New figures from the Global Teacher Status Index show that teachers in Italy are among the least respected in the world, with the country ranking 33rd out of 35 countries surveyed.
The only countries with a lower score were Israel and Brazil.
Only 16% of Italians interviewed for the survey said that students respect their teachers. The figure has decreased since 2013, when it was 20%
This is the sixth-lowest figure among all the countries surveyed, and the lowest among the major European economies.
Yet despite this, almost one in three Italians (31%) said they would encourage their child to become a teacher, possibly as the job, despite being badly paid, is seen as secure.
“This index finally provides an academic test to something we have always understood instinctively: the link between the status of teachers in society and the performance of children in school,” stated Sunny Varkey, founder of the Varkey Foundation, which runs the study.
One teacher at a middle school near Siena, Tuscany, told The Local Italy that the survey confirmed what all teachers know.
“It’s not surprising. We’re not respected by students or anyone else, especially not the authorities who decide we must work for low pay,” said the teacher, who gave her name only as Valeria.
Vittoria, an elementary school teacher in the Bari region, agreed. “Unfortunately, yes, it’s certainly true that we’re not respected at work,” she said.
“Parents are rude and children are spoilt,” she added.
And Laura, an English teacher from the UK, said her experiences in Italian schools left her shocked.
“I teach English at summer camps in Italian middle schools every summer. The first time I was pretty shocked by how disrespectful the students were,” she said.
“They would just get up and leave during class, run around, interrupt, and laugh if we told them to do something. Coming from the UK it was very different.”
All the teachers agreed that it was difficult for them to enforce rules in classrooms due to the disrespect from students and the lack of support from parents.
“School office staff told me the students don’t normally have to follow any rules. Some of them had never been punished before, and they’d get hysterical,” Laura said.
Valeria added that “some teenage students – boys – try to be intimidating when they get older.”
A string of shocking media reports from across Italy this year have shown that disrespect towards teachers can easily turn into threats and violence.
Students at a school in Lucca threatened their teacher over grades and posted a video of the incident online, while another video showed a student at a technical institute in Rome threatening to dissolve his teacher in acid, telling him: “I'll put you in hospital, sir.”
The number of violent attacks on teachers is rising in Italian schools, Repubblica writes, despite being ‘unknown’ just a few years ago.
Teachers and unions are calling for stronger punishments. A petition was launched earlier this year on Change.org calling for a new law on violence against teachers, punishing those who assault them with “sanctions that will provide an educational example to future generations”. So far more than 96,000 people have signed.