The United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to some of the most high-paying teaching jobs in the world, is a perennially attractive prospect for certified international teachers. If you’re thinking about teaching in the UAE, you probably have a ton of questions about what day-to-day life is like living and teaching there.
That’s why we recently jumped at the chance to catch up with Anchen Besselaar, a middle-school science teacher from South Africa and one of our Teach Away alum, to ask a few questions about life in Abu Dhabi and what it’s like teaching with Abu Dhabi public schools! Anchen has taught in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi for just over a year now and has plenty to say about her experience teaching abroad so far!
Anchen and family!
So, let’s hear it from Anchen:
What do you love most about being a teacher?
Anchen: Since I stepped into my very first classroom five years ago, the best part about my job has been interacting with my students every day. I love the feeling that I’m making a difference in their lives by helping them learn more about the world around them and (hopefully!) instilling a lifelong love of science in them.
Getting to witness first hand that “aha” moment, when my students suddenly understand a difficult concept or master a new skill and their faces light up - I feel so privileged to be a part of that.
Can you give us a quick overview of your teaching career before moving to Abu Dhabi to teach with the Abu Dhabi Education Council?
Sure! Before teaching with Abu Dhabi public schools, I spent five years teaching grade 8 natural science and grades 10 - 12 biology.
Before moving to the UAE, had you lived or traveled abroad before?
Yes! I moved to Sweden for an exchange program after completing my master's degree in environmental sciences. I loved sharing my passion for science with my students. Their love of learning was what initially fueled my passion for teaching, actually.
What sparked your interest in heading abroad to teach?
Teaching abroad is a big decision and definitely not one that should be made lightly. But I was lucky enough to have lots of friends who had taught overseas in various countries all over the world, who gave me some honest insight into both the upsides and challenges of living and teaching abroad.
Seeing them have the freedom to travel, experience new foods, cultures and meet new people - I got a serious case of FOMO and decided to take the plunge and teach overseas, too.
What made you choose Teach Away as a recruiter?
A friend of mine had been placed through Teach Away in the past and had only good things to say about her experience! She recommended that I check out the Teach Away job board and see if there were any opportunities that fit my experience and credentials.
Luckily enough, I saw that Abu Dhabi public schools were hiring science teachers and jumped at the chance to get my application in!
Can you share your experience of applying and interviewing for jobs through Teach Away?
I have only good things to say about my experience of applying and interviewing through Teach Away. The whole team - especially my Placement Coordinator, Chantelle - were amazing and very helpful. They were always available to answer the many questions I bombarded them with on the phone and over email.
They worked tirelessly to set me up for success throughout the whole hiring process with Abu Dhabi public schools. They really knew what we are talking about because they had also taught all over the world and really know everything there is to know about interviewing and getting hired to teach abroad.
Teach Away also has a great support system in place for job candidates, organizing everything from live information sessions to Facebook groups. Even though I’m a year into my new teaching job in Abu Dhabi now, they still check in to offer guidance and support, to this very day!
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What are your pro tips for anyone currently going through the interview process for a teaching job abroad?
No matter how many interviews you’ve done, they’re still a nerve-racking process! Here are three tips that helped me nail my interview with Abu Dhabi public schools:
1. Bring a portfolio, preferably digital/online with you to the interview. This is a really useful asset you can draw on throughout your interview to showcase your ideas and accomplishments as a teacher and better support your answers.
2. Do your research before the interview. The more you know about the school you’re interviewing at, the more a prospective employer will grow to see you as a great candidate! You’ll be able to find plenty of information about the school on their website and on Teach Away. Read up on their history, mission and values, which will help to show you’re interested in the job as well as the families and students you’ll be working with. Bonus: This will also help you think up some insightful and informed questions to ask during your interview, and to gauge whether the school is the right fit for you!
3. Ask your Teach Away Placement Coordinator or the Teach Away Facebook group what you’re likely to be asked at your interview. Plan ahead on how you’ll answer questions on specific topics around teaching your subject or age range. And don’t forget to support your answers with concrete examples!
In making your decision to choose a teach abroad program, what were the top three things that you considered to help make your decision?
While there were lots of things that factored into my decision to apply for a teaching job abroad, for me, the top three were:
- Would my family be able to move with me?
- Will this job be a step forward financially?
- How does this job align with my broader career goals?
What should teachers who are relocating abroad for the first time do to best prepare for living somewhere new?
Firstly: research, research, research! Do your research online about your new home country and everything you need to do to prepare for life there, including local customs, laws and the language.
Next, reach out to as many people as you can find who are also living/have lived in the place you’re moving to. Scope out your Facebook friends list and ask people if they know of anyone you can talk to! This is also a great way to meet some new friends where you’ll be teaching.
Finally, and I can’t overstate this one enough: it’s important to be flexible! Being able to adjust to new situations and move past unexpected obstacles as they arise will key to successfully adapting to your new life overseas. You need to be open to new experiences and ready to try anything new.
What three pieces of advice would you offer a certified teacher who has never taught or traveled abroad, but would like to?
1. Don’t stress about being a little older and worrying that you’ve already missed your chance to teach abroad! I can promise you - teaching abroad isn’t just for new grads in their early twenties! I’ve worked with teachers overseas of all ages and at all career levels. And for any parents planning on teaching overseas, make sure you do some research on some of the programs that offer free or subsidized tuition for your children in their benefits packages. Tuition can be prohibitively expensive otherwise and that program may not be realistic for you or your family.
2. Don’t worry about not speaking the language - you'll be able to pick up some of the lingo and learn some key phrases as you go!
3. There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there on how to get started with teaching abroad - trust me, I’ve been in your shoes! Make sure you sign up for a well-established recruitment agency, like Teach Away, who have a team of experts that can talk you through everything you need to consider when applying to teach abroad.
Did you encounter any challenges to start with?
There’s no doubt that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome when you’re teaching abroad for the first time.
I had to leave behind everything that was familiar to me - including the city I’d grown up in and my entire social circle. So that took some getting used to - luckily I had my spouse and kids with me. Setting up regular Skype calls with my family and friends back home also helped combat the homesickness.
I also had to modify my communication style in the classroom to account for the fact that I was teaching predominantly English language learners. Everything from speaking more slowly to simplifying my instructions and drawing on non-verbal cues - these all have helped make the process of teaching and learning easier for me and my students.
What’s the best part about living and teaching in the UAE?
For me, the best part by far has been the exposure my children are getting on a daily basis to new cultures, friends and life experiences. I feel like they’re really gaining a greater appreciation for the world and a taste for adventure! Abu Dhabi has plenty of family-friendly activities on offer, too.
How has your teach abroad experience helped shape you as an educator?
It’s really made me aware the impact of cultural differences in the classroom and how to adjust my own teaching style to reach my students more effectively. It’s also made me much more flexible and patient as an educator.
I’m so much more confident in my ability to solve problems and deal with challenging circumstances in the classroom than before I taught abroad. I’m also so much better at communicating with teachers, students and parents with different upbringings and cultural backgrounds.
These are all very valuable skills that I feel will be extremely beneficial, not only for my teaching career but for my own personal growth, too.
How has your family's lifestyle changed when factoring in the cost of living in Abu Dhabi?
We actually have a better lifestyle than back home here - the cost of living is relatively low when compared to the salary teaching in Abu Dhabi, which is great when you’re raising a young family. At the same time, we’re also able to save money for the future when we do return home.
What’s been your most memorable teach abroad moment so far?
That happened pretty recently, actually! I met a parent in a grocery shop the other day who thanked me for the impact I’ve made on her child, by providing a positive, caring learning environment and encouraging and believing in them. It was such a great reminder of why teaching is such an amazing and worthwhile profession!
And last, but not least: do you have a favorite quote, mantra or philosophy to teach by?!
If I can make a difference in one student’s life, I’ve succeeded as a teacher!
Want to hear more first-hand stories from teachers in Abu Dhabi? Have a read of Lindsey’s experience teaching in Abu Dhabi.
PS: Don’t forget to click and apply for our job postings in Abu Dhabi public schools in 2018!