Giovanna Gionni: A Lifetime of Education
Three days a week, Giovanna Gionni rises early and begins her day with a 15-minute drive through the hills between her home in Cagli, Italy and the neighboring town of Frontone. When she enters the one-building school, her classroom is quiet as she prepares her lessons for the day. She greets her students as they trickle in, and together they spend the remainder of the day engaged in learning lettere — the subjects of literature, history, geography, and citizenship.
More than 25 years ago, Giovanna began her journey toward teaching, acquiring knowledge in a wide variety of subjects. Her first love was psychology. At the time, only two universities offered degrees in that subject area, so she graduated with a degree in philosophy, her next love. Giovanna then explored her passion for literature, specifically American writers, and in 1987, she received her degree in literature from Urbino. In this city, historically known for its culture and scholarship, she gained a greater appreciation for the subjects she teaches, she says.
Inspired by her newfound knowledge and motivated by her desire to make a difference in the lives of children, Giovanna accepted her first part-time teaching position after graduation. As a new teacher, she shifted between various subjects and classrooms, but she embraced those challenges and earned a full-time position, which she moved into quickly. Twelve years later, Giovanna discovered the lettere teaching position in Frontone, applied, and excitedly accepted the position. The school’s setting is simple and functional, which Giovanna appreciates.
“It is a small school so the situation is very comfortable,” she explains. The school has students of all grade levels, so there are several classrooms and a gym. Giovanna explains that “the use of computers is not established yet,” so only teachers have computers. Recently, however, computers were added to one classroom, and teachers can now take their classes to the lab to work.
There are 15 students in Giovanna’s class, ages 11 to 14. While it takes great preparation to educate students at various levels, she says, she enjoys that age because the students are kind and tend to behave well. Recently, Italian students are no longer the majority in her classes as students’ families continue to relocate from various countries to enjoy opportunities in this part of Italy.
When discussing her students, Giovanna’s face lights up. “Being in touch with the kids,” she says, is her “favorite part” of teaching.
Her philosophy of teaching includes the belief that treating her students well – with respect – is essential. This is not only because the students learn better but also because she realizes that the way teachers treat their students often mirrors how students treat them. As she talks, Giovanna’s facial expressions reflect a mix of deep care for her students’ success paired with the pressure and responsibility that comes with her position. And while the bureaucracy she encounters is often frustrating, in the end, her love for teaching wins out.
She highlights the fact that the curriculum is less rigid than it used to be. For example, students are able to take French or English while only Latin or Greek were offered in the past. As she says, “Now languages are alive.”
Giovanna most enjoys teaching Italian literature, especially the 19th century Romantic period. She names a few favorites: poetry, the Risorgimento (unification of Italy) and the late 19th century Decadentismo (the Decadent Movement), one of Western Europe’s literary and artistic movements. In general, her students tend to enjoy this literature as well, but they especially like learning about history. Studying the stories of people who fought for Italy’s independence is the most popular subject, she says.
When she is not teaching, Giovanna relishes her time to shop, take walks, catch up on household chores, and relax. She also enjoys weekly visits from her son, an anesthesiologist in Perugia. Giovanna’s husband can frequently be found by her side.
Currently, mid-June finds Giovanna and her students in the midst of final exams. These exams determine whether students pass on to the next level. Consequently, this is a tense and busy week for Giovanna and requires extra preparation and late hours. In the past, students took a required fifth-grade exam, but that has been eliminated. Now, Giovanna prepares students for their first big exam. While the stress in Giovanna’s voice is evident, her eyes convey pride because she knows what her students can accomplish.
For Giovanna, teaching is not simply about grades and exams. It is about her love for her students and the content she teaches – the excitement that comes from seeing her students succeed and share her love for learning.