What makes an Italian teacher truly great at her job?

As a Brit living in Italy, I’ve been through the experience of having to learn Italian from absolute zero to a level of ‘working-proficiency’.

And each day I work with others struggling to achieve the same thing. I’m a language teacher myself – I teach English to Italian clients.

But I’m also the co-owner of an Italian language school here in Bologna, and so employer and manager of a team of full-time and part-time teachers, some of whom have been with us for nearly 10 years.

Guess that means I should have some insight when it comes to understanding the quality or qualities that make an Italian teacher truly great at her job…

But first, what do YOU think?

Assuming you’ve taken an Italian course in the past, or are learning Italian at the moment, or are planning to start studying the language, what do YOU consider to be the essential qualities of an effective Italian language teacher?

Don’t worry if you’ve never given it much thought before (that is, after all, part of MY job.)

But it’s worth mulling over – especially if you’re in the market for an Italian course or online Italian lessons, in which case you’ll be wanting to have at least a general idea of what to look out for.

So below are a few ideas to get you thinking (in no particular order…)

  • has an in-depth knowledge of Italian grammar
  • speaks Italian fluently and with an appropriate accent
  • is good at explaining new concepts
  • is happy to answer your questions
  • makes lessons interesting and fun
  • plans lessons so they combine practice and input
  • is well-organised and well-prepared
  • is flexible in responding to changing priorities
  • uses different approaches and methodologies according to the situation
  • also teaches her students HOW to learn (so makes them better, more autonomous, learners)
  • is empathetic (understands how her students are feeling, can put herself in their position)
  • sets and corrects homework
  • organizes regular revision and progress tests
  • knows how to motivate her class
  • doesn’t waste time…
  • but doesn’t go too quickly

It’s quite a long list, isn’t it? And there’s plenty I’ve missed out!

But take a look at it again. Pick out a few points which seem to you to be the most important. Add your own ideas, if you wish.

Done that?

Now put them in order of importance. Number one, number two, number three…

There you have it: your answer to what makes an Italian teacher truly great at her job!

I’d hazard a guess, though, that other people reading this article will prioritize different things.

Their situations and preferences are unlikely to match yours.

Some of them might prefer a teacher who is great at explaining grammar clearly, and sets regular tests which help them feel a sense of progress.

Others might love lessons in which they can chat away in Italian with the teacher and classmates.

Clients of some nationalities expect ‘learning’ to be a serious thing, and so turn up 30 minutes early for class with a pristine notebook, a dictionary and an array of different colored pens.

While their classmates from more fun-loving places may have been up all night practicing their Italian in a disco, and so will often stroll into class, looking exhausted but very pleased with themselves, just in time for the mid-morning break.

Mutual incomprehension is likely to ensue.

Which brings me to MY answer. What DOES make an Italian teacher truly great at her job?

It’s not the method or the course book they choose. Neither is it the fact that they are, or are not, a native-speaker of the language.

Experience is vital, of course.

But so is a love of working with people, and that can be found in teachers of any age or background.

As a student, my ideal teacher has buckets of empathy, and so manages both a personal and professional understanding that no two students have precisely the same needs or preferences.

She’ll SEE me, and I don’t mean that in the sense of ‘looking at’.

I’d go for a teacher who listens. And based on what she hears, is able to successfully adapt her approach to the situation and to the students she has in front of her.

I’d rather not study with a teacher who thinks they know it all, or with someone who has a ‘one size fits all’ approach to preparing and delivering lessons.

Life’s too short.

And if I take off my learner hat and put on my owner/manager hat?

Imagine I’ve picked one CV/resume out of a pile of hundreds, made the hire before someone else managed to, and here we are on Day 1 of the course.

So, perfect teacher, welcome to Madrelingua!

Here’s your class register, and these are your instructions…

First, make sure everyone is learning something new, and that no one feels lost or left behind.

Then, organize your activities in such a way that the whole class get lots of chances to speak in Italian, but that nobody is ever bored or frustrated.

Oh and one other thing, if you can?

Teach in such a way that the four hours pass before they know it.

That way, they’ll be bouncing out of bed tomorrow morning, ready for another lesson!

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  1. Patricia A. Lenz says:

    All of the six different Madrelingua teachers I have had demonstrate most of the positive qualities in the list.
    A native speaker who knows the local (Bologna) culture and gets me excited about experiencing it is most important to me. Not going too quickly over new material and being sure students are in appropriate levels is also critical.
    Leading me to additional resources to supplement the classroom experience–in my case, Online Italian Club–is a bonus. For example, although C is above my current Italian level, I find the listenings thoroughly enjoyable and a great reinforcer in learning new vocabulary & usage.

  2. Marcia Bailey says:

    Humor and flexibility are essential. Being able to explain the same thought multiple ways using only Italian until he/she is certain it is understood by all. Madrelingua is fortunate to have teachers who do that. I would have a hard time rating the list as most of the items are critical but a native speaker who knows his grammar would be essential for me.