Becoming A Secondary School Teacher In Italy

Some call the teaching profession ‘a mission’. Given the uncertainty and Italy’s constantly changing recruitment rules, it truly is that.

teaching school
An elementary school classroom. Photo: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash.

Some call the teaching profession ‘a mission’. If we consider the uncertainty that affects those who wish to pursue this path and the constantly changing recruitment rules, it truly is.

These, in particular, are very hectic days for aspiring teachers. The written and oral exams of the concorso ordinario are underway and the reopening of the graduatorie provinciali per le supplenze (GPS) is just around the corner. If you want to become a teacher in Italy, you’ll have to pass through this selection process.

Of course, in true Italian style, it’s long, complex, and inefficient. Let’s explore what you need to know, and what you need to do if you’re a foreign teacher who wants to work in Italy.

The concorso ordinario

The concorso ordinario is a public exam for aspiring teachers — even those who have no experience at all in teaching can participate. This ‘ordinary’ public exam coexists with another kind of public exam, called concorsi straordinari (extraordinary public exams) which are designed for people who have been already teaching for some years.

This year’s concorso ordinario consists of two parts: a multiple-choice test and an oral test. Those who pass both tests with the highest scores can aspire to a permanent contract in a public school.

But the luck factor here is essential. Even though the public exam is national, your chances of obtaining a permanent contract depend on a series of variables such as the region you choose, the number of vacant positions, and the number of candidates in your same region.

Here is an example. You applied to be a teacher in Molise, where only two teaching positions are vacant. Your final score is, let’s say, 87, but you come after two other candidates. They get the permanent contract, while you only obtain an abilitazione all’insegnamento, a teaching qualification, whose usefulness we will see in the next paragraph. Another candidate applies in Lombardy, where 93 positions are available. His score is 79, but it is enough for him to ‘win’ the permanent contract. However, what can also happen is that in Umbria, where 13 positions are vacant, only 9 candidates pass both tests. The remaining 4 positions will remain vacant, even though candidates from other regions would be more than happy to move there for a permanent contract.

But that is how things work. You will have to be luckier next time — and who knows when the next opportunity will be: years and years may pass.

Graduatorie provinciali per le supplenze

But how can someone teach if there isn’t one single and regular recruitment channel for teachers?

At the moment, in Italy there is no such thing as a master of teaching to train aspiring teachers: once you get your university degree — in History, for example — plus 24 credits in pedagogy, psychology, anthropology, and teaching methodologies, you have to wait for the opening of the graduatorie provinciali per le supplenze, which are lists of aspiring stand-in teachers.

Everyone receives a number of points, and the more points you have, the better chance you have of becoming a substitute teacher. A different number of points is assigned to different titles: the degree that entitles you to teach the specific school subject you’re applying for can count up to 33 points (you can get the maximum if you graduated with honors); any further degree in a different subject is worth 3 points; a C2 language qualification earns you 6 points; a year of teaching is worth 12; and so on.

There are two separate graduatorie, however: prima fascia (first band) and seconda fascia (second band). The prima fascia includes those who have an abilitazione. At the beginning of the year, regional school boards assign vacant teaching positions starting from here. Only when they have offered the position to all the candidates, will they move on to the seconda fascia.

Therefore, being abilitato means having more opportunities to work, at least with multiple one-year contracts. Being in seconda fascia means that during the same school year you might work in many different schools with short (even for a week) and, most likely, not discontinuous contracts. But, this is not always the case: with the right conditions — for example, if you are in the graduatoria of a region where there are many vacant positions but not many candidates — you can get a one-year contract even if you are not a specialized teacher.

Teaching in Italy with a foreign degree

Some of you might be wondering whether it’s possible to become a teacher in a public secondary school having a foreign degree or a secondary school qualification. Well, it’s possible, but your title must be recognized in Italy.

This is what you can read in MIUR’s website: “Teachers who have obtained a teaching qualification abroad (EU and third countries) and wish to pursue the profession of teacher in Italy may apply for recognition of their professional title. Recognition may be requested for teaching roles for which the person concerned is legally qualified in the country that issued the title and on condition that the teaching roles correspond to the Italian school system (corresponding profession). In the event of a difference between the professional training required in Italy and that completed by the person concerned, compensatory measures may be applied, particularly in the form of an aptitude test or adaptation period at Italian educational establishments.”

It sounds complex. But you may be interested to know that there is a teaching subject for which only people with foreign degrees can apply: indeed, every liceo linguistico, an upper secondary school focused on the study of foreign languages, has one hour of conversation per week for each foreign language studied with a native language teacher known as ‘conversation teacher’.

In order to understand how to become one, I talked to an ex-colleague who, precisely, works as an English conversation teacher. She’s originally from the United States, but she moved to Italy years ago. She told me that a secondary school title is enough to fill this role, but that Italian citizenship is a requirement. Even though she would have liked to teach English, which is considered a different subject, the recognition of her master’s degree in literature was complicated: she had to submit the syllabus of every course she had taken so that her degree could be compared with the Italian ones and, if need be, integrated by doing extra exams.

In conclusion, teaching in Italy with a qualification obtained abroad is possible. And it should really be easier in Europe since the introduction of the European Qualifications Framework. But bear in mind: it’s a long process. You will have to endure bureaucracy and you will need lots of patience and faith in that mission you’re pursuing.