Top Seven things I’ve learned
With it being the end of my first half term, I wanted to share my experience of teaching in an Arab nation. I’ve learned so much in 8 weeks of working alongside my colleagues and with the students. I’ve made some mistakes as well as achieved some successes.
Those reading this might be interested in teaching abroad and hoping to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made or simply get a first-hand perspective. Perhaps you are new to the post or have been in the Middle East for some time and wanting to be more effective in your role.
Here are my 7 top tips.
- Decide to have high expectations of pupils and explicitly communicate these.
Even though the Ministry of Education in Qatar require students to have a minimum pass of an E to graduate Year 11, I feel it’s important to give students something higher to strive for. I regularly tell students to never settle for a pass grade.
- Seek to understand the student’s worldview.
As a born and bred Londoner, there are so many things I see differently. Neither way is right or wrong- it’s simply a difference of paradigm. For example, in Qatar a teenage boy is considered a man especially if he is the eldest male in the household other than the father. This position affords him a certain amount of respect as well as responsibility. He will take the lead on important matters when his father is away from the home. As a result, such a person might challenge your authority if he feels he is being belittled, or he might expect to be treated in certain ways that might surprise you. Seek to understand such things by asking questions and showing a genuine interest in their lives, but always stand your ground as the adult.
- School starts early.
I mean really early. Students are at school from as early as 6:30am! The early rising can take its toll after weeks and weeks of waking before dawn. Did I say that school starts early?
- Plan lessons with EAL students in mind.
This seems obvious but just because you are teaching a British curriculum in an international school, do not take it for granted that all of your students will understand everything you say. Do lots of explicit vocabulary work with clear modelling on how this vocabulary is used in context. I have also found dual coding, using images to represent ideas and concepts, a very useful tool in explaining things to second language learners.
- Don’t be surprised if you are given gifts!
The Arab culture values gift giving and students might very well present you with tokens of their appreciation. Western culture can often seem clinical and very sterile in comparison and for me it was heart-warming to have received gifts on World Teacher Appreciation Day.
- Don’t be alarmed at frank expression.
As a Brit, I’m used to highly nuanced and subtle expressions of communication. Arabs often tell it how it is. Don’t be offended or take it personally.
- Embrace the tactility of the Arab culture.
Again, having worked in London schools all my career, strict safeguarding measures cause teachers to become very wary of showing too much affection. I have not seen this in Qatar and it has been refreshing to witness teachers and students more relaxed concerning this. High fives, a caring arm around the shoulder or pats on the back abound here. Please note – this is not to be done with members of the opposite sex.
I love teaching and leading in Qatar. I know that I have so much more to learn and will continue to make mistakes, but that’s part of the learning process.