautiful today.” What other profession offers such joy?

The last half hour of the day I am open to parents. They are encouraged to set up their own accounts and use the library to supplement the reading material they have at home. Most of our collection is in English but we have books in 15 other languages.

School ends at 3.30pm. On Wednesdays I offer a Harry Potter themed after-school club. On other days I faff about in the library as I wait for my own children to finish their after-school activities, before we wend our way home.

Sally Cameron is a teacher and librarian at Marymount International School in Rome

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