Teaching in the Middle East

The Middle East has always seemed an attractive prospect for teachers tired of the constraints of the national curriculum or weary of dealing with seemingly ever-worsening behaviour problems, or just to those wanting a change of scene.

New figures show that around 70,000 British primary and secondary teachers are working in international schools and many will be in the Middle East. There are more than 70 British schools alone in the Middle East and they demand a suitably proportionate workforce.

But is the dream all it’s cracked up to be? For one thing, the financial stability that Dubai seemed to offer may have been a mirage, the country is in debt. And while the country may be debt ridden, individuals are advised to stay in the black: approximately 40 per cent of people in Dubai’s Central Jail are there because they haven’t paid off their bank loans.

The education system in the Middle East

About 95 per cent of international schools in the Middle East are run for profit, making them an attractive business prospect. Private schools in the UK have come on board, plus companies such as GEMS Education, which runs scores of schools across 10 countries and three continents.

Advice on what type of school British teachers should opt for is more complex. International schools in the UAE may serve some 40 to 60 different nationalities. Embassy and not-for-profit schools, established in the 1950s and 1960s for expatriates’ children, are often cited as the most desirable places to work, offering a ‘little bit of England in the Middle East’.

The two main curriculums UK teachers are likely to encounter are a modified version of the English National Curriculum and the International Baccalaureate geared towards the US education system. Many pupils in the secondary sector will be aiming at higher education with US or UK universities being high on the list of choices. Examination system will be geared towards the key destinations for these pupils.

Generally the schools with the highest fees - those that follow the IB, British or American curricula - offer the most attractive salaries, but demand the most experienced teachers. Less experienced teachers cannot always afford to be so discerning and may have to settle for a local school that pays less but allows staff greater interaction with the local community

There are certain local customs that may take some time to get used to. One is getting on side with people with wasta, those with influence or connections. Teachers working in the Middle East have noticed that favouritism can be shown towards certain pupils or parents, not least because the schools are run as a business and parental support is key to a school’s success.

Staying on the right side of the high-wasta pupils, parents or members of staff may be an alien concept for teachers used to the state system in the UK, but it is crucial to a happy and fulfilling working life in the Middle East.

Teaching pay and conditions in the Middle East

Teachers going to the Middle East for the first time will need to check their contracts carefully. What will the school provide? Housing is almost always provided as part of the package, which is good news as housing can be expensive if you have to pay for it yourself. Beware though the housing provided might be too small for a family.

Utilities are also cheap, but might not be included in the deal.  Annual return flights should also be included. And make sure your clear on the arrangements forhealth insurance.

Teaching contracts are usually 2-3 years and most salaries are tax free. A single teacher should find they can live relatively comfortably on a tax free package of £1,000 per month. Salaries generally start at upwards of 7,000 United Arab Emirates dirhams (AED)/month (£1,249). The wages for experienced teachers can go up to 14,000 AED/month (£2,495).

Because of the weather the teaching day generally starts at around 7.30am and runs to 2.30pm. You can also expect to take part in after-school activities for about three hours per week.

Cultural differences

The massive cultural and social differences can come as quite a shock to the unprepared. Kissing in public, drinking alcohol, cohabiting with an unmarried partner or having a homosexual relationship are not just frowned on in Dubai, they are illegal. Despite the ‘anything goes’ attitude of many expatriates - and an unofficial blind-eye approach to much ‘western’ behaviour - those laws can be imposed at any time.

There are also potential issues with travel. Carry an Israeli stamp in your passport and you may not be allowed entry. Certain over-the-counter medications are also illegal and there are a plethora of faux pas that can escalate into real problems for the unknowing expat.

All international schools should run an orientation programme for new teachers, which will prepare you for the new culture.

Find the latest teaching jobs in the Middle East on TES

Teaching jobs in Kuwait

Teaching jobs in Qatar

Teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia

Teaching jobs in the United Arab Emirates

Teaching jobs in Oman

Useful resources for teaching in the Middle East

Red this conversation from the Teaching Overseas forum on the pay and conditions in the Middle East

British Schools in the Middle East