Thinking About Teaching in Dubai? Read This First

July 18, 2019

     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.

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…..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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Can a School Ever Really Be All 10s or All 1s?

April 4, 2019

…  Does any school really deserve all 10s or all 1s on the ISR School Review Rubric? I love my school. But hey! It just does not rate all 10s. In fact, it’s not even all 9s. Personally, I’m suspicious of any Review that displays an over abundance of 9s and 10s. Ditto that for Reviews with scores of all 1s.

Every rose has its thorns (I love that song) and International Schools are no exception. Just because I rate a couple of things a 6 or 7, it doesn’t mean it’s not a simply fantastic school. It just means the reality is this:  There are a few things you’re going to have to live with to be truly blissful here.

Like I said, I’m suspicious of Reviews with copious extremely high or low ratings. Take a school in France for example. I know for a fact the “Cost of living in relation to salary” category will never will be a 10 in overpriced Europe. My research (and every educator I know who has worked in Europe) tells me teachers have to take on an outside job just to make ends meet. The only person I can think of who would assign a 9 or 10 to the “Cost of living in relation to salary” category in a Western European school is an admin trying to attract candidates. Such misrepresentation makes the rest of the ratings look suspicious to me. I discount such Reviews.

Here’s another example of what makes me suspicious:  A school in Mexico City with a “Security rating” of 10 would make me wonder who’s behind the Review. Likewise, a score of 1 for “Community things to do” would be ludicrous for Mexico City with its endless museums, art galleries and cultural events. A low score in this category would render the entire Review useless in my opinion.

Can a school ever really deserve scores of all 10s or all 1s? I believe the answer is NO. Common sense and a bit of logic will help you to read between the lines and look for hidden agendas. When the ratings in certain categories coincide with what you know to be true about an area of the world, this is a signal that it most likely is safe to rely on the Review as a whole. However, if things seem out of sync with your intuition and common sense, most definitely, proceed with caution.

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Would You Teach Again at a Previous School?

March 14, 2019

At any school, 2 years, 3 years max, & it’s time for me to move on to a new school, a new adventure. I became an international teacher to see the world, not permanently transplant myself.

Would I teach again at any of my previous International schools? I’ll answer that with a resounding, NO! I’m glad for the experiences garnered at each, but once was enough for me.

One school Director’s idea of an intranet was his scribbles on the faculty room dry-erase board. We were all expected to pop in for updates between classes. At another school it literally took days & an act of God to get a photocopy or a few pencils for the kids. My last school made getting your paycheck a 90-minute after-school ordeal. Ridiculous practices like these were just a peek behind the curtain. I’m thankful for the experiences but I’d have to be a masochist to subject myself to such lunacy again.

I would, however, gladly return to most of the countries where I worked. Thailand, Romania & Pakistan are tops on my list. Recall of poor experiences at schools has faded, but vivid memories of the places I lived & traveled have made indelible imprints on my life. I’d say this:  I most definitely met my “see the world” goal!

ISR Asks:  Would YOU return to teach at any of your previous schools?

 

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What’s Your Take on International School Accreditation?

December 6, 2018

..ISR wants to hear YOUR thoughts on the topic of International School accreditation.  If you’ve been through the accreditation process or worked at an accredited International School, chances are good you have something to Share.

According to a major accreditation agency (who shall remain unnamed), the following characteristics are essential for an International School seeking accreditation:

 “The award of accreditation shows that the school:

  •  is devoted to its mission & vision for students
  •  has thought deeply about the services it offers to students, family and community
  •  invests time and resources for validation from a globally-recognized accreditation authority
  •  focuses on the quality of teaching, student learning, & student safeguarding and well-being
  •  is committed to the development of the students’ global citizenship
  •  has a suitable philosophy of education suitable for its students
  •  promises only what it can deliver
  •  is open to regular evaluation by its own school community and peer evaluators
  •  constantly seeks improvement in all areas of the school plans strategically for the future”

ISR Asks:  Reflecting on the accreditation process in which you participated (or witnessed from the sidelines), how were the foregoing ideals fulfilled by your school? For example,

  • Who determined, and how did your school define, a “global citizen?
  • Did/does your school encourage regular evaluation? (think: International Schools Review)
  • Who selected those teachers personally interviewed by the accreditation team?
  • Do you think the accreditation team may have been swayed by elegant dinners, fancy hotels and off-topic excursions?
  • Why are the needs and well-being of teachers noticeably absent?
  • Is the accreditation process transparent?
  • How were the majority of ideals, as above, quantified during the accreditation process?

Your perspective on accreditation will naturally be different from the standpoint of a teacher as compared to that of an administrator, as well as between that of a department chair and a department member. Should you choose to Comment on this Article, we courage you to preface your Comments with a brief, one-sentence introduction telling us from what perspective you are writing. For example: I am writing as a teacher on the sidelines, principal/director, counselor, teacher who was interviewed, etc.

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Do Corporate Schools Have a Heart?

September 13, 2018

Years ago I returned from a few pleasant years teaching overseas. Recently, however, I decided to throw my hat into the ring this upcoming recruiting season and head back to a life of teaching abroad.

Overseas, I taught in small, independently-owned International schools. Looking around at job opportunities now, though, I’m noticing the trend in International Education appears to have shifted to multi-national educational empires, with names like GEMS, QSI Schools, United World Schools and Nord Anglia.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but there does seem to be advantages to being part of a big, global network of schools:  established curriculums, sister schools that share resources, clear management structures, professional development conferences and potential lateral moves between schools, to name just a handful. The downside for me is this:  I’m not much of a corporate gal (hence the teaching degree) and worry about being a part of a huge, impersonal bureaucracy. Considering the size of some of these education goliaths, I’m concerned the needs and day-to-day affairs of the little guys (i.e. the teachers) might be overlooked. There is also the ever-present threat of the bottom line…Will the need to turn a profit overshadow the needs of the children?

Anyone willing to share their experience with large education companies as compared to smaller, more intimate schools? Are the corporate schools simply money-making machines focused on maximum profit, or are there schools with heart and community that happen to fall under a corporate umbrella? Should I stick with what’s familiar to me and recruit for a small independent school? Or take my chances in finding a corporate school with a heart?

Thanks for your input!

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Crucial 1st Days @ Your New School

August 16, 2018

How colleagues and admin perceive you during your first days at a new school can and will make the difference between a great year ahead and one that’s not at all what you hoped for.

In a way, you’re the ‘new kid on the block’ and you’ll be establishing a place in the neighborhood. Beyond smiling and introducing yourself to new colleagues, how do you go about becoming an accepted, contributing member of the faculty neighborhood?

The first (all-school) faculty meeting is a good place to start. The question is: Do you leap right in, expounding on all your great ideas, thus possibly contradicting teachers with already well-formed alliances? Or do you sit quietly, keeping your thoughts to yourself, leaving others to wonder? Neither extreme is advised.

You still don’t know who’s who, so jumping on the band wagon with a teacher or group, before you fully understand their position, could brand you as a nauseating admin cheerleader or a member of the ‘resistance.’ The best approach is take it slow, don’t step on any toes and avoid forming alliances, at least not yet. It’s hard to shake poor first impressions and switching horses mid-stream is not easy.

Considering the ideas of others and asking, in an encouraging manner, for clarification is a good first step. Letting other teachers know you are interested in what they have to say will encourage them to listen to your ideas, later, even if your ideas run contrary to theirs.

As days turn into weeks, you’ll have developed a good picture of the playing field and formed a few budding friendships. Now is the time to begin diplomatically introducing your opinions and ideas at faculty meetings and informal gatherings outside of classroom hours. Having an understanding of the opinions and motives of various groups and individuals will help you present your ideas in a way that is more palatable. At this point, if you contradict the ideas of others, they should be receptive because you have taken the time to listen and consider theirs.

Face it! You can’t please all the people all the time, and there’s a very real possibility you will sooner-or-later alienate someone or some group. Not everyone is receptive to ideas other than their own, and fragile egos are difficult to deal with. Passive-aggressive reactions and the poor-me attitude are the enemy of new ideas. They create a backwards, restraining motion rather than an atmosphere of moving forward with a synthesis of ideas. Such personalities are best politely acknowledged and then soundly ignored.

Above all, be friendly, get to know people on a personal basis, be a good listener, take it slow, and put your toe in well before you dive. Everyone likes and will listen to someone who they feel hears what they have to say. And who knows? You may even make some long-lasting friendships along your way to fitting in at a new school!

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Tutoring Adventures Overseas

July 26, 2018

Are you after a “one-on-one” teaching experience, a more family oriented relationship with students than is possible teaching in an International School classroom? If so, full-time tutoring could be your ticket to a rewarding overseas adventure.

An ISR member asks:

Does anyone have experience working as a full-time tutor? I don’t mean the sort of tutoring where an International Educator moonlights in an IS for a bit more cash, or works with individual students after school hours. I’m talking about the sort of vacancy where you’re hired by a wealthy family to be their son’s or daughter’s full-time tutor.

These jobs seem more common in the Middle East, Russia, and a few of the richer Asian countries. Clearly salaries almost always seem substantially higher than what you could earn in an IS, even one that’s a first-tier school. Around 1250 a week seems to be the going rate, which could only be bettered by a very small percentage of schools out there.

Does anyone have any experience doing this? What sort of experience/education level do you need to have a chance at a position? Is it worth the money, or does being at the beck-and-call of a rich family make it too much of a grind?

I’m aware of websites like ‘Tutors International’ and ‘VIPKid’ that would allow me to stay home and tutor online. What I’m asking to hear about is experiences of actually going overseas to live with a family (or in my own apartment), and be the exclusive tutor for one or two kids. Anyone?”

Thanks in advance,

B.

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