United Arab Emirates: Teaching in Abu Dhabi

Everything happened so quickly, one minute my teacher husband and I had completed application forms, and the next we’d been interviewed and offered positions. We rented out our house for a couple of years and next thing were on our way to Abu Dhabi.

Before we took the plunge though, we checked out the school website, and also the independent schools council. It was really useful to talk to friends who had visited and have a look at their photographs.

We met up at the head teacher’s villa along with 16 other new staff one hot and humid evening and enjoyed chatting over drinks and snacks. The next day, still jet-lagged, we had a staff meeting at 8.00a.m where we discovered more about each other’s backgrounds. We were then bussed en masse to the supermarket, the bank and the hospital for the first of three-yearly medical check-ups.

I wake before 6a.m. daily; often the mosque or the bright sunlight of daybreak rouses me before my alarm. Staff are expected to be ready to receive children from 7.20a.m. It is a shockingly early start but at least the weather is cooler at this time. You can also avoid the increasingly horrendous traffic - a definite downside of life here.

Students have six one hour lessons daily which I believe is more then they’d have in the UK. Classroom behaviour is largely very good; there is time for lots of learning hence we get through much material so I need to be very well prepared. Standards and expectations are very high and it’s certainly not a cushy number. I’ve been through three ‘inspections’ since arriving here.

The school day finishes at 2.30 p.m. but of course there are meetings, clubs and parents’ evenings as well as reports and other non-teaching tasks. Still, I manage to take my children to the beach at least one afternoon per week where there is a popular Beach club that my sons really enjoy. It is a great place for families.

Since being here, I have been promoted to head of department and had a surprising amount of fun setting up the first GCSE and A-level English courses at the school. Our original two year plan has changed and we’re now happily in our seventh year. I now work part-time as we have a young family. Both my children will attend the school which has a fabulous infant department.

When I do return home, I will carry a carpet bag of fond and often quirky memories including warm camel milk in a beaker on the way home from nursery; the boys’ school I visited with gleaming dish-dashed young men proudly parading their falcons; the horn-blowing, flag-waving, slow-moving dance around the Corniche performed to traditional music; the kind Pakistani workman rescuing me and my boys from a nest of mad wasps; sleeping tent-less in the desert; and desperately seeking a mechanic in the mountains.

Top tips

  • Bear in mind that some schools will serve mainly expatriate families, and your social circle will also reflect this. So you will need to make a real effort to submerge yourself in the culture of the country in other ways.
  • The cost of living in the Middle East has gone up and rents are extremely high, so don’t expect to make a fortune
  • Check out the school through their website
  • Talk to people who work there as teachers, or to those who have visited for a low down on the area


Useful organisations:

Council of international schools
ISC research,
TES overseas jobs

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