Thinking About Teaching in Dubai? Read This First

     It wouldn’t be fair to say all schools in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are represented by the comments that follow. However, one thing is certain, all Dubai schools are subject to the requirements of Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the consequences of which can seem archaic in relation to Western educational standards. If Dubai is on your list of places to live and teach, the following commentary from an ISR Member is something to consider.


…..The first and obvious thing you should realize before coming to Dubai is that it is an authoritarian state. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that schools in the UAE are also authoritarian in outlook.

If you decide to come here, do not expect open, confident, consultative organizations that value your input or expertise on decisions or matters that impact your teaching/approaches to learning. Your role is to shut up and accept whatever latest BS initiative comes from the Ministry of Truth (head office). At least that’s how it is at my school…

A huge concern about teaching in Dubai is the need to satisfy the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) inspectors. They come around EVERY YEAR to rate schools. A good inspection grade attracts parents and means fees can be raised. As you can imagine, the impact of this annual inspection is brutal on the teaching staff. Teachers at my school teaching core subjects are prepared to work a 60-70-hour week with most of that time spent preparing detailed lesson plans and gathering data to support/validate their teaching and assessment. This emphasis on data is suffocating, not least because the majority of it is spurious.

Indeed, almost every department at my school is, to my knowledge, manipulating data to show progress amongst its students. This is encouraged by management through a policy that requires staff to provide re-takes of summative assessments until a student reaches their target level. As the head of Secondary at my school told staff recently: “No student has the right fail.” What his obfuscating edu-speak doesn’t appreciate is that if a student submits something of poor quality, the teacher MUST have the right to fail the student. It is very hard to convince someone of something when it is in their interests to not understand.

Besides overwhelming staff in terms of the volume of work, this no-fail system creates, even worse it encourages students to be lazier than normal because they will always have another chance to do well and the teacher will be forced to mark it until the requisite grade is reached. If a student fails to meet their target at my school, the teacher will, regardless of the student’s effort or work ethic, be held accountable. The result is that teachers are now simply front-loading by inflating grades to mitigate the possibility of any comeback against them.

As a result of such relentless pressure to justify and make visible every aspect of your practice to satisfy external organizations and parents, the outcome is a toxic culture and work environment. This is the only way to describe the bullying that is rife within certain departments as heads are put under pressure to provide evidence of student progress. If you value your autonomy and you have a modicum of self-respect and/or dignity, then this school is not the school for you.

Dubai itself is a place where people go to live life without actually living. Paradoxically, all life is here, but every experience is mediated through the artificial spectacle of consumerism and status. If that’s your thing, you will love it; if not you’ll hate every moment in this manufactured oasis. Good luck!

(The preceding is a redacted excerpt from a School Review added to ISR on 7/16/2019. ISR Members wishing to read the entire School Review can sign in and locate this UAE school on the Most Recent Reviews page. Then scroll to Review #11.) 

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27 thoughts on “Thinking About Teaching in Dubai? Read This First

  1. You say that you’ve been in the UAE for a long time. That explains you’re patronising and condecending response the article. You’ve clearly been there too long and have normalised the unethical practices that typify the majority of schools in the region. I have also been living and working in the region’s schools for many years, and I can testify to the accuracy of the original post. Whilst it is about a specific school, it is, in general, spot on. Of course not every school is the same and some of them are great to work in, but they certainly are in the minority. Do yourself a favor and read the whole article before you provide such a reductive and defensive analysis. It wasn’t a personal attack on you or your choices. As with all ISR reviews, I think it’s simply an attempt to provide some much needed due diligence to prospective employees of this particular establishment. Open your eyes and stop drinking the Emerati Kool-Aid.


  2. I was one of the lucky ones to teach at a not for profit school in Dubai and it was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I was housed in an amazing apartment, was paid well and able to travel extensively within the middle east, asia and europe. I was also able to save a significant amount of money.The school was primarily British with a small selection of other nationalities and standards were high. The management was professional and highly experienced and staff were selected on the basis of past British experience and a rigorous interview process. As the school was well run, passing the KDHA inspection was easy and departments were not forced to alter grades or jump through hoops. My school received the highest grade in the two years I was there and has maintained it. Dubai is not the West and many of the values we hold dear are not respected there. You need to understand this, although it is difficult and confronting.
    I would never work in a for profit school in Western Europe, the US or Australia, so why do it in the Middle East? Like all places, research is absolutely necessary as is a high level of proficiency and an impressive CV. If you are unable to secure a job in a not for profit school in Dubai or elsewhere in the middle east, it might be time to up-skill and get some useful experience in decent Western Schools before trying again.


  3. We too in the enlightened West practice “no right to fail”. 8th graders are promoted to high school if they can show evidence of breathing. High schoolers no longer must pass the “exit exam” pegged to 8th and 9th grade standards in order to receive an all-but-meaningless diploma. I’m sure you’re right that teaching in an authoritarian state can be demeaning—but the sort of authoritarianism we find in California produces equally lamentable student results.


  4. In all fairness and honesty, this strikes home all too close for both intl schools I worked at, and from what I know from colleagues, it’s more of rule than an exception – anywhere in the world.


  5. If I had read all the crap over the past few years in ISR I never would have left home. What the hell do people expect—this is an adventure. You are not home. I worked at six top tier schools over many years, and as good as these schools were, there were always challenges and rewards. But to see the world on someone else’s dime, work with great teachers from around the world, and make a huge pile of cash. . .I wouldn’t trade a moment. ISR did a great service for many years, but now the site is giving the impression that the world of international teaching is a high risk proposition barely worth the time and trouble. Yes, Dubai has it’s huge challenges, but look where you can travel from there, think of all the great stories you will have when you are at the center of attention with friends and family who don’t have a clue there is any other place to live but their own comfortable homeland. The greatest advice I first received from a deputy director at my first welcoming was a word: flexibility. And my advice: have a sense of adventure and a great desire to see the world.


    1. Hello Bob. ISR is not intentionally giving the impression that the world of international teaching is a high risk proposition. ISR is a third party venue. All content on the site is created by and comes from educators sharing their experiences. Thus, the overall tenor of the site is the result of the many submissions we receive on a daily basis.

      It does appear that with the advent of the many for profit schools that international teaching today is far different than it was 20 years ago.

      If you would like to compose an article about the positive aspects of your overseas teaching experiences we would be more than happy to feature it. Please send your work as an attachment to

      Best Regards,

      Ben @ ISR


    2. Sorry to impute your mission. You are so right. We were lucky to be in the game when we were. Home for four years but we missed it so much, we are heading out again. Thanks for the writing opportunity but not sure I could edit it down enough.


    3. Bob, the industry has changed. I can’t wait to read your review after you pull your runner because your new school is a bust and they screwed you on your pay. The beautiful irony would make me happy.


    4. Bob, you are working internationally so that you can be the center of attention when you return home??? Is this being the center of attention also a part of your teaching practice? This too could be why you thrived there.


  6. Just to add to my comment: my school is great, students are great although many unmotivated. It’s “corporate that makes life miserable


  7. I think the same applies with the schools in Pakistan Board member kids never fail even though they are normally the thickest in the class and teachers are given so much money that they will do anything . Sad state of affairs but its a reality


  8. I have taught in the U.S. and a number of schools across the globe. While I very much agree with most of was said in the article, I like to point out that I have experienced similar conduct in, surprisingly, an American school in a north African country. Most of us (teachers and admin) were American expats. Most of board members were embassy staff. And yet American parents were the ones demanding higher than earned grades. The deputy U.S. ambassador took time to visit me in school to ask for two extra points for his son to get a B+. In another situation when I refused to use my finger to alter the midterm grade of a student, the HS principle said he would use his own finger to do the job for me. And he did. The school director accused of “insubordination” then. The message was loud and clear: “Tow The Line”.


  9. 👍🏻Totally agree and throw in a large international group of schools and it’s even worse- you’re also in marketing and public relations to build student enrolment. I live for the weekends.


  10. I fully agree with this. I left teaching in the UAE because of the bullying mentality, the need to constantly evidence and prove every little thing, teaching was all about “visible learning” in other words a show for the many people who wander into your classroom on a daily basis whether that be parent tours, leadership etc. A toxic toxic culture. Avoid at all costs


  11. I taught 1 year in the UAE for ADEC (Abu Dhabi Educational Council), and while I made just over $6000 a month (yes, A MONTH!!!), tax-free, free apartment, electric, water, internet, and LOVED living there (I was in the Western Region, but had a car for weekend getaways), I HATED MY JOB!!! I was never and have never since been treated so badly in my entire life. The parents were great- always feeding and bringing presents to the expat teachers and yes, expecting straight A’s for their babies (I taught high school girls English), who were also very loving if not hard workers, it was very evident that the administration did not want us there. We were yelled at in front of our students, threatened that our pay would be docked, but when I saw our principal spit on one of the expat teachers, I was done. It would be me in those same shoes eventually and I’m just not made to be treated like that.

    My next school was an international school in Qatar for 2 years where I taught “THE BOYS”. Anyone who has worked in any Middle Eastern country knows how “THE BOYS” can be… But I loved every one of my lazy, didn’t want to do a lick of work BOYS!!!! I had the same group for 2 years. They were so spoiled but as sweet as could be.

    If you can take the good with the bad working overseas and yes in the Middle East – spent a year in Iraq after Qatar- and my Kurdish students were WONDERFUL, but I did give up on secondary after 20 some odd years and my last 3 years have been in grades K and 1 (love the babies!).
    Next school year CHINA!!! Then retirement.


  12. I wouldn’t waste my time teaching in any of the Gulf States since all of them are 8th century kingdoms with a dab of new paint and spakel to make them look shiney and new!! Places that treat at least half their populations like slaves ie women should be boycotted and forced to fail.. Never mind freedom of religion or anything else that would be considered civilized!! The leaders of these countries are neandethals plain and simple.. I wouldn’t waste my time even looking for a job in any of these 8th century nightmares!!


  13. Doesn’t sound that much different from my experiences in New York where an administrator changed a failing grade because of repeated plagiarism to a passing grade and a coach followed me around the school threatening me if his star player lost academic eligibility because of cutting and failing my class. Or in Florida where the curriculum can be challenged and thwarted by any parent who doesn’t believe in climate change or evolution and where testing and data reign supreme. Test scores and ratings mean more than the well-being of students.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you equate any US public school experience as equal (or worse) than teaching in Dubai (I have done both), you are either ignorant or not very bright. Happy you are happy in the UAE but most ethical professionals wouldn’t be.


  14. You have, in your rage, conflated many issues. I’m in agreement with you on many points, but I hope this diatribe isn’t just an attempt to vent, or to create a busy thread here.

    We have been in the Emirates several years and taught in two emirates. The whole of the UAE is not under Dubai’s authority, as Dubai is only one emirate. (How did you miss that one?) In fact, Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) governed the institutions in the Abu Dhabi emirate, and has claimed to be in the process of merging with the Ministry of Education. And you skip the many foreign-owned schools that don’t have these same issues.

    When I left a government school, I took a teaching job where I was respected and left pretty much on my own to teach employees of governmental organizations and businesses, one of the best gigs I’ve had anywhere.

    While you have been very articulate about some ethical issues (grades being changed) that lead to demotivation of staff and students in government schools, have you even worked in another country in the developing world? (And you don’t have to change the grades in “front loading” – it will be done for you!) And what about the vile work conditions (and underpayment) in the developed world? The U.S, the U.K? Where the emphasis on data and testing interrupts teaching?

    Your last paragraph here was pure opinion and not factual. If you think that “every experience here is mediated by the artificial spectacle of consumerism and status,” you must not have Arab or South Asian friends, Palestinian refugees, who are grateful to be able to raise their families here, not in their own countries.

    You sound like a promising YOUNG writer, who loves words, but you could do better than this, which seems to me like anti UAE propaganda, where using the truth can obscure the inaccurate generalizations. You claim that your input won’t be respected, that you have to put up or shut up. That’s just not always so, with teachers who have often had their advice considered or taken.

    I came into teaching after over a decade in another field, and was immediately shocked at the pettiness and nepotism in public (government) educational institutions in the U.S. Twenty years later, I think there are fewer work environments that don’t have some egregious aspect (for those who don’t run the company) than there are positive ones, in my OPINION. I’ve always had to work after school, and/or on the weekends, the 60-70 hour week you decried. Rather than complain, read Dr. Henry Giroux, use your fine sense of outrage and find educational activists and expand – contribute to better education, everywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The article is specifically about Dubai. Perhaps you should have read it before attacking it. And Dubai is a city of smoke and mirrors build on the backs of Filipinos and Bangladeshi labors who suffer long hours for little pay while the rich live in luxury.
      And teaching is what you make of it, clearly the states wasn’t for you. That being your own admission, please refrain from attacking someone’s similar experience just because you didn’t share the same location. International teaching in general is broken and now focused on student retention for that sweet sweet money!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I taught in both South Asia and the Middle East, and I did not find the schools of the former to be so riddled with corruption as the school of the latter, as described by the latter. In my OPINION, based on both my experience and what I’ve read here multiple times, I think the international schools in the Middle East are so hobbled by religious, ideological and political restrictions that the free and critical inquiry, as well as the “inquiry based” learning approach enjoined by the IB are practically impssible there. I would under no circumstances ever consider living and working there. A boy in my last school was sexually molested by a gang of rich thugs while on campus, and the freak who was the head allowed the ringleader to “withdraw” and the victim was told to keep his mouth shut. I consider many of the schools in that region to be abusers of students and faculty.


    3. As a former principal, teacher and educational consultant (now there’s a dirty word) in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, I think this post has hit the nail on the head. Smoke and mirrors, or as they say in Yorkshire, all fur coat and no knickers.

      The biggest problem is that KHDA, ADEK and the MoE in their relentless rush to put themselves in the top 10 or 20 of global educational statistics, fail to carry out any proper joined up thinking and a sensible plan for genuine teaching and learning improvement. Initiative is piled upon initiative and nothing is given the time to embed before they latch on to the next flavour of the month. A teacher’s workload is ridiculous with all the spurious data gathering and statistical justification. We all know about lies, damned lies and statistics. But also spare a thought for poor principals. Caught between avaricious school owners determined to squeeze every fils from these private cash cows, trying to get the best possible packages for staff, create a silk purse from a sow’s ear with insufficient cash for resources, infrastructure and training, the nonsense of annual inspections and you can see that is a pretty thankless task. There are only 6 not for profit schools in Dubai and if you are lucky enough to work in one it is somewhat better. For too long people have regarded the UAE as a financial El Dorado, but read the UAE press and it is apparent Dubai is hitting a big downturn in order to service massive debts from the 2008 global crash. If you are already there you will see it all around you. People are leaving in droves, jobs in many sectors have been and are being slashed. This has a knock on effect for schools which is just beginning to feed through. I had some wonderful and horrendous experiences there, but I was clear when it was time to go. Don’t dismiss Dubai out of hand but do your research VERY carefully. If something looks to good to be true, then it will be.


    4. What negativity and sweeping generalisations made based upon the author’s bad experiences. I disagree with most of what was said about dubai schools and living in dubai in general. I can only comment upon my own experience as can the author. Anything else is unhelpful!


    5. Ok, Al. You “disagree with most of what was said about Dubai schools” and “anything else is unhelpful.” Talk about vague and “unhelpful.” There’s a huge difference between non-profit and for-profit schools here in Dubai so perhaps you can enlighten us with what specifically you disagree with? I’ve been here in Dubai for a couple of years and in my opinion, besides ASD, pretty much every school is crap. You disagree? Tell us why, ol’ wise one!


    6. You must have been one of the lucky ones working in a not for profit school then. The article is not unhelpful. It clearly mirrors the experience of many teachers in Dubai and other UAE schools. You only have to read the many reviews on the website to see this was, is and will continue to be the case because no one has the overriding authority or will to say. “Okay chaps, let’s get back to basics and stop repeating all the mistakes already made in so many other parts of the World.” Education in the UAE has been to apply a sticking plaster of westerncentric thinking on a malaise that has very different historical and cultural roots.


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