The biggest institutional difference between American and Italian public schools is one that I was unaware of before beginning at Visconti. The permanent nature of class in Liceo, where students stay in the same room all day at school with the same group of students all five years, has educational and social effects. Although this system fosters a stronger bond between students, it also gives them less independence. Most of the people I have met in Italy have told me they remained good friends with their high school peers. Through my friend Andrea, I met many young Romans and later learned they had all been in the same class in high school. This shows me how good of a social and cultural glue the Italian system is. It is definitely the sociological difference most people I tell about my internship find surprising.
In a classroom where students know each other well, they are more comfortable expressing themselves. I definitely saw students stating their opinions openly without so much fear of judgment by their peers. We analyzed song lyrics for the first five weeks in my third year class. The teacher did a master’s program in the United Kingdom focusing her research on The Beatles, and chose great songs. We talked about the songs “Help” and “In My Life” which have very strong coming of age themes concerning independence, asking for help from loved ones, and what to make of the past. I was amazed by the student’s maturity and interpretation of the songs. They connected the songs to their own lives and had very open minds to hearing each others ideas. Having students in school where they are comfortable being themselves is a great thing for shaping them into emotionally healthy people. It goes beyond just education.
On the other hand, I observed that students get bored more quickly and felt more trapped being in the same routine every day. Usually the students thought the American model, where students change classrooms and classmates every period, would be more fun and they wouldn’t be as bored in school. However, they said that they thought it would be much harder to make friends. Kids in American high school still make lifelong friends and become close with their peers of course, but I think people stay connected longer in Italy from what I’ve observed. Switching classes every period does give students better opportunity to get to know more people and build a school wide community. One definitely notices school spirit on a greater level in American high school (also partially due to sports). Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages from this social perspective.
From a teacher’s perspective, however, the American system is much better. So many days I saw teachers very unorganized and rushed because they have to switch between classrooms. In United States high schools, teachers usually have their own room, which functions as both a classroom and a planning/office space for them. This allows them to better communicate with students, administrators, and each other. For example, in the US, students can go ask for extra help because they know where to find a teacher. It also allows the teachers to be more prepared and organized with lesson plans which often include more materials. At the liceo Visconti, the teachers also communicate through texting much more than email. This is not as prompt, reliable, or professional, but it happens because they don’t have computer access at work. When we talked about this topic in my lessons, all the teachers said they would prefer that system. It simply makes their lives easier so they can do their jobs better.
Although the Italian classroom fosters a greater social bond, it is too hard on teachers. The American system also does not fail to build friendships, however, and is much more efficient from a logistical perspective. I would become a teacher in the US, but probably not in Italy.