How to teach in extreme heat and still keep your cool

When the temperature starts to rise, keeping a cool head in the classroom can be tough. One Dubai-based leader shares some advice

Paul Gardner

A parasol in the sun

It is that time of the year again in Dubai. Temperatures are touching 50 degrees celsius and the humidity is almost unbearable. The simplest walk from one building to another becomes a torturous trek.

During the majority of the year, the climate in the UAE is fantastic, with warm temperatures and blue skies, but things do start to hot up in summer months.

If you're unfamiliar with the desert climate and you are moving to the UAE this summer, these are some of the things you need to consider.

1. Check your wardrobe

UAE private schools are hugely respected institutions that typically require formal clothing, so for men, a suit and tie is a must. In my first year here, I was the victim of poorly selected clothing and was often left sweltering whilst on duty at break times.

One thing you quickly realise is the importance of choosing an outfit that has breathable material and a low thread count. Getting this right means the difference between bearable and unbearable so spend time making sure that your wardrobe is appropriate for the climate you are going to be working in.

2. Put things on ice

In extreme heat, temperatures can rise literally and figuratively. At the best of times, schools are high pressure and intense environments. When the physical conditions are extremely harsh, even the smallest of issues can become much larger than they actually are.

My advice would be to try and keep a cool head at all times. Packing a frozen water bottle in your lunch, which will melt as the day progresses, means that you always have a nice cool drink to hand that can help cool down your body and your emotions.

Another top tip (thanks to my wife for this suggestion) was to use smaller ice blocks to put inside your pockets for when you are on duty. These are an absolutely wonderful addition to your daily routine if you do happen to be stuck on outside duty.

3. Get used to ‘hot play’  

The concept of a wet play is well established in the UK. But what about a hot play? In the UAE, and other places with a similar climate, this occurs when the temperatures outside have become too hot to be considered safe.

The metrics used to calculate this are complicated and decided by the school nurse who looks at temperature, humidity and cloud coverage. From approximately the beginning of June, you can expect every day to be a hot break in the UAE.

This means students are in classes and must be entertained there. In a similar manner to the UK, students coming to your lesson from a ‘hot break’ are tetchy and frustrated and this needs to be considered for any after-lunch lessons.

4. Check your vitamin D

It's genuinely uplifting knowing that the sun is going to shine every day. From the months of October to April you tend to spend as much time outside as possible in order to take full advantage of the glorious weather.

It is like being on a Mediterranean holiday in the summer. Most members of staff wear sunglasses when they are on duty, which is a novel concept to get used to when you first arrive.

However, when the heat rises significantly and people begin to avoid the sun, there is a strong correlation with people’s vitamin D becoming insufficient due to lack of sunlight. This is an expatriate teacher problem, in fact, it is a problem across the population of the many desert climate countries.

As such, the sun rarely touches your skin during the summer months. It's fairly straightforward to fix this problem through supplements and checkups with your doctor if you feel you are low. Simply knowing about this and being why of how your body feels is often enough.

5. Take things seriously

The most important thing to consider when working in extreme heat is that it is actually very dangerous. Of course, if the necessary precautions are taken and you act sensibly then you don't really have too much to worry about other than the odd discomfort.

However, with the wrong clothing, spending too much time outside and not properly hydrating you can quickly find yourself at risk of heatstroke. Thankfully most schools in desert climates, and this is certainly the case in the UAE, employ a full-time school nurse or doctor to help with these kinds of health issues when they inevitably arise. Nevertheless, this is something to consider and be mindful of.

Paul Gardner is secondary school deputy headteacher at DIS Dubai. He tweets at @DubaiDeputy

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Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner is Secondary School Deputy Head Teacher at DIS Dubai. He tweets at @DubaiDeputy

Find me on Twitter @DubaiDeputy

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