Roberto Rossellini High School
Status: State High School and VET Institution
Interviewee: Francesca D’Alessio, Teacher
“ The MIUR (Ministry of Education) offers refresher courses on the use of technology. There are also refresher courses on children's social issues, which definitely help teachers to have better classroom management. ”
“ In Italy there is no system for evaluating teachers. A way would have to be found to monitor the teacher's teaching effectiveness and empathy with the pupils. ”
“ Being with teenagers becomes tiring at a certain point; I see colleagues who are perhaps a bit older than me, close to retirement, who really struggle to be with teenagers. ”
“ During the Covid period teachers struggled much more with just using the computer. In our school we had a great advantage in that we were already using the Meet platform, so it was quite easy to set everything up and do online refresher courses for the less experienced teachers ”
Teacher Age Dynamics: navigating challenges in our school
Being with teenagers becomes tiring at a certain point; I see colleagues who are perhaps a bit older than me, close to retirement, who really struggle to be with teenagers. It is not a question of training, it is not a question of personal culture or personal ability, but it is really a question of fatigue, because being in class with 25-26 teenagers every day can be tiring. It is true that in some cases more mature teachers find it difficult to accept new teaching proposals. Even young teachers find it difficult to accept or propose teaching strategies that are not traditional. The spirit of initiative of each individual should aim for professional training that pushes you to think about new teaching methods... On the other hand, schools often help teachers to do this, but it is not certain that you will then accept the school's suggestion.
Main reasons that have led to the challenges we are facing
During the Covid period teachers struggled much more with just using the computer. In our school we had a great advantage in that we were already using the Meet platform, so it was quite easy to set everything up and do online refresher courses for the less experienced teachers. The difficulties were that we didn't have a face-to-face relationship with the students, which really created a number of problems, including communication. But in the end many teachers were happy with this situation of distance from the pupils, because you can deliver a lesson without anyone really listening to you...
The problems for ageing teachers are mostly related to the management of the pupils and also to the fact that they are too far away from the generation with which they have to deal: for example, my advantage is that, having school-aged children of my own, I can be much closer to these pupils, also from a cultural point of view, than, say, my colleague who is ten years older than me.
There could certainly be refresher courses, there could be training, there could be suggestions on how to improve or change teaching methods in relation to changes in society. However, changing teaching methods in relation to social change always depends on the will and adaptability of the individual teacher. It also depends on the individual's willingness to put the newly acquired approaches into practice and to adapt them to their own, often traditional, teaching style. To engage today's learners, we need to integrate traditional face-to-face teaching with different types of teaching, e.g. flipped classrooms, peer tutoring... Not everyone is able or willing to deal with these issues.
Addressing and preventing teacher age issues: organisational measures in place in our school
The MIUR (Ministry of Education) offers refresher courses on the use of technology. There are also refresher courses on children's social issues, which definitely help teachers to have better classroom management. And, as I said, there are also courses on new teaching strategies.
This year, our school has set up an Innovative Teaching Committee: a group of teachers who will be responsible for proposing and giving suggestions to all colleagues on how to approach teaching in a way that is closer to the needs of the children. The new forms of teaching proposed by the commission must still include all content from each subject's curricula, but the knowledge must be provided in a new and appealing way.
There is also the RAV (Self-evaluation Report), which is a school improvement plan: we monitor everything that happens in the school every three years and, based on the results, we propose an improvement plan to the teachers. The RAV is a ministerial measure, we are obliged to do it.
When new teachers come to the school, it is important to explain the school itself: what kind of school it is, what it does, what its aims are, what kind of pupils it has. As for the mentoring provided by MIUR, in some schools there is some kind of course before the start of the year, but in other schools everything is left to the willingness of the older teachers and the initiative of the young, new ones. There are some scheduled hours when the mentor has to be in the new teacher's class to help him/her integrate into the class. And I think this is important in all subjects, whether you are new or old. It is important to try to create co-teaching lessons because different teachers of the same subject may have different skills and everyone would benefit from the exchange.
Analysing the pros and cons: the teacher's awareness of organisational measures
Peer tutoring works with students, so it can work very well between teachers. Often, however, people feel uncomfortable teaching in the presence of another colleague, for fear of being judged. Instead, I think it is something that has enormous benefits.
We have a job that does not end when the bell rings. In addition to the homework that needs to be corrected, there is a whole series of formalities that are essential for the education of both students and teachers, but they take up time.
All the activities we have to do after school hours, such as attending refresher courses or taking part in committees, depend on the person. There are many teachers who are available in the afternoons to attend courses, to communicate, to talk, to exchange good practice, and many who are not interested.
Positive effects of the measures introduced
We all come from a traditional teaching background, in a society that has changed so much lately. We are trying to create a school that proposes ways of working that are not only closer to the students, but that create a synergy between society, the territory, the student, the teacher and the school organisation.
Monitoring and evaluation of the measures introduced
The well-being of the teachers can also be understood through the well-being of the class.
All activities proposed within the school are monitored by questionnaires to the students. The idea of asking the pupils for feedback is important, but it is also important to get feedback from the teachers, in order to know what they think and whether they suggest improvements or changes. Monitoring meetings can be organised.
In the process, you can ask the pupils whether these new measures give feedback from the point of view of education, participation and evaluation. So I think that beyond the grade, which is of little interest to us now, the student's ability is important.
Proposing further solutions: enhancing efforts to address the issue
There are informal initiatives organised to get teachers involved. I organise visits to the city or outside Rome and often when I present an idea everyone is very enthusiastic, but then very few actually participate.
In my school there are spaces for participation that are both playful and related to teaching. So radio, television, theatre and cinema are actually facilities within the school, but they still allow teachers to meet. We could certainly do more, i.e. we could propose activities within the school, even in the afternoon, and ask for participation from the teachers.
Other ideas? Definitely trying to involve new colleagues in activities such as school committees, which are currently the responsibility of older colleagues. This would help the new teachers to integrate and the older ones to have less responsibility. Of course, coaching should also be provided. Side-by-side support often turns into active suggestions: those who are younger in age or less experienced in their work are often able to provide resources that may not have been thought of by teachers who have been doing the same thing for a long time. I am thinking, for example, of the Inclusion Commission, the Culture Commission, the Health Education Commission, all of which involve a number of colleagues working together towards a common goal, and in this case I think it can be very important for everyone to encourage new colleagues to join these commissions.
In general, I think it is important to have common experiences: to learn to work together. In fact, something that teachers do very little is to work together, they don't know how to work together.
It seems absurd because we ask the students to collaborate, but the teachers are not very capable of collaborating with each other, precisely because everyone is alone in the classroom. Instead, collaboration is essential to create a harmonious working environment. Work is harmonious when the class council works together with the other class councils, with all the other professionals in the school, with the administration, with the headmaster, with the deputy headmaster. This is certainly important, but it is not often done.
Implementing specific age-related strategies: formal or informal activities introduced
I think that raising the retirement age is dangerous both for working men and women and for those waiting for work who will obtain a regular position very late in their professional life, creating a vicious circle where you have to work longer because you started late....
I believe that when I am 65 my working capacity will not be the same as it is now. Working in a classroom with 25 students is difficult and requires energy, creativity and resilience that are lost with age, also because the generations of children change and at 65 the gap is too big to speak the same language and fully understand the world of teenagers, which will not be the same as 10 or 15/20 years ago.
In my school we are working on new didactic possibilities to change our approach to students and to adapt our skills and competences. Innovative didactics could help ageing teachers to better support their skills, for example through co-participation or cooperation between disciplines, or open classes or working groups.
In my school, some teachers who are close to retirement have been exempted from the 18 hours of face-to-face teaching, in order to work a few hours on specific projects or courses. This allows them to focus their energies in the classroom for a few hours and 'recharge' in the project hours.
However, I would say that the school does not have a specific plan. In the school, which is a technological institute, the ability to work is also determined by the knowledge of new technologies and the ability to use them. There is a tendency to reintroduce the most familiar didactic method, which is often inappropriate or not the only one possible. We could imagine exchanges between generations of teachers to provide didactic skills to those who do not have them and to update the technological skills of those who do not know them.
Moreover, the work capacity of those who teach technical subjects also depends on maintaining a link with their profession outside the school. Working outside the school for some time can make it easier to return with more energy and updated know-how.
How to monitor this process? In Italy there is no system for evaluating teachers. A way would have to be found to monitor the teacher's teaching effectiveness and empathy with the pupils. Then the teacher should be re-evaluated after a few years and so on, until retirement. Based on the observations over the years, a programme could be designed for all teachers in the same school.