To those of you who are regular visitors - welcome back! Apologies for the delay in updates lately. If you are a new reader or possibly even a new ADEC/ UAE teacher recruit this post may be quite rewarding (or at least I hope so!)
I have now been in the UAE for 9 months and I would like to highlight 9 lessons the UAE has taught me.
These are in NO specific order!
1. Our Home countries lose out!
In order to get these types of posts/jobs you need to have a great interview. I've realised that the interview panels are looking for certain aspects in Teachers which then results in a positive outcome. So without being arrogant or forward if you have the job or have been offered the job you showed something special. You may be a specialist in your field, you may have a certain area that is your focus, you may have brilliant ideas or you just may be a really good interviewee! My point is this, if our home countries realised what we were and treated us accordingly then we would NEVER have looked for these posts. It took me a long time to accept that my previous place of employment didn't attempt to make counter offers or even try and retain me, I was hurt, as is the case with almost every teacher I have spoken to here. I'm sorry to say this but it seems to be the reality: our places of birth, the places where our loved ones are, the countries we call home, the places that made us who we are, are the ones that lose out not us! I used to feel guilty leaving and coming here but not any more, I've realised that they lost out not me!
2. Home will always be home!
Since arriving in the UAE in August of 2015 I have not been back home. For me it was a necessity! I promised myself that I wouldn't return home for at least a year. My reasons for this were to be able to move on! My relationship with my school was almost a marriage, and my leaving a divorce. I lived on campus for almost 13 years ( 5 years as a boarder/school boy and then 8 years as staff member) it was my home! Everything I did was for or about school! I loved it. So I will almost make my year as promised but for a month or so but I can categorically say that I have moved on! Having said that I can't wait to go back home! Green hills, schoolboy sport, family and friends, rain and grass are some of the things I'm looking forward too. The UAE is my new home BUT it's not the same as home home, and will never be!
3. We are spoilt in the UAE
Before moving to the Emirates I had probably stayed in 3 hotels in 26 years and if you asked me to name them I probably couldn't! The lifestyle here is almost Kardashian like (without the raunchy side I'd say) Staying in a hotel every second weekend is NOT uncommon! Shopping in malls every weekend and a different one at that is NOT uncommon either. We are spoilt here, we are paid well, and we get to enjoy all of it! There is so much to do here, even those of us out in the West have a great time with the spoils the UAE has to offer from desert safaris, brunches, night life (in the city of course), dune bashing, quad biking, desert bonfires, camel racing and the list goes on! It's almost as if we are on an extended holiday.
(Disclaimer: this is a choice you make. Some teachers will disagree with me but that's ok. I made a choice when I came over that I would not work at home, just like accountants don't crunch numbers when they leave the office I chose not to do school work at home! So from whatever time I get home I do what I want and when I want! It's a holiday basically!)
4. The classroom atmosphere is different!
Teaching ESL (English second language) is not what I initially expected in fact it wasn't what I expected at all. Is that a bad thing? I'm not sure. Do I feel like I was sold a product which has turned out differently ........ Maybe! Am I sad I chose it.... NO! The students here (I am referring to mine and mine only! I work in a school of approx 180 boys from Gr 1 - 12 so I am NOT the norm) are great on the whole! You will always get one or three that are difficult but that's life. The first couple of days are difficult, you trying to figure them out they trying to figure you out, it's almost comical really! What I have come to realise is, after chatting to some of my kids, that these poor guys have had almost 6 English teachers in the last 5 years. They have to learn a different accent each time as the teachers come from all over the world! As teachers we try and decipher what they are saying due to language barriers. It's tough don't get me wrong but my goodness is it rewarding! When I have a 14 year old jumping up and down repeatedly because he achieved 10/10 for his spelling test for the first time it is truly magical! As mentioned in previous blog posts the education system here is only 6 years old and constantly changing so it makes the classrooms a very interesting place! The kids love rewards (stickers and stamps) and taking them away is almost detention like! If you are coming over be prepared for different - not bad, horrible, uneasy or unworkable just different!
5. Academic stimulation is somewhat lost.
Coming from a highly academic environment back home to my little school was a shock. Kids arriving at class at the start of the year/trimester with no books, pens, pencils, bags etc was weird! As mentioned the school system is only 6 years old there is still a long way to go. Now don't take the title the wrong way. Academic stimulation is different for everyone. For myself as an example I taught across 3 subjects when back home and was kept on my toes by students who were academically far superior than I remember myself at that age. We would have arguments and discussions about topics which would result in lengthy debates and finally a truce. That for me is academic stimulation. Here it is different. In my English class I'm not teaching Shakespeare's Sonnets or Jane Austen's texts but rather sentence construction, reading skills and spoken abilities. These are a totally different type of challenge especially when I have students who are not at that level. The stimulation has to be created by myself in the classroom. I have to come up with different and multiple ways of teaching verbs for example. Something I would have maybe spent 20 minutes on back home takes me a week here! As mentioned before the classrooms are different but a good different! Keeps you on your toes!
6. If you aren't open minded and flexible this is NOT for you!
I can't stress this enough. I see so many teachers here who don't have these characteristics and they are the ones who are having tough times. (Now some people might take offence to that, and I'm sorry but it is how I see it) I thought it was me when I accepted my offer but Twas not the case. I had myself wound up by the simplest and most petty scenarios, and often at that. You have to be able to think outside the box, you have to be able to operate outside the box. In fact just stay outside the box. It's not the same! It never will be. Things change weekly, sometimes daily. It's not worth being worked up about. Be flexible, choose your battles. Stay open minded! Learn the phrase: No Problem!
7. Patience is key!
You just simply have to be. If you find out 15 mins before going home that you have to stay at school for a meeting - No problem. If your class doesn't pitch to your lesson on time - no problem. If your class doesn't pitch at all and you can't find them and then find the whole school in the gym hall - no problem. If you prepared a test and everyone knows but suddenly that grade has a field trip - no problem. I think you getting my drift!
8. You will love the challenge!
Over the last week I have spent 3 x 45 minutes lessons trying to get my kids to understand and create their own slogans. Now this may be an easy task you would think but when I have kids who can't speak or understand English well, it is difficult. Besides the slogans I also have kids doing Grade 1 sight words and In the same class students who could write me a 300 word essay! It's almost like those mixed bags of sweets you get at sweets factory. You will come up with 100 ways to teach the same concept but inevitably you will have to redo it! Teaching here is not about how smart the kids are is about how smart you are in getting the concept across!
9. Negativity is everywhere!
Now I understand that some may say that these last few points were negative but they are not! Well I did not intend for them to be perceived that way! As I mentioned in point 7 patience is key. We are all different! I don't work at home, I know teachers that do everything at home. I have a wonderful school I know teachers who say they have terrible schools. The way we interact with each challenge we are faced is personal. Yes sometimes I feel down and negative but when I realise it I chose to fix that. I'm naturally a positive person - don't think I had much of a choice there. Naturally different people will have different views. Chose the opinions you find valuable and sift though the negative ones. We have bad days, we all vent frustrations and emotions. Some of us just chose not to live in that space!
So in these 9 months I think I have learnt a lot about myself. I have become far more relaxed in general, far more patient and definitely a better teacher! I can't wait to see what these last few weeks of the year are like and can't wait to see my family and friends back home!