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A Surfeit of Schoolteachers

Anna Cattelino

The job market could be better for aspiring schoolteachers in Italy. A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates that, in addition to the 831,000 teachers working in Italian state schools in 2001, 422,000 qualified teachers were waiting in the wings.

The Italian government is working to address the still-growing waiting lists and create a better system for the training and employment of schoolteachers. One important change was the replacement, in 2001, of Italy's competitive national qualification procedures with a 2-year teacher-training programme. But the government is now reforming the training system once again. With an ever-changing context and confused legislative situation, scientists who want to become schoolteachers in Italy have a hard road ahead of them.

An Uncertain Environment

Under the old system, if you wanted to become a teacher in Italy's public schools, you needed an abilitazione--a teaching certificate--which could be granted through either of two distinct, competitive qualification processes: the concorso ordinario or the concorso per abilitazione. In the concorso ordinario, the top few qualifiers immediately won permanent teaching positions, whereas other qualifiers registered on the graduatoria provvisoria waiting list. Those passing the other test--the concorso per abilitazione--added their names to a second waiting list, the graduatoria permanente. As they came open, new positions were filled by teachers from both lists. The order in which applicants were chosen depended on their relative rankings.

Essential Reading for Aspiring Schoolteachers in Italy

At first, the concorso ordinario was held every 4 years, with the expectation that the waiting list would be exhausted before the next concorso was held. Instead, a surplus of teachers developed and grew, as fewer children attended school and the school system was restructured. The interval between concorsi was increased--the last two were almost 10 years apart--but the other concorso--the concorso per abilitazione--continued to be held frequently and irregularly, and the schoolteacher surplus continued to grow. Many teachers were on the waiting lists for years before getting a permanent position, and many still are.

In 2001, the system changed completely. Under the new system, the only way to obtain teaching abilitazione became to complete a 2-year part-time teacher-training course at the Scuole di Specializzazione all’Insegnamento Secondario (SSIS). The number of students admitted to the course is--or was--set annually by ministerial decree. Upon completion of their course, newly qualified teachers register on the existing graduatoria permanente list; names are no longer being added to the graduatoria provvisoria list, although the teachers on this list are still being absorbed into new positions.

As if the situation weren't complicated enough, more changes are coming. In 2003, the government passed a law that aims to reform once again Italy's education system, including the way new teachers are trained. Among the changes is the discontinuation of the SSIS course and its replacement by a compulsory postgraduate university course, a laurea specialistica in teaching. Details about the new courses--such as when they will begin--have not been announced, and no announcement is expected until after the Italian general election next month. For those wishing to start now, it currently isn't possible to pursue a teaching credential in Italy.

Voices of Experience

Manuela Stella and Anna Cattelino both decided to leave permanent research positions after 13 years in scientific institutes to become schoolteachers. Both participated in the final concorso ordinario in 2001. Stella (pictured right), who teaches biology, chemistry, earth sciences, and astronomy, moved into science teaching because she wanted to spend more time with her three young children. After hearing rumours that the 2001 concorso ordinario would be the last--no official announcement was made--she decided to take part in two concorsi, one for science teaching in her home province of Abruzzo, and another for food science in Veneto. Each concorso included two written exams, one practical, and an oral exam, taking place over a period of about 8 months. Stella didn't prepare much for the written exams; nevertheless, she attained maximum marks, which persuaded her to take 1 month of unpaid leave to prepare for the remaining exams. Stella won one of only three secondary-school teaching positions available in science in Abruzzo.

Manuela Stella

Cattelino (pictured top) qualified, but not with maximum marks. She registered on the graduatoria provvisoria list and was only offered a permanent position last year. It was a tough decision, but Cattelino, who was still working in research, accepted a position as a science and mathematics teacher in a lower secondary school ( scuola media). Her move didn't win praise from some of her research colleagues, but for her it was the right one. "Don’t take any notice of what your colleagues in research think about your move," she advises, "as they usually think that you are throwing away all your experience; it’s not true."

In Training

Giuseppe Savo

The introduction of the 2-year SSIS teacher-training course changed the way aspiring schoolteachers entered the profession, as Giuseppe Savo and Marco Franceschin learned. Both entered an SSIS course for natural sciences in Rome in 2004, immediately after finishing their Ph.D.s.

Both Savo (pictured left) and Franceschin value the experience and training they gained during these 2 years, but for Savo, the main advantage of the course is that it provides better professional credentials than the old concorsi. Beside, the extra points gained through the completion of an SSIS course often allow newly qualified teachers to jump over those who got on the graduatoria permanente list the old way. When they finish the course this year, Savo and Franceschin, along with about 10,000 others from the national 2004 SSIS intake, will have their teaching abilitazione and a good chance of getting an early offer for a permanent teaching position.

The system is being changed once again, and no one knows yet what the new courses will look like. But most students probably will have to pay their own way and support themselves during training. Savo, who supported himself during the SSIS course on savings he had put aside while working as a pharmaceutical sales representative during the final year of his Ph.D., advises others to save up like he did. With frequent exams, obligatory attendance, many hours of teaching practice, and preparation for the final exam, it's necessary to really focus on the training, he says: "First put aside enough money, because there is really no time to do anything else at the same time as the SSIS course." In contrast, Franceschin (pictured right) managed to support himself through the SSIS course by keeping the part-time laboratory assistant job he had during his Ph.D. "I have actually continued my university research activities, along with my teaching activities," says Franceschin.

Marco Franceschin

With the latest education reform still under way, the environment for teacher training and employment in Italy remains uncertain. But according to the OECD, there may be better days ahead. The OECD warns that some European countries, including Italy, could soon face a shortage of teachers, because a large proportion of current teachers face retirement in the next decade. Whether this will be sufficient to absorb those on the Italian waiting lists--and what the next way in for aspiring schoolteachers will be--remains to be seen.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor .

Chris Berrie is a freelance writer based in Cepagatti, Italy . With background research from Emanuela Guerra.

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