Since I started teaching in Dubai last August, my friends and family at home have been increasingly convinced that my life out here is one long yacht party. They’re not entirely wrong: on holidays and weekends, the beach beckons and the infamous Dubai brunches are hard to turn down.
But on Sunday to Thursday (the weekend starts on a Friday here) there’s no denying that teaching English in an international school is every bit as demanding and fast-paced as teaching in the state system in the UK – for me, at least.
Start with a song
My day starts at 6am. I car-share the 10-minute drive to school, arriving around 7am, 45 minutes before the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) national anthem plays over the tannoy to start the school day.
I begin with my tutor group, which is sorted “vertically”, so that I have a mix of ages. The idea is that each year group is represented, but the population here can be so transient that, since last September, about a quarter of the form has moved on, leaving me with mostly key stage 3 girls, a token Year 11 and a few desperately outnumbered boys.
The beauty of the school population here, which is made up of more than 119 different nationalities, is that students are consistently unperturbed by occurrences such as this. My lone Year 9 boy has become a sort of surrogate older brother figure to the Year 7 girls who sit around him, and my ever-wise Year 11 girl enthusiastically delivers sessions on world citizenship to her younger peers. People often talk about the sense of family between ex-pats in Dubai, and this is nowhere more evident than in the youngest generation.
'Bring your own device'
After tutor time there are three two-hour lessons. As we follow the British curriculum, the content of my lessons is actually very similar to what I taught in the UK. The main difference tends to be the style of the lessons. Whereas my previous school in Yorkshire had wifi only in the rather exclusive sixth-form common room, here students follow the BYOD (bring your own device) rule and are constantly online. This approach is in keeping not only with the school’s aim to get its students “world ready” but also with the UAE’s National Vision for 2021.
The fact that I know about the UAE’s national agenda is not a testament to my own keen awareness of politics, but is rather because I teach KS4 social studies as well as English. All students are required to take the class, whether in English or in Arabic, and the curriculum is diverse, ranging from the culture and history of the Arab states to modern politics and global economy.
Throughout the school day, the two-hour lesson blocks are separated with break and lunchtime. If I’m on duty, I swelter in the heat while the students race around, seemingly oblivious to the temperature. Mercifully, the school building itself is air-conditioned but during the summer, even the short walk from reception to my classroom is enough to raise a sweat.
Probably my least favourite moment of teaching in Dubai so far was doing a fire drill in 40-degree heat, during which the 1,500 secondary students crossed the road to stand in a small patch of desert while they were registered. It was almost enough to make me miss the English rain.
Moving to Dubai has been the experience of a lifetime and getting the chance to teach the diverse students is fascinating on a daily basis. They all bring such different viewpoints to the classroom that it often feels like I’m the one who’s learning the most.
Ruth Sudlow is a teacher of English at GEMS Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis, Dubai.
This piece first appeared in Tes magazine on 2 June 2017.
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