Why English teachers say working at Italy's language schools is an 'uphill battle'

Jessica Lionnel
Jessica Lionnel - [email protected]
Why English teachers say working at Italy's language schools is an 'uphill battle'
Moving to Italy to teach English is a dream for many, but experienced teachers say working conditions at the country's language schools are far from ideal. (Photo by jalaa marey / AFP)

Cash in-hand payments, ambiguous contracts and expected full-time availability with a part-time schedule; these are just a few of the issues with jobs at English language schools in Italy according to The Local's readers.


Opportunities for work in Italy (or any other country) are fairly limited when you don’t speak the language fluently, but teaching English is often a way to get your foot in the door.

Most private language schools in Italy look to hire people with a university degree who are also certified to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL, TESOL and CELTA are the most common qualifications).

Competition to enter the field is fairly low in Italy, as there are English schools dotted around each and every region. There's also plenty of demand for native speakers, with the country having one of the lowest English language attainment rates in Europe.

But does all of this work in favour of the employee?

For one English teacher, Sam*, teaching her native language is the only job she feels she can do here. Originally from the UK and based in Padua for the last eight years, Sam has jumped from school to school in the university city and is yet to find one which completely meets her needs.

“I don’t ever feel like I’m valued by my employer and I definitely don’t think my hard work matches the rewards I get, which are none by the way. No bonuses, no appraisals, no nothing.” Sam says.

READ ALSO: 'The job can come as a shock': What teaching English in Italy is really like

Sam made the transition both career and country-wise after feeling fed up with the grind of her career at home. She opted for Italy because of its slower pace of life. Whilst she doesn’t regret her move, she does feel disappointed about her job.

“It’s a constant uphill battle,” she continues. “I love the work itself as I love watching people develop, but the conditions are never great.


“For example, in my current job, I have a fixed-term contract (contratto a tempo determinato), which means during the summer months I am left without a penny firstly because the school closes and secondly because the contract only covers the academic year. It’s like this with many schools and it makes summer hard to enjoy.”

Other problems she lists are the hours themselves. Her contract stipulates 20 hours of teaching a week, but that doesn’t include preparation time, marking time or commuting to places outside of the school premises. One place she has to travel to once a week is 30 minutes outside of the school.

“I sometimes have to rush my lunch during my break in order to get there, as the lesson is right after lunchtime and my schedule doesn’t have a long enough gap in between the lessons,” she adds.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s crazy’: What to expect when you work for an Italian company

Sam, like many other English teachers she knows, also teaches private students to boost her income, which she says is not high enough to save a good amount of money each month. 

“It means on top of contact hours, planning, marking and travelling, I also have to source my own students to give myself a bit of pocket money. I work about 40 hours a week, but I only get paid for 30 of them.

“Another thing that really annoys me is that there is no difference in what I earn if I teach a class of 30 or if I teach a singular student. I know my boss is getting more for the class, so I don’t know why he cannot pay me more.

Photo by Matt Hoffman on Unsplash


Loads of people have asked me why don’t I just move back home, but it is not as simple as that. I have family here, I have a network, and I have adapted to the way of life. It’s really only my job where I feel underwhelmed. I feel slightly worthless in that regard and I feel stuck.”

For Alison, her time working as a contracted English teacher in Rome was exactly the same. She, like Sam, had a fixed-term contract leaving her without a fixed monthly sum during the summer months.

In the end, she decided to go freelance by opening a Partita Iva and doing everything herself.

“I feel like my autonomy has returned back to me and so has my value,” she says. “Being a freelancer is quite expensive, but I’d much rather pay through the nose than be someone’s doormat.”

READ ALSO: Italy ranked one of the worst countries for expats to work in - again

Finding students in the city has not been hard for Alison, as some of her old students from when she was working at schools have come over to her rather than renew their classes.


She had enjoyed her time working in schools and the camaraderie between other teachers, but the end came for her after a mishap at work and a series of bad interviews for new positions.

“I reached my breaking point when I found out a fellow teacher and friend who had two years' experience less than me, was getting paid more than me. I discussed it with my boss, and she said she would look into it but she didn’t.

“So I handed in my notice and began finding roles to interview for. All of them were awful.

"One said I would be paid €9 an hour after tax, which is slavery if you ask me; one said I’d be paid €15 an hour for teaching university classes; one said part would be paid in cash and the other via bank transfer to avoid taxes; and one said they’d pay me €18 an hour provided I had a Partita Iva, meaning 30 percent of those earnings would have gone on taxes and national insurance (INPS) contributions.

“It was soul-crushing. I decided to cut out the middleman and go it alone.”


Alison says she doesn't regret anything and that this was the right choice for her. With the added bonus of online teaching, she said that she now has some students outside of Italy, too. 

“My income may fluctuate from time to time, but I set the prices, I set my schedule and now I know what it means to appreciate myself a bit more in the work sphere."

She suggests to anyone looking to make the leap into teaching to read the contract thoroughly first and, if there is something you're not happy with, flag it before signing.

“Remember, it’s not your only option. There are tons of schools out there, and some are good. You just have to keep your eyes peeled for them, that’s all.”

*Names have been changed in this article to protect the identity of the interviewees.

Have you worked as an English teacher in Italy? Do you agree or disagree with the opinions expressed in this article? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts or get in touch with us by email.


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Matthew 2024/01/30 08:56
Being able to work for private language schools is the reason that I was able to build a life in Italy, because no other jobs were available. But my experience was negative: low pay on a zero hours contract, hours all over the place including most evenings and Saturdays. I worked at the same place for 4 years and never got a payrise. I specialised in business English, and my clients told me they were paying a premium for that (100 euro a lesson for clients such as senior partners in multinational firms), but my pay stayed at 16 euro - pure exploitation. That's why I joined the new "TEFL Workers Union" (Google it!) - they are still very small in Italy, but at least I can get some support and feel like I'm not just sitting back and getting ripped off! I've also started a partita IVA. As Alison in the article says, at least then I cut out the middleman.
Umarell 2024/01/29 17:00
Yep this sounds very familiar – came here with a partner who was out of the house 12+ hours a day to bring home just enough to live off. Unbelievably harsh boss, absurdly scheduled t/tables, commuting around town on transport w/ barely minutes to spare between lessons, impossible lunch 'breaks' and having to withhold urination in fear of being berated for lateness. And this was 'one of the better' schools with big corporate contracts, requiring the CELTA/DELTA + degree. Horrendous experience.

See Also