A primary school teacher for 23 years, Claudia Farrugia was familiar with many of the issues that children with learning disabilities and their families face and wanted to do more in this sphere. After re-entering university with her daughter and reading for a specific course, she is now a dyslexia support teacher who takes care of 40 church schools. She speaks to CARISMA about the trials and tribulations of her job and the magic of being able to give so many children new beginnings.
“I think something which has always been hard for me to stomach is the fact that so many children suffering from dyslexia do not feel included. There is some awareness in this country but no knowledge which means that some parents completely break down on realising their child is dyslexic. There is no need for this. All that many of these children need is just a different technique of teaching which shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all anyway. Assessment is just the beginning of the journey, once intervention happens then you can see their lives changing before your eyes.”
Speaking about what she finds most challenging about her job, Claudia is very direct: “What I find hardest in my job is getting people to understand that their children are not lazy or difficult but just have a different way of perceiving the world. We assess children in Year 3 and we also look at other cases which may have gone undiagnosed. What is important for me is that children feel encouraged, supported and that their self-esteem doesn’t suffer. There is still much ignorance which needs to be combatted, but it gives me great satisfaction to be able to help others.”
Ironically, Claudia first interviewed for the literacy role she now holds as a challenge to herself: “When I went for the interview, I was almost certain that I wouldn’t be chosen because I thought that there might be people who were much more experienced than me. When I got it, I was pleased because for me it meant that I would be able to reach more children than ever before. After work hours, I even do one-on-one sessions. Teaching is my vocation.”
When asked what she would change about the way dyslexia and other learning difficulties are tackled in Malta, Claudia is very adamant about what she would do differently: “I would change the education system from the bottom up. For starters, I think that anyone making decisions about education should have definitely spent a good portion of his or her life actually in a classroom. I also feel that more effort must be made for the workload to become easier for children to handle. Learning should be fun and yet it remains extremely exam-oriented. It’s as if we are only sending our children to school to have them sit for exams. Schools also need to be more dyslexia-friendly and nowadays we have the technology available for this to happen. It can’t just be a chalk and talk system anymore, things need to be more multi-sensory. Although some schools are waking up and taking a different approach to learning, the fact remains that things are happening too slowly. Things that should take two years are taking ten!”
Claudia’s message for everyone reading is one of great positivity: “Society needs to be more inclusive and embrace people’s differences instead of punishing them for them. Students are still told by some teachers not to reveal their dyslexic status and this kind of rhetoric is very damaging and induces shame. You can’t be a soldier or a policeman if you’re dyslexic yet nowadays there is so much technology that could help people still reach their dreams. Society needs to change; it truly is time for a new beginning.”