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'There must be some way we can use the skills of foreign-trained teachers'


Matt Wallen and pupils at Knocknacarra Educate Together. PHOTO: ANDREW DOWNES

Matt Wallen and pupils at Knocknacarra Educate Together. PHOTO: ANDREW DOWNES

Matt Wallen and pupils at Knocknacarra Educate Together. PHOTO: ANDREW DOWNES

When Matt Wallen arrived in Ireland 15 years ago with a licence to teach from Minnesota, USA, he faced the considerable hurdle of learning Irish to a high standard if he wanted a mainstream position in an Irish primary school.

Despite his qualification and US teaching experience, key to his achieving full recognition was to pass the Scrúdú le hAghaigh Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge (SCG), the standard of which is third-level - and he had to do it within five years. Wallen is now a teaching principal of the 104-pupil, and growing, Knocknacarra Educate Together National School on the edge of the Gaeltacht in Galway.

On his arrival in Ireland in 2002, the level of recognition given to Wallen's credentials meant he could teach as a learning support/resource teacher or work with children with special needs.

On that basis, he worked in the Limerick School project, an Educate Together school in the city. He decided to tackle Irish and "found learning it quite easy".

Wallen gained his recognition and not only became a mainstream teacher, but went on to be appointed principal of the school in 2011, before moving to Knocknacarra, when it opened in 2014.

His education journey in Ireland has also included a master's and, later, a PhD in the University of Limerick on the topic of children whose first language is not English. Wallen also brings his love of arts into his professional life. Now a self-confessed "Irish zealot", Wallen believes "all primary school teachers should, ideally, learn and teach Irish, and that the language should not be restricted to the Irish lesson, but used throughout the school day".

But he is equally passionate "that if someone comes in as a trained teacher, there must be some way we can use their skills for the benefit of children immediately".

Wallen says it is also important for children to have diverse role models, and not only migrant teachers, in the profession.

He would like the Department and the Migrant Teacher Project to investigate ways to support migrant teachers in acquiring Irish by helping them locate suitable learning opportunities and supporting them with the costs involved in fulfilling the requirements.

"For example, I did receive a small amount of money when I passed the SCG to help pay for the cost of the requirement to spend three weeks in the Gaeltacht.

"The amount at the time only covered the cost of just one week in the Gaeltacht." That subsidy is now gone.

"It would be great to implement learning and financial supports for those migrant teachers who recognise the importance of Irish and are willing to acquire Irish fluency in order to teach in the mainstream classroom."

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