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What is the difference between insegnante and maestro? From what I know, they both mean “teacher”, right?

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Both maestro and insegnante are used to refer to a teacher of primary schools in Italy. Insegnante is the more general term to indicate a teacher also at other levels of education.

Maestro:

  • Con il nome di maestro sono designati comunemente gli insegnanti di scuola primaria e quelli di scuola dell’infanzia. (With the name of maesto are commonly designated the primary school teachers and those of kindergarten.)

Insegnante:

  • Chi si dedica all’insegnamento, chi esercita la professione d’insegnare. (Those dedicated to teaching, those who exercise the profession of teaching).

    • insegnante . elementare o di scuola elementare, maestro o maestra; insegnante medio o di scuola media, professore o professoressa (nell’uno e nell’altro caso, si adopera anche, quando non ci sia possibilità di equivoco, il solo sost. insegnante, che indica tuttavia, più spesso, il maestro elementare)

    • (teacher. elementary or primary school teacher or teacher; middle or secondary school teacher, professor or teacher (in either case, is also working, when there is no possibility of misunderstanding, the only noun. teacher, indicates, however, more often, the primary school teacher);.

Please note that maestro is also used to indicate a master, a leader or a very skilled artisan.

  • +1. Still, Josh, please rewrite the whole answer (including the citations) in English. The question was in English and the OP might not understand Italian citations without translation. – I.M. Mar 26 '15 at 8:29
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    Outside school, I think maestro is more common: maestro di scherma, maestro di tennis (fencing/tennis teacher). – Federico Poloni Mar 26 '15 at 12:30
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    @Josh61 Personally I find both maestro and istruttore correct, and I would use them interchangeably (perhaps favoring maestro in an informal register). Maybe maestro has a slight hint of a more personal teacher-student relationship. – Federico Poloni Mar 26 '15 at 12:47
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    I'd add to this answer another possible use: 'Maestro' is also used to indicate a graduated and skilled musician or orchestra director. Professional pianists are, for instance, addressed as 'Maestro' regardless of their gender. That is one case where 'insegnante' cannot be used. – Marco A. Mar 26 '15 at 15:52
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    Consider docente and professore too – mario Sep 7 '16 at 6:39
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As well as the slight semantic difference already outlined, when talking to their teacher children wouldn't call him insegnante, they'd call him maestro.

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Since the question is active once more, I thought I would give my contribution as well.

Besides the other excellent answers, note that the word maestro can seldom be used in a doctorate setting when somebody who has already achieved the dottorato speaks about their supervisor in a respectful way.

Il professor Rossi, il mio maestro, era un acuto osservatore.

As Federico Poloni suggested in a comment, the teacher-student relationship is strongly hinted at in this context. Using maestro in this context does suggest the reverence that the speaker has towards his mentor.

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