Abu Dhabi public schools offer incredible opportunities, great salaries, and extensive benefit packages for teachers. This post contains the second half of my interview with Lindsey, who taught in Abu Dhabi public schools for five years. Make sure you check out part 1 here first.
What were some of the largest differences between Abu Dhabi public schools and North American ones? Did they pose challenges for you personally?
Lindsey: There are many differences and similarities. Kids are kids no matter where they grow up. However, the school climate can be very different. A personal challenge of mine was getting over my Western-centric attitude. Most Westerners suffer from this without even realizing it. What I mean is that I had to remind myself constantly that there is no right way, or superior way, or better way. There are different ways to do things and one is no more right than the other. Once I accepted this concept, school life became a lot easier for me. Other things I found challenging was the language barrier – not so much between my students and I, but between myself and the staff. I am a social person by nature, so it was difficult when I would try to communicate with staff, especially because I was one of two female teachers in my entire school when I first arrived. To help solve this problem, I asked some of the Arabic teachers to teach me Arabic basics in return for English basics from me. This was a great way for us to find common ground and build a relationship.
Another major difference I found was the lack of recess for students. Students get an average of 20 minutes of total break per day due to the fact that the school day is packed into only five hours.
What are the resources and support systems like for educators in Abu Dhabi public schools?
Lindsey: The Abu Dhabi public schools are going through an incredible reform, which means that year by year, sources and support systems are improving. There are plans that have been designed by ADEC to support students and educators. Also, I felt support by other teachers and the administration at my school. I find that most Emiratis see value in the education reform and are therefore are very open minded.
How did you positively handle problematic classroom behaviour from students? Did you need new strategies?
Lindsey: I watched a lot of teachers struggle, including myself, with student behaviour. As a fairly junior level teacher, it was a lot to take on a class of 28 grade 2 boys that had not only never had an English-speaking teacher, but that also had never had a female teacher either. I think reflecting back on the experience, this helped me grow as an educator. I was able to use trial and sometimes a lot of errors to try different techniques. In the end, the most successful method was reinforcing positive behaviour. I implemented a class tracking system and only rewarded students for good deeds done. The students started to intrinsically motivate themselves to make good choices.
With the UAE’s education reform in place, what subjects are taught in English? Did you teach any of these?
Lindsey: English Language Arts, Math, and Science are all taught in English. I taught all three subjects.
What level of English could the students speak?
Lindsey: There was a wide spectrum of English speaking ability. Some students were fluent English speakers, readers, and writers. Other students could speak English but could not read or write. Other students had no concept of the English language. Teachers have to be comfortable with different skill levels and understand how to meet the needs of the students in their classroom based both on ability and learning style.
How was your experience with communicating with parents?
Lindsey: Some parents were very approachable, easy to speak with, gracious, and supportive. Other parents were more challenging to speak with because of their limited English ability and my limited Arabic language ability. In these situations, I would rely on my Arabic partner teacher for translation. Overall, I had a very pleasant experience with the parents of the students I taught.
Did you meet other new teachers when you arrived? Were there onboarding or orientation events and activities for new staff?
Lindsey: I met so many new friends when I arrived! Everyone is in the same situation as you are and therefore very open and friendly. I found teachers that had already been living there extremely helpful and willing to offer assistance to help me settle in. There was a week long orientation that I participated in. Representatives from the schools went through major processes and curriculum. They briefed us on living in the UAE, dos and don’ts, and helped familiarize us with where to go and what for. They also helped us set up a bank account and a cell phone. They were very helpful and patient. During orientation, which took place in Abu Dhabi City, we were placed in hotels.
When I started, there wasn’t a Head of Faculty position, however, when I was a Head of Faculty one of my duties was to welcome new teachers to the school and help them get adjusted to the school climate as well as answer any questions they may have.
How did you get along with other teachers at your school?
Lindsey: I love getting to know all different types of people. I worked in a coed staff, which is rare in Abu Dhabi. The advantage was that I had colleagues from all over the world and I could learn from their teaching methods to expand my own professional growth. The teachers were very kind, welcoming, and inviting.
What is the number one reason a teacher should experience teaching abroad? What is the number one reason a teacher should experience teaching in Abu Dhabi public schools?
Lindsey: The number one reason a teacher should experience teaching abroad is for the overall professional and personal growth experience. Teachers should experience teaching in the Abu Dhabi public schools because it is an amazing opportunity to be on the forefront of a unique and ambitious education reform. Most teachers at home never see the big picture. Their students pass by year after year and it’s hard to feel that “I’m making a difference” satisfaction. In Abu Dhabi it’s totally opposite. Teachers can experience the difference they are making first hand! They are helping to re-shape the educational climate in the country, on the front lines and can see the incredible growth and of their students. It is very professionally satisfying work.
What would you say to other teachers considering teaching abroad?
Lindsey: Just do it! It’s a scary thing to consider, but the pros FAR outweigh the cons. I fell head over heels in love with living abroad! Everyone should have this experience of a lifetime! I can see myself going abroad again if the right opportunity presents itself.