(image by Lucian Teo on Flickr)
In a change from teaching, today is a day of learning. Sadly, it’s a Saturday, and none of us are best pleased to have to be in school for 9am for a day of exam induction. Blech. We faff about in the hallway, putting off for as long as possible the moment of actually having to start work. There’s a surprising (but pleasing) sense of camaraderie; we’re so rarely all in the same place at the same time that it’s a novelty to see everyone. We have a mini-staff meeting, which basically involves having a bit of a grumble and a giggle. It may not solve anything, but it makes us all feel better. It’s amazing what a whinge can do for the soul. The school receptionist, having turned the alarm off and let us in, leaves us to it, hiding her face: she’s run out with only a cursory attempt at make-up on this morning, knowing that she can go back home to bed as soon as we’re safely in the building. She’s gorgeous whatever happens, but Italian women don’t do bare-faced chic, and she clearly feels naked without foundation.
Shuffling into the multimedia room, we are met by the exam board representative. He’s a floppy-haired university lecturer in his 40s, with a severely sibilant ‘s’. (And that’s a sentence he’d not be able to say with ease. Ha.) He chivvies us in. “Let’s get started, OK?” We amble to our seats, the teachers from my school bagging the desks at the back of the room, like naughty children. Let the Lecce lot, who are running late, take the seats at the front, under the instructor’s beady gaze. It’s amusing to be on the other side of the teacher-student relationship for a little while, although I feel a twinge of guilt towards our instructor. Teachers make dreadful students: we ask far too many questions and concentrate even less than our charges do during the week.
With the exception of Alex, who has a 9am class twice a week, none of the rest of us are ever in school at this hour, and there is plenty of ill-concealed yawning going on. This isn’t just from tiredness. The training involves watching a lot of videos of real exams, and writing down the marks that we would have given the candidates had we been the examiners. If we get within one mark of the real examiners then we are considered fit to do the job. If not, we have to keep watching and marking tests until we get it right. Yes, it’s just as tedious as it sounds. Still, it should all be worth it in the summer: we get paid extra for examining, and it’s a bit of a change from teaching.
The morning goes surprisingly quickly. The instructor is as keen as we are to get this over and done with, and we race through the first part of the day. In the afternoon, the old hands head off to another room for a refresher course on examining advanced students, while we newbies are trained up on young learners. This is a lot of fun: we are allowed to practice on each other, and spend an amusing couple of hours pretending to be exceptionally dim 7-year olds. It gives me hope for my students: certainly they are an awful lot more proficient than many of the kids in the videos, who all pass with flying colours. As our instructor puts it: if you can find a pulse, they get a mark. If they then speak, they’ve aced it. From the examiner’s point of view, it’s all about coaxing the information out of the child, using gesture and generally being as unthreatening as possible. For large portions of the Starters test (the lowest level), all the kid has to do is point at a picture to show that they’ve understood. “Where’s the pineapple, Letizia?” (Blank look from child.) “Letizia. Where’s the PINE-AP-PLE?”. (Child sucks thumb, completely unconcerned with daft questions in a language she doesn’t understand. Examiner taps picture of pineapple.) “Letizia?” (Child gazes questioningly at Examiner.) “Is THIS a pineapple?” (Examiner looks madly encouraging, while jabbing finger deliberately at picture. Child finally ventures a reply.) “Yes?” (Examiner collapses with relief.) “YES! Goooood!”
In one of the videos, the examiner is a woman called Trish, who is wearing what I think to be an obscenely low-cut top. What is it about primary school teachers and boobage? There’s probably something deeply Freudian about it all, but it’s very offputting to watch. Put them *away*, woman! I think I’ve turned into a prude since moving to Italy. Now that’s something I didn’t expect to happen. Given that most of the Italian women you see splashed across international news are part of Berlusconi’s coterie of long-legged lovelies, most of whom are ex-game show hostesses, there’s a tendency to think that that’s the norm. Actually, it’s very different; certainly down here. Covering up is the name of the game. Maybe it’s just that they all believe it’s freezing cold, and things will change in the summer, but even in October, when it was still pretty hot, people were scandalised by me not wearing tights. As a redhead, I think high summer could be painful. I’m wilting just thinking about it.