Street in Padua, Italy

Teaching English in Italy: What’s it like?

I’m often asked what teaching English in Italy is like. If you’re curious, then this is the post for you! I started teaching English in Italy out of financial necessity (read: I had been living here for three months with no job and needed to make some money fast), and I had no idea how it would impact my life. An MA in Applied Linguistics and teaching experience in two other countries later, I’ve come back to Italy for more! I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world, because I have grown professionally and have met amazing students and coworkers along the way. That being said, it’s my goal to be truthful about the realities of the experience, so I’ve included the cons alongside the pros.

I’m going to talk about a day in the life of a teacher who works at private English schools. As always, feel free to reach out in the comments if you have thoughts or questions.

Luggage and Life’s guide to teaching English in Italy

What’s a private English school?

Private English schools are places where students go specifically to learn English. In big cities like Rome and Milan, there are hundreds of them, and even in smaller cities, you’re bound to find a few.

These schools are usually busy in the evenings, as many people take their courses after work. There are also lessons peppered throughout the day, for university students, or perhaps people whose employer is paying for their lessons.

You will probably have a mix of private and group lessons. These schools usually have several classrooms, however, it’s possible that you’ll be expected to go outside of the school to do lessons in people’s homes or places of work.

Some private English schools also specialize in lessons for children. They are busy from after the school day ends until the early evening. Sometimes, you’ll teach groups of children at the school in a classroom. Others won’t have classrooms, and in this case, you’ll travel to students’ homes to do lessons. You may work one-on-one with a single child, or teach a group of friends or siblings.

There are also, of course, public schools and universities, however, it’s more difficult to get a job at either of these, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience or an EU passport (note that I was granted a work visa for my university position, so it is possible). That being said, it’s becoming very common for public schools to source their English teachers from local private English schools, so you could end up teaching in a public school without actually being hired by one.

Colosseum and blue sky
Want to see this on your way to work?

What will I teach?

Many English schools have their own methodologies, which they will train you in. Some have pre-planned lessons that you have to follow, and others expect you to plan the lessons yourself using whatever series of textbooks or materials they use. You can probably figure out what type of school it is from their website, and if you can’t, ask. If you’re a new teacher, you’ll most likely be able to observe a veteran teacher to get an idea of what to expect during the lessons.

Often, students come to English schools with a specific intention: they’re going traveling so they want to be able to converse, they’re preparing for a job interview in English, they have to do a presentation, etc. These students will probably buy a package of individual lessons, and you’ll help them with whatever they need. Other individual students want to follow a course book, or perhaps prepare for a proficiency test like one of the Cambridge Exams, TOEFL, or IELTS. Some may request an ESP course, (English for Specific Purposes), like Business English, for example.

What qualifications do I need to teach English in Italy?

Regardless of the type of school you work at, you should get a TEFL certificate if you’re interested in teaching English in Italy. This will not only give you confidence as a teacher, but it will also be greatly beneficial to your students, because they deserve to have a teacher who knows what they’re talking about, not just a teacher who can speak English!

It’s possible to get hired simply because English is your mother tongue, but that doesn’t make you a good teacher. I strongly discourage you from attempting to teach with no training. As someone who was hired for her first job because she was a native speaker with a college degree, I can tell you that it’s really no fun at all when a student asks you a grammar question in your first week of teaching and you have absolutely no idea how to answer them (when probably, a local teacher who had learned English themselves would have been able to answer the question well and in no time flat).

The “native speaker myth,” which basically refers to the notion that native English speakers make the best teachers, is very problematic in the TEFL industry. It leads to discrimination against teachers who don’t speak English as a mother tongue, even though they might be better qualified and have more experience than a mother tongue English speaker. Local teachers also have way more contextual experience, which is invaluable in a variety of classroom settings.

Luckily, you can earn a TEFL certificate quickly and relatively cheaply online. Make sure that it includes some sort of supervised teaching component. Theory is great, but having hands-on experience will be very important for your professional development, and when applying for jobs.

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What’s a day in the life of an English teacher in Italy like?

This varies greatly depending on the type of school you work at. Let’s imagine that you work for both types of private English schools – one that caters to adults, and one that specializes in lessons for children. I say this because it’s extremely common for English teachers in Italy to work at two different schools, and perhaps do private lessons on the side.

So, in the morning, you work at the school for adults. You do one group lesson from 10 – 11, and then a private lesson from 11 – 12:30. The group lesson has five students. All of them are studying English for work opportunities. The private lesson is with a student who is preparing her thesis in English. You read an article that’s related to her thesis together, helping her with words she doesn’t understand and her pronunciation. Then, you chat about the article for a bit, and finally, she practices her thesis presentation for you.

You have to leave for your first after school lesson with a group of 8 year old girls at 2 o’clock. The lesson starts at 3, and it’s across the city. That leaves you a bit of time for lunch. You decide to get some pizza al taglio, take a little walk, and then read in the sunshine in the square near the bus stop.

Arno River in Florence Italy
Your potential afternoon commute in Florence

You begin your journey to the other side of town. The bus is late, so you text the mother of one of the kids you’ll be teaching.

The group of girls are friends. They study English at school, so they have a good basic knowledge of some vocabulary and simple grammar. You’re working on body parts this week, so you start with a warm-up game of Simon Says. Then you have a coloring worksheet for them to do, where they have to cut out and label the parts of the body. Next, you improvise a game, because they did the worksheet more quickly than you thought. Finally, you teach them “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

You have another lesson in the same area, then you head back to the city center where you’re meeting a private student for a lesson.

Your private student is a friend of a friend. She has been accepted into a Master’s program in the US. Her academic writing in English is excellent, but she wants to be more comfortable with her casual conversation skills, so that she’ll be able to talk with classmates and make friends. For this reason, you meet in a bar and have a conversation over a glass of wine once or twice a week.

Note that this is just an example of what your day might look like. Some schools will offer you a fixed schedule, where you teach the same classes for several weeks at a time, while others will expect you to be free for the entire day, and plug you into lessons where they need you. You might teach for several hours on one day, and only a few on another. Some schools will also ask you to work on Saturdays. Lessons take place anywhere between about 9am to 10 or even 10:30pm.

How much will I teach?

If you work at a school that requires you to travel to and from lessons, you’ll probably teach about 20 hours a week, because logistically, it’s not possible to do more than that. If you work for a school that allows you to do the lessons there, you might work more than that. The amount of work you’re allowed to do will also depend on the type of visa you’re on (unless you have an EU passport, which allows you to work with no conditions).

How much will I earn?

The pay rate varies depending on the type of school and where the school is, but I’d say you could earn anywhere between 8 and 20 euros per hour, although I think the 12 – 17 euro range is the most common.

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What are the major cons to this job?

The major con is that usually, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Sometimes, when courses finish, you won’t get another one right away. There are times of the year when there aren’t many lessons. Students cancel or go on vacation. It’s difficult to count on a steady income, unless you have a contract which promises you a salary regardless of how many lessons you teach. It’s my understanding that those types of contracts are pretty rare.

Another con is that if you work for a school that requires you to travel, large parts of your day will be spent on public transportation, which can be lonely and boring. You’ll probably also run into quite a few stressful situations with strikes, lateness, things running off schedule, etc. It’s worth mentioning that if there is a strike or other problem with public transportation, people here are usually very understanding, because they know how those things go.

The last thing worth mentioning is that your schedule can get pretty mixed up if you teach at one of the schools where your courses change weekly (some schools do this in order to expose the students to a variety of accents). Sometimes you’ll have enough time to do something, or perhaps go home in between lessons, but other times you’ll have a free hour here and there which means you’ll probably just end up hanging in the teachers’ room (which can also be fine if there are other teachers around, or if you have a good book). When working at these kinds of schools, it can feel like your days aren’t really yours, especially if you’re expected to be free from morning until evening. Keep in mind that you can probably negotiate with the school, telling them you can work after 1pm if you like to have mornings for yourself, or perhaps telling them that two nights a week you have to finish by 5 so you can have a few evenings free.

What are the major pros to teaching English in Italy?

Luckily, the pros outweigh the cons. If you have a schedule that changes, that means that some days, you’ll get to wander around the city between lessons, have a coffee in the sunshine, or catch a friend for lunch. When I first taught in Rome, I deliberately mapped out my travel so that I had the opportunity to walk or ride by some of the city’s most gorgeous sites, to remind myself of where I was and how lucky I was to be there.

Another good thing about this job is that you might not earn much, but you don’t really need much. Italy is pretty affordable to live in, even if you’re making way less than you’d make at home. Of course, if you live in Milan, Florence, or Rome, your rent and things will be more expensive than if you lived in a smaller city, but public transportation, food, and going out in general are still pretty inexpensive. Also, you can always supplement your income with extra classes and/or private lessons. People here invest a great deal of time and money in English learning, so there is lots of work to go around!

The friends you’ll make along the way are also a major pro. I’ve met some of the best people in the world teaching English over the years, and I am happy to still count them as friends today. You help each other, go out together, and really bond over the crazy experience of being an English teacher in Italy.

The connection you’ll make with students will also be something that you treasure. As they achieve their goals, do well on their exams, or tell you about times when they’ve used English successfully, your heart will swell. I have countless fond memories of so many wonderful students, particularly the children I’ve worked with. I’ll never forget how much fun I had teaching them through play, laughing with them, being amazed at their progress, and coming home at the end of the day covered in stickers and glitter, with crowns and drawings they had made for me. I have them all in a book at home, and I’ll keep them forever!

One last thing I want to mention is that, yes, English teaching is a problematic industry for many reasons, but at the end of the day, you might be helping someone to live a dream of traveling, working, or studying abroad, or even just provide them with the opportunity they need to communicate with other people. In my mind, this makes the other not-so-great stuff worth it.

Oh yeah, and the views aren’t so bad either…

Boat in Venice, Italy
Just another day at the office…

Like I said earlier, if you have questions or comments, please reach out!

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7 Comments

  1. Hello! I am almost done with my TEFL training. I am now looking for a job. I’m wondering if you can contact me if you have any helpful information on finding a job. My dream city is Florence.

  2. I’m using your blog post as a source for a cultural report on Italy. Thanks for your perspective! I hope to teach there someday. 🙂

    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks for your comment. I hope your report went well and that you get the chance to teach here someday! ?

  3. True! When I was in Senegal I had to teach US History and it was a challenge for me to find the right balance of language and content teaching. There’s a lot of research going on about in Europe too, because there are so many programs (mostly Master’s and Phd level) that are conducted in English (or at least, they’re supposed to be). I really lucked out with the position I got here – maybe that’ll be my next post! 🙂

  4. Much of what you wrote applies to the situation here in Japan as well…University jobs can be had on a part-time basis, and full-time employment at them for foreigners is rare, but not impossible. Current trend here are subject-based teachers who teach (yes), subjects in English….universities are adding in “international” programs…basically a liberal arts degree with curriculum all taught in English…there will be more of this going on, though at the same time fewer students due to declining birth rates. Still, interesting time for those who also enjoy teaching subjects!

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