Hi, I’m Francesca, 35 years old, and originally from the UK. I’ve lived in Rome, Italy for 13 years and taught English for most of them. I love life in Italy although I occasionally miss a good old cup of English tea!
Hi Francesca, you know, I love Italy too. Can you start out by telling us a bit more about why you first moved to Rome?
I moved to Rome straight after university, mainly because I had no idea what career I wanted to go into and was in need of a little adventure. I bought a one-way ticket and enrolled at an Italian language school, which I soon abandoned in favour of meeting new friends and learning the Italian language the ‘fun’ way. Hey, I was only 22! Now I’ve been here for 13 years, am married to an Italian and work as a freelance English teacher.
Oh, I think you, me, and so many other 22-year-olds don’t really know what career they want to do. In fact, I’m also finding that a lot of 40- and 50-year-olds explore new new options if they didn’t choose well when they were younger. How did you get your start working as an English teacher, and where do you work now?
After I got the Vespa rides and discotecas (mostly) out of my system, I realised pretty soon I would need to find a job. My degree is in Psychology, but my Italian language skills were still poor. I tried attending a couple of interviews for office jobs, but even when the job advert talked about the candidate being ‘fluent in English’ or the office being ‘an International environment’, I soon realised that a good knowledge of Italian was also an absolute must. In my experience, both in applying for jobs and working with business people in Rome, companies use Italian as their main spoken language on a daily basis, even at big multinationals.
The only option left to me, apart from babysitting or cleaning, was teaching English. I found a couple of private students through people I knew, and emailed my CV to three or four private language schools. I got contacted quickly by a couple of schools, had an interview at one and was working there all within the space of about 10 days.
I got contacted quickly by a couple of schools, had an interview at one and was working there all within the space of about 10 days.
Over the years I have worked at two private English schools and a bilingual primary school. Now I work as an independent teacher.
Your experience with finding English speaking jobs in Rome is similar to what I found as well. That’s impressive that you found work as a teacher so quickly! Since you now work as a freelance English teacher, what would you say is the most profitable way to find work? Do you have any secrets to success?
I’m still searching for the most profitable way! Don’t get me wrong, working as an independent English teacher and charging for your time per hour can be profitable, but there is obviously a limit to how many hours in a week you’re able to work, and there is a limit to how much you can charge with a clean conscience in my opinion. I’m currently looking into designing and selling online courses as a way of supplementing my income, however at this stage it’s still a pipe dream.
I’m currently looking into designing and selling online courses as a way of supplementing my income.
If you want to work as an independent teacher, you’ll find that there is a huge market for private English lessons in Rome, and if you use the people you know as a springboard then you can start to tap into that market. When I left the bilingual primary school I worked at, I stayed in contact with some families whose children then became my first students. After that, if you’re doing your job well, word of mouth recommendations will start to come in.
I also supplement word-of-mouth requests by paying a yearly subscription to a website that connects students with teachers. The website is well-indexed on Google and always provides me with a slow but steady stream of students.
Even when I didn’t have much experience, I always met new students through people I knew, so my advice is to talk to people about what you do, whether it’s your landlord, barista or hairdresser. Italians love talking, and they love finding out about people, so you won’t be boring anyone!
Even when I didn’t have much experience, I always met new students through people I knew, so my advice is to talk to people about what you do.
My other piece of advice here is not to undersell yourself, even if you don’t have much experience. Plan your lessons carefully, to the best of your ability, and charge what you think you’re worth. Undercutting the market price will probably bring you students who are only interested in getting a short-term bargain and after a very short time it will become frustrating for you to sell your time at such low prices, especially if you have to travel to the student, which many teachers do at the beginning. Do some research and see what other teachers are charging in the area before setting your price.
You bring up so many important points here. My first question is what is the website that works to get you in contact with students? I’m sure others would love to know about it.
The website that I signed up to is called RomaInglese . I’ve had a profile on the site for four years now, and have always got a good return on my yearly subscription payment.
Oh, you’re right, that site does rank really well in Google. I was wondering how helpful it is. Thanks for sharing that resource with us!
So how you say how word of mouth marketing has worked for you, I’ve heard others say that too. In my interview with Carol Markino, that’s what she said is her most successful marketing strategy.
As for designing and selling your own online course, And for how to find your own authentic products that stand apart from others, that’s what a lot of people struggle with. So I’ve designed an If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change about your English teaching career? online course to help people find their own Unshakable Brand by analyzing their own strongest life memories. Maybe that can help some people too. This is such an important point. This year I ventured out into working as a freelancer myself. The best thing I’ve done is connect with others in the same boat as me. Can you tell us how you meet other independent teachers? In what ways do you support each other? Marek Kiczkowiak gave a lot of really great tips on this very topic when we chatted.
I would have networked with other teachers sooner! Since becoming an independent teacher, I’ve been out there on my own with no support network. That can be tough at times, because it’s important to share experiences, keep on top of new teaching trends and sometimes you just really want to ask someone for advice. In the end, it took the COVID-19 crisis and the move to teaching online for me to search out other teachers in the same boat as me, and now I’m creating valuable connections that I wish I had made before.
I would have networked with other teachers sooner!
Oh wow, I didn’t know you met Carol through our Facebook video. That makes me so happy to know that we were able to make that feasible. Then, I’m so glad that you reached out to her. That’s something I do too, and I agree that forming a micro-community is so helpful when you work for yourself. Let’s move on to what you spend most of your working time doing. What’s your favorite teaching strategy?
Well, I met them indirectly through you! I watched your Facebook chat with Carol Markino, after which I reached out to her and she invited me to join a small online group of fellow teachers.
During the Coronavirus crisis this group is speaking once a week and we’re sharing our experiences on how we’re changing our way of teaching during the crisis and discussing what the future may hold for our profession in terms of online or in-person classes.
I think the lesson to take away from this experience is the importance of creating or joining micro-communities to network, and I will be trying to do so on social media from now on, too.
My preferred technique is guided conversation. Most students contact me because they want to feel more confident in speaking and they specifically request conversation classes. Usually, after an initial interview to get to know their level and interests, I create lessons based on various topics and design questions to guide the conversation in a certain direction, or to encounter specific new vocabulary and grammar. This satisfies the student’s desire to have conversation lessons, while maintaining a didactic element almost without them realising it. It works especially well on teenagers, who never want anything to do with books or grammar outside of school hours!
Most students contact me because they want to feel more confident in speaking and they specifically request conversation classes.
Oh, that sounds super interesting! So you have a conversation with your students without explicitly teaching them something? How do you do that? Can you give us an example?
Sure. Say it’s a conversation lesson with a business person who works in the creative field. I might show that student pictures of advertising campaigns, then ask if they remember the ads, or how popular the brands are in Italy, for example.
Then, gradually, I might ask them what advice they would give the creators of the ads to make them better. I would model a couple of sentences using should/shouldn’t, for example, “they should choose well-known actors to get more visibility for their ads”, or “they shouldn’t use such a small font, don’t you agree?”
I would then encourage them to use this grammar when giving their opinion or advice. It’s a fairly simple grammar point, so there’s no use sitting down at a desk with your student and doing exercises on it. They can do grammar drills after the lesson, but what they really want from you is the chance to speak, use grammar in the correct context and be corrected.
What they really want from you is the chance to speak, use grammar in the correct context and be corrected.
That sounds like such a lovely way to teach. To be honest, I personally fell out of love with teaching a language in a traditional school setting, because so much of the recommended practice focused on memorization and drills. I wish more teachers could teach 1:1 like you do.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Email: stillfrancesca [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com