Drawing of Caroline by Lizz Brady
What inspired you to become an educator?
It’s just as if it has always been in me. I started working with children when I was aged 15 and it felt right, pedagogy interested me so I followed that direction.
What are your strategies for supporting students’ emotional wellbeing?
Create a warm, tolerant, respectful, fun, engaging environment. Promote listening. observing. talking. Laugh, and create!
I try to make an environment where everyone can be themselves and feel comfortable. A place where mistakes can be made. I help them reframe failure. Many young people suffer from anxiety and stress; their schools can be such negative toxic places so when they come here, I want them to leave all that behind and experience a kind of safe haven.
You are a talented origami creator, how does art-making factor into your teaching?
Sometimes we do a quick craft at the end of lesson after learning a poem, chant or vocabulary. Other times I base an entire session around a craft, and the children interact with me and each other in a mix of Italian and English. Usually I would propose an origami or paper craft model for the children to learn and afterwards they personalise their creation, then they can make more, or make something else, anyway inspired by the activity. In the summer clubs we experiment with other materials and techniques.
They can make a lot of mess and make mistakes, something that they aren’t really permitted to do at home or at school.
So I would say art is a major factor in my teaching. Doing something with your hands, making, speaking, figuring out how to do something, using the imagination, opening your mind. So important.
What are the benefits that active learning and art making has on a child’s development?
So many. Children don’t learn in neat tidy compartments of subjects. An art activity can also teach concepts from science, geography, history, geometry, literature, engineering. Making art helps develop hand eye coordination, fine manipulative skills, precision, forward thinking, planning skills, learning from error, perseverance, imagination, lateral thinking...so many transversal skills to develop and improve, as well as being calming and healthy. This is perhaps more important than ever in the age of screens and constant passive entertainment.
What is the mental health care system like in Italy?
Perhaps I’m not competent to comment, but from what I see and hear it is based very much on a medical model and seen as a problem within the individual, and therefore something to be treated with medicine.
Depression, suicide, psychosis these things aren’t spoken about, and there isn’t awareness amongst the general population. These things aren’t addressed in the media, at school or at work. If anything, stereotypes are reinforced by the way mental ill health is spoken about and portrayed in the media.
There are support systems if you know where to look for them, but there aren’t drop in centres, self help groups, advocacy services and a benefit system like in northern Europe. The church provides support or the doctor will prescribe pills and a consultation with a psychologist. There are some phone lines like the equivalent of the Samaritans and there are probably informal Facebook groups.
I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and shame surrounding issues of mental ill health and disability.
How do you balance your own mental health whilst caring for others through teaching?
I’m not sure I actually do always balance it! But I try to have Sundays off. One day a week all to myself to do whatever I want and pay attention to myself. I’ll cook some soup for the week and do a pedicure, stuff like that, so I am not all consumed by my work. Then when I’m teaching I don’t think about myself or bad things, I just focus on teaching and being patient and relaxed. welcoming and attentive to the students. Teaching helps me get out of my own head for a while. So for me this is a good balance.
Thank you Caroline, it was great to chat to you about your work!
Caroline is an educator living in Italy.