If you are Maltese, you might not be able to see Malta as I do. Through my foreign eyes, my initial impression was that Malta looked magical. I tried to recognize or describe what I was seeing, and all I could think of is that if Morocco and Greece had a baby, it would look like Malta.
I was incredibly fortunate to come to Malta through the competitive United States Fulbright Scholar Award program in January 2018 for six months. I was drawn to Malta because it is an untapped resource for teaching and learning in my field, with a wealth of diverse riches, such as multilingual teachers, the multiculturalism of the island population, the two national languages, and the newcomers to the school system who may be migrant or refugee students. Often the newcomers in the school system will not be proficient in speaking Maltese, or English, and may lack literacy proficiency even in their native language. Teachers have all the responsibility of effectively teaching all students, but may not have sufficient training to be able to reach the diverse learners. This is a huge task for teachers to be charged with and it takes specialized training. My life’s work is to help teachers reach and teach diverse students in the inclusive classroom.
As a professor of multilingual/multicultural education at Florida Atlantic University, in the state of Florida, USA, I train preservice and in service mainstream teachers who have newcomers (English learners) to the United States in their classrooms. Knowing that the recent surge of newcomers to Malta took the educational system by surprise, I correctly assumed that there would be a need for the same kind of training for Maltese teachers.
I met a chain of individuals who played a huge part in helping me find my niche in Malta. My first contact was with Pro Rector Godfrey Baldacchino, who introduced me to Dean Sandro Caruana, in the School of Education. The Dean assigned me to work with Dr. Colin Calleja, the Head of the Department of Inclusion and Access to Learning, which is where I definitely belonged. Dr. Caruana also connected me to Dr. Phyllisienne Vassallo Gauci, Mr. Ray Facciol, and Ms. Jane Farrugia Buhagiar, from the Migrant Learners’ Unit, Department for Curriculum, Lifelong Learning and Employability (MEDE). These individuals welcomed me to the Migrant Unit, allowed me to get to know the teachers, the classes, and the students. The Migrant Unit was where I felt most at home and I was able to study the phenomenal situations that exist in the classroom. As a result, I could see what learning issues needed to be addressed, so I could gear training towards the specific needs of the teachers. The teachers I met were warm, loving, and provided the safe, affective foundation that the students need to acclimatize and adjust themselves to the Maltese school system. The teachers provide basic curriculum for students in Maltese and English and use a form of translanguaging (using more than one language so students will understand) to ensure comprehension.
I have made lifetime friends with my colleagues and we have plans to collaborate, to continue teacher training, find ways to incorporate more academic instruction in the induction year, integrate formative and summative ongoing assessment, as well as initial assessment for evaluative purposes, and implemented throughout the year to gauge learning gains.
I hope to continue my collaborative work with the Minister of Education, the university, the Migrant Unit, and especially with secondary classes, which I have not had a chance to visit. I believe that will be the key to helping students continue on to vocational or academic pursuits, but due to their interrupted education, academic gaps need to be bridged so they will not hinder their educational trajectory.
Unfortunately, I was unable to visit many more schools, including the classrooms of the Marsa Open Centre, but I hope to continue my work with my colleagues in Malta and see as many schools as possible in forthcoming visits.
From teaching classes at the university, working with the Migrant Unit, giving lectures and presentations, to participating in the pathway to integration plans, and continuing my research on migrant teachers, my Fulbright experience in Malta was transformational for me academically, intellectually, and personally. I went to Malta to try to share my knowledge with everyone, but I might have learned far more than I taught. Upon reflection of the last six months, I am very grateful to my Maltese friends and colleagues for contributing and sharing this magnificent and most enlightening learning experience with me.