Teaching in Bahrain: a day in the life

10th December 2018 at 13:15
What's life like teaching in Bahrain?
Swapping the UK for a tiny island in the Persian Gulf was a big decision, but teacher Natalie Cole has no regrets

The prospect of teaching in Bahrain can be very alluring for any teacher, at any point in his or her career. Natalie Cole left London for Bahrain three years ago, and has since created a new teaching life for herself in the Persian Gulf.

Often topping charts for the best country in which to live as an expat, Bahrain is an attractive destination owing to its tax policy and warm climate. Expats pay just 1 per cent tax, and temperatures generally never drop below 14 degrees Celsius. 

Not only that, but UK teachers often report back boasting of a better work-life balance. Teachers in Bahrain’s international schools seem to face fewer behaviour problems, and enjoy more lucrative pay packages, meaning they can live a different lifestyle compared with the UK.

But there are other factors to consider. Much like its regional neighbours, Bahrain still has some archaic attitudes towards human rights, which some visitors struggle with.

Is a move to the Gulf too much of a culture shock for Western teachers? Such a change requires a sense of adventure, but if you’re willing to take a risk, it seems that there is a lot out there to enjoy.

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Big change

After working in Hackney since qualifying as a teacher, Cole made the big decision to move to Bahrain, a country she had never even visited before. She successfully secured a job in Bahrain, with hopes of rekindling her love for teaching.

“At home I was working all day every day, six days a week. And even the day I wasn’t working, I was thinking about the work I had to do,” says Cole. “I suffered from anxiety, so that was one reason why I came out here – to regain a work-life balance. I wanted to be able to leave work at work.”

Despite finding the initial move a bit of a shock, Cole has since settled in to her new life.

“The first eight months were very different as I was waiting for my partner to join me. Now we’re both here, I feel much more settled, and like this is more like home.”

A typical day

The day begins earlier in Bahrain, with schools opening their doors at 7.30am. Teachers are generally expected to teach classes of a similar size to those in the UK, or perhaps a little smaller.

However, teachers often state that behaviour is less of a problem compared with the UK and consequently, with fewer detentions to chase or incident reports to write, workload is significantly lighter.

“I’m working fewer hours than I was at home, even though the school day itself is a bit longer: 7:30am-3pm. But after school, I’m not working.”

“I find I can experiment a lot more because the behaviour from the students is so much better. I really enjoy teaching now that I can just get on and teach.”

Less scrutiny

Working in a fee-paying international school, Cole faces slightly different pressures from those she experienced working in her previous UK state schools.

Instead of the threat of Ofsted, teachers are left to teach their subject with a greater degree of freedom. However, there are parents and other stakeholders to appease. Inspections are carried out by the Education and Training Quality Authority and the process is largely viewed as less stressful for teachers.

Extra-curricular activities

“Afterwork, I sometimes get coffee with friends, spend time with my partner, and sometimes earn extra money by tutoring,” says Cole. Since moving to Bahrain, she has made the most of the geographical benefits of being located in the Middle East, and has visited Dubai and Sri Lanka. 

But what about the things you can’t do? Cole says she misses things that she never expected.

“Something I really miss is walking. When I go home, my mum laughs at me as I insist on walking everywhere. But the heat means you hardly walk here.”

Tempted by a move overseas? Get tips and ideas from other international teachers in our International Careers Advice section

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