Florence has always been a top destination for TEFL teachers with an interest in the Renaissance and fine art. Just a short journey away by rail is the quieter town of Prato, not as well known as Florence, but with better paid teaching positions and a less saturated job market. And, you have Florence within reach to explore at weekends!
Prato is a wealthy town, Tuscany’s highest per capita income, and is considered by Florentines as the industrial 'back water' of Florence. It is famous for fabrics and chances are that if you wander into any of Italy’s fashion houses, the clothes that you see will be made from fabric that began in Prato.
There is a lot more to Prato than industry; the old town is where most points of interest are located; it has a wealth of historic buildings to see, and a number of shops (men’s fashion in particular is very good), bars, new restaurants and old and contemporary art galleries are popping up all over town.
The Pratesi are fiercely and rightfully proud of their town and joke that “Prato will be like Paris and Florence will become it's Versailles,” whilst Florentines view the Pratesi as “Rolex wearing imposters”. Italy is a relatively ew country compared to many others in the EU and throughout centuries each province has battled with the next. The heated attitude between the Pratesi and the Florentines is quite common, nothing to be alarmed by and will not affect the visitor or long term foreign resident.
I worked at a language school in Prato for one academic year. I had previously dreamed of living and working in Florence, but found it impossible to find a language school in the city that would offer me a contract or guaranteed hours.
There are many TEFL teachers residing there, especially Americans that work for a school and offer private lessons as well, but with such a massive choice of teachers and so many prepared to teach a two hour class a day for six weeks etc that it’s near on impossible to find a school that will offer you a ten, twenty, or thirty hour weekly contract as they simply don’t need to.
Whilst searching a TEFL recruitment site on the web I came across an advertisement for a contract at a busy, well known and respected school in Prato as a language school teacher. I completed the online application, sent in a photo and a copy of my curriculum vitae and a few days later received a call from the director of studies. We spoke for nearly two hours and hit it off over the telephone and little did I know at the time that it was the start of a year long friendship.
After some checks and references were received I was called and offered the job and a month later I was collected from Pisa’s Galileo Galilei Airport by the school’s director and driven to a temporary place to stay with a teacher at the school and her pregnant daughter in Prato until I found a room to rent in the centre.
Within two weeks I had found a room to rent in a shared apartment on Via Borgovalsugana in a good part of town near the train station and the school paid the deposit and rent in advance with the arrangement that I would pay back the money on a monthly basis. You won’t find this sort of help in Florence as the city is over run with TEFL teachers of all calibres competing for jobs, so in order to teach in Florence you need to arrive with a large sum of money in your pocket, as rent and living expenses are expensive.
I was told that I would work anything between fifteen and twenty five hours a week for €1300 a month guaranteed and would be paid overtime at the end of the year for any extra hours that I had built up. There are other schools in Prato that offer a guaranteed amount of hours and pay, but as far as I know there is nowhere in Florence that offers this sort of set up, meaning that unless you are wealthy you could find yourself quickly in debt ort unable to pay your rent.
My contract was in English and I was paid through an agency in the UK so I could continue paying my national insurance stamp, this had the added bonus that tax is a lot cheaper in the UK. Again, you won’t find this in Florence, where you will pay the higher rate of Italian tax.
The house share I took cost me €350 a month excluding bills; gas and electric. The room was nice in a clean and functional apartment with a view of the mountains from the balcony that was beautiful in the summer sunshine and in the winter’s fog. I shared with an Italian journalist and an Albanian factory worker, neither with whom I became great friends with, but we managed to live in harmony and sometimes ate and chatted together. For about €450 you can find a room in Florence, but they are often cramped, not well maintained and at that price more often than not you will be six floors high with no lift.
The majority of classes I taught were aimed at students studying and aiming to pass one of the University of Cambridge ESOL examinations. During the day I usually had individual students wanting to improve their speaking skills, but after the school day finished for children and teenagers I taught classes the exam preparation syllabus that they were studying toward. Education is very important in Prato and parents expect their children to do well. I often heard parents complaining that their child only got the equivalent of a ‘B’ grade in a history or geography test.
In Florence it’s not unusual to find non Italians learning English at a language school at a leisurely pace to practise English before a trip. The Pratesi are dedicated to study and improving themselves and to fail is seen as shameful, so classes from seven pm are largely for adult students coming into the school for exam preparation classes. Many students in Prato want to be a lawyer and English language ability is necessary to complete the degree. There are now so many lawyers in Prato that there is one hundred lawyers available for each individual case and yet hundreds a year go down the same route and study to become a lawyer.
The school was part of the AISLI school governing body and standards and checks were extremely high. We worked in a relaxed environment as long as all targets were reached and work complete, giving little room or time for error. When looking for a school to work for in Italy bear in mind that most AISLI schools offer a contract guaranteeing hours and pay, and at this time there is no AISLI run school in Florence.
In any Italian destination it is difficult to save money as the standard of living is high. It’s not uncommon to go out and eat at night with friends and family, Italians are a sociable bunch and it is important to dress well and look good. I did not have anything in the way of savings when I completed my contract, but I did live to a very good standard in Prato. Some of this I put down to the fact that the town had three centrally located supermarkets offering excellent quality produce at cheap prices. In Florence there are no big supermarkets, usually just smaller pricier delicatessen. My weekly food shop was less that a quarter of the average Florentine.
The difference in price is the real attraction for TEFL teachers in Prato combined with the guaranteed hours throughout the year at schools located in the centre. It’s a way to make money and not have to worry about finding work, you can leave that to the school to sort out. If you want to make extra money then it is simple to find private students as everyone wants to or knows someone that wants to learn English. Realistically your chances of leaving Prato with hefty savings are very doubtful, but you can live a really nice lifestyle while you are there.
The rail station is centrally located, clean and efficient and has links all over the country at incredibly low prices, which for me makes Prato a fantastic location for getting around. I recommend Prato to everyone.