After six years teaching in the UK, I moved abroad to teach in a British curriculum school in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There were various reasons for my decision to move and the time felt right. Now, after five wonderful, but at times very challenging, years, the time now feels right to return to the UK.
Both decisions, to leave and to return to the UK, haven’t been easy because there are many push and pull factors in the mix.
Teaching overseas: What I will miss about the Middle East
1. The people
The teaching communities in the UAE are very diverse. Everyone has their own unique background, story and reasons for relocating to the Middle East.
The educators I’ve met share my sense of adventure and desire to travel, and have become very close to me. When you're away from family, your friends become your family. The teaching community is supportive and helpful. I have also been fortunate to work with kind, highly motivated and inspiring students who are local or, like myself, living internationally.
2. Professional development budgets
When I taught in the UK, requests for professional development could be rejected because of lack of funding and the need for supply to cover my lessons. Indeed, professional development mainly took place during my own time because of financial reasons, and because this was just much easier.
At my current school in Abu Dhabi, though, the senior leadership team are very proud that they can passionately and financially support all staff with professional learning.
This can include payment of courses and qualifications such as NPQs, an MA in education and more, in addition to ensuring that the school CPD library is always stocked with a collection of the latest books on education.
Most school leaders in the UK promote professional learning and do the absolute best they can despite the financial restraints and restrictions that we don’t have to worry about as much here.
3. The benefits
Let's be honest, teachers can be very well paid and well looked after – the salary is often generous and, of course, tax-free (it should be noted, though, that school packages and wages do vary considerably).
Furthermore, in addition to the tax-free income, there are other perks such as medical insurance, paid-for accommodation and annual flights. It’s easy to understand why so many teachers are drawn to what international schools can offer.
4. The lifestyle and work-life balance
This links with the point above as the disposable income means money can be spent on beaches and brunches. International schools have also shown that teachers can relax, enjoy their weekends and still do a great job. Balance is certainly possible!
Work and home life balance has become the norm and an accepted part of the teaching profession and culture in the UAE, as it should be.
Why I'm excited to return to the UK…
1. Working in a school in the UK
There are many challenges facing the current education system in the UK, from workload to academic catch-up issues, although those issues can occur anywhere in the world.
Nonetheless, the prospect of being back is appealing. Teaching and leading in a British school can be incredibly rewarding and, now more than ever, teachers can play an incredibly important role in closing the achievement gap, with the ambitious aim and hope that, regardless of background, success is not only possible but also highly likely.
I spent six years working at an incredible school in North Wales and I will take my time to find the right role and right school.
2. Being a part of professional development events
In recent months I have been able to attend many virtual events online, which has been great because I have often felt like I am missing out when it comes to professional development when working overseas.
The UK hosts so many great events and is home to some of the world-leading authors and influencers in education.
I didn’t realise it when I was in the UK but the rest of the world really does look to and follow the UK in many ways when it comes to education. To be back in that environment is a real draw.
3. Family and friends ...
Underpinning these reasons are family and friends – they are the main reason why I have made the decision to return home. Video calls have made it easier for families to stay connected but it simply isn’t the same.
I miss out on family events, birthdays and watching my niece grow up. I have an appreciation for my family and friends that is very different to before I left.
4. The weather
It’s fair to say that, apart from the odd storm, the weather is predictable and consistent in the Middle East. Sunshine all year round - you certainly don’t need to think about the weather when making plans.
And, of course, I'll miss this – but, after five years, I have also started to miss the different seasons and the unpredictable nature of the UK weather; from rain to sunshine to snow in a matter of weeks or days.
In fact, I can't wait to see autumn again: crisp weather, beautiful colours, walks in the countryside or getting home in the dark from a long day's teaching for a nice cup of tea - how British!
Kate Jones is head of history at The British School Al Khubairat, Abu Dhabi, and author of Love To Teach, Retrieval Practice and Retrieval Practice 2. You can follow Kate on Twitter @KateJones_teach