Mrs Sensible is her name and teaching is her game.

Mrs Sensible is her name and teaching is her game.

Mrs Sensible passed all her exams and qualified to be a teacher many years ago. Unfortunately so did many other people. Each year Mrs Sensible is given a ten month contract, working in one of the state schools. She is then laid off during the summer and we have to watch our pennies as she doesn’t qualify for holiday pay. We then pray that Mrs Sensible will be given another contract for the following year.

The Italian government has decided to change this nonsense and employ full time teachers for the 11,892 positions that are normally handed out on short term contracts. The problem is there are 172,248 eligible teachers who all want and need a job.  Snr Profumo, some geezer in the government decided that what Italy needed was a competition, and so the Concorso Insegnanti 2012/13 is running.

Teachers in Turin

Teachers in Turin waiting to enter the school for the 2012 School Contest

In December the first stage of the concorso (competition) took place. 50 multiple answer questions, were laid before the 172 thousand teachers. Only 33.6% passed, Mrs Sensible passed and was quiet annoyed with herself for only scoring 46.5 out of 50. She needed 35 to pass.

I have no idea how she managed to pass the first stage, since some of the questions were supposed to be based on logic but even Spock would have considered them illogical, and the maths questions… well let me give you an example.

ilogical Captain

Illogical Captain

5 trains leave different stations. Train A arrives before Train B, Train C was driving faster than train D. Train B arrived before train D. What did the driver of train C have for breakfast? Mrs Sensible knew the answer.

I like to think my lack of Italian played a small part in helping Mrs Sensible pass the exam. She is forced to use English if she wants any sensible answers from me, and so the English Questions that made up 25% of the marks was a piece of cake for the talented Bi Lingual Mrs Sensible.

Anyway at the beginning of this month she went to Torino to sit the written exam. I booked us in a nice hotel and went along for the ride. As I took a couple of photos a little lady whose name translates to Mrs Drinkwater asked me if I was a journalist. No no, my wife is a teacher I said, pointing at the mass of people who were trying to enter the building.

Mrs Sensible is in this crowd

Mrs Sensible is in this crowd

“Come and have breakfast with me” she said. I often wonder if I have a note stapled to my back with the following printed on it STRANGE PEOPLE PLEASE APPLY HERE. On the way to breakfast Mrs Drinkwater acquired another friend who just happened to be standing near us. After breakfast and as we left the café I gave my excuses and said I needed to put some money in the car parking meter. Oh that’s ok we will come with you. Ahhuh… As the three of us approached my car Mrs Drinkwater, who by now had taken on the position of tour director, said There is a lovely church just past your car, would you like to see it?

Well I had 3 hours to kill, so stupidly I said yes. It was a lovely church and I wasn’t too put out as Mrs Drinkwater and our friend dropped to their knees to pray for their children who were at the moment trying to pass the concorso. I wandered off down the church to look at various paintings and sculptures. As I wandered back to the silently praying twosome, a priest entered the church and everybody stood up. Come on let’s go to the front, said Mrs Drinkwater. Aaahhhhh!!!

I know I shouldn't have taken this picture. But would you have believed me.

I know I shouldn’t have taken this picture. But would you have believed me?

We went to the front of the church, and I sat behind an old lady in a fur coat. The two priests took mass and communion, they said their Hail Marys and left the church. With Mrs Drinkwater in the lead we set off back to the school where Mrs Sensible was working hard.

Mrs Drinkwater stopped once or thrice to answer her mobile, she would have a loud conversation with someone called Giuseppe, and then set off walking again. We didn’t stop at the school, Mrs Drinkwater marched straight pass it, across the road to the University for physical education. Just before she entered the University she once more phoned Giuseppe. I naturally assumed that Giuseppe was waiting for us inside, we would be given cake and tea and take the load off our feet for a couple of mins. It couldn’t be further from the truth. We took a tour of the University trying various locked classroom doors, it was when she rattled the third door that I became a little suspicious that maybe Giuseppe wasn’t in the University and was more than likely sitting in Messina, Sicily, phoning his mum to make sure she wasn’t getting into any trouble.

We wandered down a long dark corridor, and I kept expecting to see a security guard who would shout at us and physically throw us out, or maybe something worse.  At the end of the corridor was a gymnasium. Girls in leotards were engaged in some pretty physical jumping up and down and waving their arms around. Mrs Drinkwater put her shopping bags on the floor and decided to join in. Now finding myself caught up in a catholic mass on a Friday morning is one thing, and I am no stranger to surprises and strange circumstances but this was becoming a little too surreal even for me.

Mrs Drinkwater

Mrs Drinkwater

The woman in charge of the aerobics class, pleasantly, if not a little sarcastically, asked if we would prefer to join her class rather than practising in the entrance. I made We need to go NOW signs with my hands and thought that if I started to leave the building Mrs Drinkwater and our friend would follow.

Safely waiting back outside the school for Mrs Sensible, the teachers started to emerge from the building. Some looked decidedly unhappy, one of them heard my dreadful Italian and she realised that I was English. She asked me to look at the answers she had given to the English questions. Now, I am not a teacher but the answers she had given were definitely incorrect. I shrugged. Mi dispiace, è sbagliato, I said as I shook my head. She looked stunned and wandered off. One or two others also asked me to mark their papers and I politely decline. I pointed at my wife and suggested they ask her. One girl bursting into tears was just too much for me.

There are two more exams to be sat before the 172 thousand teachers are weeded down to 11 thousand, I just hope and pray Mrs Sensible is not one of those that are weeded out.

Back to Skool

Today is back to school day for most of the children in Italy. Mrs Sensible is a teacher in scuola primaria. This year she is tasked with teaching the little blighters angels English, maths and music in one school and in the other English and Italian. While I sit here typing this blog Mrs Sensible is colouring in posters for her new classrooms. The little quip I made about I hope you have finished all your work before you started colouring in your pictures was almost met with physical violence.

I was first forced to attend school some forty-five years ago and I don’t believe it has fundamentally changed in the last forty-five years for either the children or the teachers. I can say this from bitter experience because Mrs Sensible forced me to go to the local evening class to learn Italian. I suppose forced is maybe a bit hard, my mum forced me to school by threatening me with the slipper, Mrs Sensible used the “If you want to stay in Italy you need to learn the language, I am tired of translating for you maybe we should go back to the UK”

I have never found my lack of Italian to be a huge problem I can order wine, grappa and food and request the cost of items. In fact my lack of Italian has been quiet useful, Scusi io sono inglese mi dispiace non capsico, has saved me from buying expensive items or helped me escape from street traders trying to sell me bags and belts.

So as my good wife had become exasperated with being my interpreter she enrolled me in a basic Italian night class on a Thursday night for immigrants run by the local municipale. The lessons were held in a senior school in Casale Monferrato. The teacher Maestra Piera was in her late 50s. Her eyes glitter with excitement as she explained to my wife that all I would have to do to learn Italian was to listen to everything she said. Oh and importantly attend her class regularly. This seemed far removed from the way I was taught in school. I seem to remember it took the threat of the cane and detention for me to apply myself to the lessons.

During the first lesson I was determined not to draw attention to myself. As I entered the classroom I calmly walked to the back of the room and chose a desk in the corner.  As I started to sit down, Maestra Piera pointed at me and announced to the class “Lui e’ Inglese si chiama Peter.” She then pointed to a desk at the front of the class and shouted “Vieni Peter, vieni qui.” My cover blown I slowly walked to the front of the class and sat down at the desk right in front of the blackboard. The horrors of my former school life quickly returned. I was beginning to wonder if I would have to produce a sick note signed by my wife when I decided to skip a lesson.

The classroom was the same as any schoolroom that I have sat or stood in the corner of. The only difference was the desks were scored with graffiti in Italian, Giuseppe Ti Amo Loradana. As I sat waiting for the lesson to begin I started to thumb through my new Italian – English dictionary wondering if I would have to back it in brown paper for homework.

As I sat there wishing I was somewhere else I become aware of all the different languages that were being spoken in the room. Near the door was a group who were either Russian or Ukrainian. Behind me near the back of the classroom I could hear French and in the middle of the room another language which I later found out belonged to the Albanians who outnumbered all of us.

I started my first lesson with a simply subject. How to change a singular noun into a plural noun, while remembering to change the article at the same time. We also needed to remember that the rules are different for male and female gender nouns. Not only is it mind-boggling, but all the explanations the teacher gave were in Italian. Logarithms without a table or calculator would have been easier. It wasn’t until I showed Mrs Sensible my notes later that night that I became aware of what I had been listening to for the previous two and a half hours.

At one point during the lesson Maestra Pierra looked at me and said with a huge smile and a nod. “Peter hai Capito?” I slowly shook my head no. Huge mistake! She walked to my desk smiled at me, leaned in close and raising her voice to a shout proceeded to give me the exact same explanation that she had given the class less than 5 seconds ago, again in Italian. “Oh ok ok io capisco” I said. I never made that mistake again.

In the early lessons I think Maestra Piera thought I was her perfect student. I never asked her to repeat anything twice and I wrote down almost everything she said. It was only later that she cottoned on to how badly I was progressing in her lessons. One of the problems with the lessons, was I didn’t understand Italian therefore I didn’t understand the teacher.

The second problem was the class had a massive mix of abilities. There were the French, Spanish and Rumanians who with their Latin based language could argue with the teacher over the correct structure of a sentence and then there was me who needed pictures of cats and dogs with gatto and cane printed beneath them.

I struggled through two years of classes with Maestro Piera and I know it was as much a struggle for her as it was for me. The symbolic certificate she gave me saying I had attained level 2 in Italian was presented more for my dogged attendance and also to make sure I didn’t re apply for a third year.

This summer during July, we bumped into Maestra Piera while we were shopping. I did try to follow the conversation between my old teacher and my wife. I smiled and nodded in the right places and shook my head as they shook theirs. I also got the distinct and mortifying feeling that my wife was organizing year three of my Italian education. I caught phrases like dovra’ cominciare al  livello uno and in Settembre. To date Mrs Sensible has not mentioned my date for going back to school so I am hoping against all hope that she has forgotten our meeting with Maesta Piera, unfortunately I doubt she has because she has an incredible memory and is probably waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring my new term date on me.