Teaching internationally, whether justified or not, has a reputation for being a transitory career move. Of course, many teachers are more than happy to spend a year or two teaching abroad, only to return home (or move onto the next international teaching destination). But what if you’re an expat teacher looking to build a long-term career teaching in the UAE?
Maybe the odds are stacked against you in your home country and teaching jobs are hard to come by. As you continue to put down roots in the UAE, it’s understandable to feel uncertain about your long-term career prospects as an international teacher. Many educators feel that a move into administration is the logical next step in their career. On the other hand, other teachers in the UAE might choose to focus more on how they can become a more effective teacher while remaining in the classroom. You might wonder whether growing your teaching career beyond the first couple of years is even possible for you as an international teacher working in the UAE
As you might already know, a professional licensing scheme for teachers in the UAE public education system is set to be introduced next year, and even teachers currently certified in their home country will need to pass a national exam and create their own teacher portfolio. Because this requirement is being phased in gradually over the next five years, the next few years could be a critical period for the success of your long-term teaching career in the UAE.
To help you formulate a plan, we’ve come up with five tips to help you maximize your long-term career prospects as an expat teacher working in the UAE.
1. Identify your teaching career strategy. Having a career strategy is hugely important. Before you can figure out the next steps for your teaching career in the UAE, you should first map out your career goals. This will help you manage the direction you want your international teaching career to take, identify the types of jobs you’re drawn to, the level you’d like to be at in five or ten years, and the corresponding job skills and knowledge you will need to succeed. You can then honestly assess your weaknesses and figure out where you can bridge the gap in your professional credentials.
If you think your teaching skills are outdated, the new licensing system should be a strong motivator for you to polish your qualifications sooner rather than later.
2. Find a great teacher mentor. It might seem like a no-brainer, but the most successful teachers are those that build relationships with their fellow teachers. If you’re an experienced expat teacher looking to move into a leadership role at some point in the future, advice from a seasoned teacher at the leadership level can be invaluable in formulating your career strategy. Gain insight into how they’ve progressed in their career and ask for advice on how to overcome some of the challenges and stumbling blocks you’ve come across at this point in your international teaching career.
3. Become a leader outside the classroom. Showcase your potential by taking on leadership roles or spearheading projects away from your day-to-day responsibilities. Aspiring leaders should start thinking about starting an after-school club related to their subject area or in sports, drama, art and music.
Don’t be afraid to speak up at board meetings and share your ideas on how to improve the teaching environment at your school. Find ways, whether informal or formal, to help make the decisions, set the goals and participate in the causes of the school you teach at - whether it’s assisting in curriculum development or with extracurricular activities.
4. Prioritize career growth over pay. It’s important to remember that teacher retention should be a priority for your school. Take a long, hard look at your current school and assess their commitment to your career growth. Is your school administration a firm believer in recruiting internally for higher teaching positions? Do they actively create an atmosphere conducive to their teachers’ professional growth?
Your school should be committed to fostering a shared sense of mission and at least some degree of collaborative decision making. If this isn’t the case, you may need to consider a lateral move to a school that encourages your personal career growth plan.
5. Take ownership of your professional development. As an international teacher, you might not gain automatic access to some of the professional development opportunities usually geared towards Emirati teachers. You’ll need to direct your job-seeking efforts towards schools that also proactively elevate training and development, as well as succession planning, for their expat teaching staff.
With the upcoming licensing requirement kicking in, schools will be working more closely with universities to ensure teaching training is available for their teachers, so do your research and take full advantage of any teacher development programs on offer at your school.
Most international schools already offer excellent professional development opportunities for teachers, such as conferences, workshops, leadership courses, symposiums and guest lectures. International school organizations will often have dedicated professional learning communities across various specializations who meet regularly, so joining a community relevant to your teaching field could open up new networking opportunities that will also benefit your career in the long run.
If you have a Bachelor’s degree, it might be worth considering a postgraduate degree in education on a part-time basis to maximize your potential for promotion to higher positions at your school. Do take into account that some universities do restrict access to degree programs to UAE nationals only. There are also lots of overseas postgraduate programs available to international teachers.
Aside from formal training, it’s important to stay informed on current trends in the teaching industry. Subscribe to teaching newsletters (or international teaching industry blogs like the Teach Away blog) and follow relevant accounts or education hashtag chats on Twitter and other social networks to stay connected to the latest industry research and opinions. If needed, brush up on the latest technological developments in learning.
Seek out relevant online professional development courses for teachers that can help you develop in-demand teaching skills in critical areas, like Digital Literacy and Culturally Responsive Teaching. These are all practical and effective, ways you can take ownership of your own professional development and remain competitive within the international teaching market.
We hope you find these tips helpful! With careful planning, teaching in the UAE can be a long-term career for international teachers, not just a career starter. As an educator, it’s up to you to be proactive, take charge of your career and make full use of the opportunities available to you as an expat teacher in the UAE.