The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily

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  • theponcho
    9 May, 2011 at 17:48
    • Total posts: 1

    I would discourage any prospective career minded teachers looking at working in Sicily to avoid this particular school. It is an unfortunate reality of the TEFL profession that schools are able to operate relatively successfully with no real professional standards or knowledge of their industry.

    Whilst the ESC pays well and on time for Sicily, promises about working conditions, development and resources are infrequently honoured. The teachers are made to work over the agreed contract hours and, since the schools owners are rarely present and do not speak English, protests fall on deaf (or absent, or Italian) ears.

    The school is a Cambridge examination centre and as such pushes its students into exam courses that are often way beyond their level and will not shift them to more appropriate levels for fear of offending their sensibilities. The school is driven, like many Sicilian businesses, by a policy of nepotism. There are unqualified non native speakers who dictate many of the pedagogical decisions and, in the absence of any structured teacher meetings, hold sway over the academic programme.

    Teachers are also expected to attend classes if ill, which propagates a high level of contagion within the staff. The staff room here must be one of the respiratory disease hotspots of the med. Teachers taking sick days to protect their voice (a teachers no. 1 tool) or their students from contagion are pressured to attend and made to visit doctors in order that the school can claim some government money that pays employers who suffer sick days.

    The students are regularly lied to about the nature of the classes and it is not unusual to find oneself teaching an IELTS class to a group of students who expressed an interest in an FCE, ToEFL or other course. One teacher had a class of four students, one of whom was inscribed to do the FCE exam, one the ToEFL, and one the CAE yet, after painstakingly bringing this to the attention of the managers over a period of some months, was asked to continue doing general English *** MOD edit ***

    The English Study Centre is okay if you are a young teacher with no professional ambition or particular desire to work in the industry for long who would like to spend some time in Catania. However, if you are not that person, I would strongly recommend you avoid this academy which will impose a working week on you that inhibits your ability to merely exist in a country where the shops open and close twice daily and restaurants serve at fixed times. You will find yourself unable to find the time to buy food at all.

    I hope this helps people make a more informed choice about the school whose absence from any blacklists prior to our arrival I took as a sign or relative competence in a professional field *** MOD edit ***.

    27 July, 2011 at 20:43
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily

    As the new Director of Studies at the English Centre for the forthcoming academic year I would like to respond to this message and hopefully answer some of the criticisms levelled at the school.
    While I cannot comment on what happened at the school last year, I can outline what can be expected of the school from September onwards.

    Regarding contracted hours, teachers will never be made to work over their agreed hours. There will be overtime available, paid at a pre-determined rate, but this is not obligatory and as Director of Studies I would never put undue pressure on any members of staff to work more than they felt comfortable with. As D.O.S I will be at the school every day, and will have timetabled hours when I am available should there be any problems which teachers would like to discuss. My ears are neither deaf nor absent nor Italian!

    We are a Cambridge live centre and are proud of this; while it is true that some students have unrealistic aims regarding exams, as D.O.S I don’t feel it is in the schools best interests to push students into exams they are guaranteed to fail.

    All decisions this year regarding pedagogy will be taken by me, in consultation with the schools owners. I am both highly qualified and a native speaker. I will be instigating weekly teachers meetings, monthly whole staff meetings, regular observations, peer observation, team teaching and training workshops run both in-house and by professionals from outside the school.

    I can absolutely and categorically state that teachers will never be put under any pressure to attend if they are ill. I know how easy it is to become run down and catch colds and viruses, particularly in a foreign country. As a school it makes good business sense for us to protect and help our teachers as much as possible, it is a fundamental principle of any language school that happy teachers generally mean happy students. Teachers will have access to the school’s doctor but will never be pressurised to attend.

    Again, without commenting on last year, I will be instigating a system where each teacher receives clear information on which exams each student has taken and which, if any, they are interested in taking. Teachers will know the aims of each student and so be able to tailor the course accordingly. It may be possible that students wanting general English, or students not quite ready, or not interested in exams, may be mixed in with exam students. However, we will never mix different exam students together; this benefits neither the student nor the teacher and so is therefore detrimental to the school.
    As an ambitious and successful school we will be looking to recruit the best possible teachers for our specific needs, each teaching team needs a mix of skills and we simply want the best possible people for the job.

    Again, I cannot comment on someone else’s experience but I have never found living in Sicily to be difficult. In the 3 years I have been here I have always found the people to be incredibly warm and friendly and while there is not a 24 hours shopping culture which some may be used to, shops are open daily from 9 – 1 and 4 – 8 (supermarkets do not close at lunchtime) bars/cafes are open all day and restaurants vary in their serving times but there are many places to eat even late at night.

    I would like to state that as new D.O.S I will be working hard next year to make certain that that the school is as positive and progressive a place to study and work as it possibly can be. If you are considering applying for a position with us I hope you take this into account.

    28 July, 2011 at 16:28
    • Total posts: 2

    Reply To: The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily

    As a postscript to what I have written above, I would like to write now as a teacher who worked with the English study centre for three years. Again, the first thing I would like to say is that, obviously, I can’t comment on theponcho’s experience at the English study centre last year, all I can do is comment on mine over the three years I taught there(2007-2010).
    Firstly, the English language school market in Catania is very competitive, as it is in Sicily in general. The English study centre is one of the most successful schools in Catania. It therefore follows that, in my opinion, the school had both high standards and a very good knowledge of how to market and run English courses.
    Secondly, in common with theponcho, I found the E.S.C to always pay on time and to pay very competitively. I never had any problems with working conditions, development or resources. My contract was a thirty hour a week contract, which, of course, kept me busy. However, I knew this when I signed. I was never “made” to work over my contracted hours, I was offered overtime, which I sometimes accepted and sometimes refused, depending on my how tired I felt and how important it was that those hours were taught. The schools owners were, and, to my knowledge, are, present at school every day. Both of them worked as state school English teachers for many years and visit England regularly, I consider both to speak good English. I certainly have never had a problem communicating with either of them, and my Italian is terrible! Both have always been extremely fair and honest in their dealings with me.
    The school is a Cambridge exam centre, and so it logically follows that many of the students at the school come to take and pass Cambridge exams. No students to my knowledge during my time at the school were ever pushed into taking exams, for, I believe, the simple reason that that wouldn’t make any business sense. The school’s general business model always seemed to me to be to get students interested in English early, start them on the Cambridge exam system, and try to take them as far towards proficiency as possible. Obviously not every student followed this model, but the majority stay at the school for a period of years. Students did sometimes want to take exams they weren’t ready for, either due to work reasons or because they were unrealistic about their English level. I never found this happened much, mainly because exams are expensive and few students want to take them unless they are reasonably sure they will pass
    Regarding nepotism, it is true that the two nieces of the owners work at the school. Both are university educated, have experience of teaching English, and have passed advanced and proficiency respectively. Both, in my opinion, speak far better English than a very high percentage of the state school teachers I worked with in Sicily! Both were always friendly, helpful and professional in their dealings with me, I never had any trouble, in fact I always enjoyed coming to work. The fantastic atmosphere at work was a big part of the reason why I wanted to return to E.S.C.
    The reality of working in a foreign country with a different climate to the UK is that you are more than likely to get a cold at some point. Working for five or six hours a day in a room with between 5 and 10 other people makes this even more likely. I must admit to never finding the staff room a particular “disease hot spot” I did, periodically, get ill. When I was ill, I went to the doctors. The school was always nice enough to provide a doctor for me to see, and to help with buying any medicines I needed.
    Again, in my experience, if a student doesn’t like a course, they stop coming. During my time at ESC this rarely happened, I certainly never had students of hugely mixed levels, or preparing for different exams.
    I am returning to the school with my family, I wouldn’t do this if I felt in any way that the school was anything other than a well-run, successful school that will give me the opportunity to advance my career as a TEFL teacher. On a personal level I have always had a close relationship with everyone at the school and have found them to be professional, kind and honest.
    As with any post on a forum like this, this is just my own personal opinion. However, I hope this helps people make a truly informed choice about the school. I think the absence of the school from any “blacklists” until this original post, shows, as theponcho says, our competence.

    28 July, 2011 at 17:31
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily

    In response to this post I would like to state that it is slanderous not to mention highly jingoistic. The claims about Sicilian and Italian norms are incredulous and inaccurate. I also worked at this school and many of the claims made are false. Firstly, the bosses have over twenty years experience in teaching at least and do speak English to a standard where they could converse in English. Nobody was made to work over the contracted hours, each teacher was asked if they wanted to work extra hours and were certainly paid for these additional lessons. As for being made to work when ill, this is untrue as I was given assistance when required and found the school to be extremely helpful in providing medical help.

    The assertation that the school tried to force students into taking the exams is an exageration as the decision is taken by the paying customers and unfortunately it is due to students or parents wanting a higher qualification, not the school. I would like to say that any knowledgeable individual knows that life in a Mediterranean country is vastly different, in terms of the lifestyle and opening and closing times of stores. I certainly found the time to shop for groceries, perhaps this teacher needed to prioritise and organise his or her life better.

    Finally, the staff at the school have been helpful, welcoming and a pleasure to work with hence why I am returning in September. The school has much to offer a teacher although, admitedly things could be improved as in any organisation. There are many resources, teaching materials and a listening lab in addition to books and DVDs for pupils to take out. My experience was an enjoyable one although demanding yet thoroughly enjoyable and I would reccommend working at The English Study Centre for any persons that take teaching seriously and whom do not solely wish it to be about being in control of the school and dictating to the bosses!

    The Baron
    1 December, 2012 at 14:54
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily

    I worked for the ESC in Catania and for other schools. It is the only school which I have recommended without reservation to teacher friends of mine. The owners have a kind caring attitude to their staff and the students. They really care! It appears to me that the original poster has an ax to grind. Often these bad reviews come from rival schools in Catania – many of which have dreadful reputation for not paying on time (if at all). It is not unusual (as happened to me in 2012) to work until June and then not be paid until October with a cheque post-dated to December. This has never happened to ANYONE I know in Catania who has worked for ESC. This is a big deal when choosing a school to work for here. ESC always pay on time, help with taxes and the normal day to day problems. I have not worked for ESC for a few years, but my wife and friends do/have and it appears they still apply the high standards of staff care and a high level of professionalism. I don’t have to be as diplomatic as the current DOS of ESC because I don’t work there, thus I am happy to call into question the motivation of the reviewer who maligned the ESC. keep in mind also that there was a lot of Jealousy about ESC becoming a camb. Exam Centre.

    24 November, 2013 at 13:18
    • Total posts: 1

    Reply To: The English Study Centre, Catania, Sicily


    I am a U.S. Citizen from Miami who wants to teach English in Catania, Sicily. I have a B.S. in Mass Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. I am also married to a Sicilian man and we want to return to his country for a bit. How do I start this process? What are my chances of getting a job teaching English there?

    Thank you
    Laura Molina

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