What keeps me awake at night: Why can’t UK schools be more like Abu Dhabi’s?

19th July 2015 at 17:00
Abu Dhabi Skyline

The steps to get into teaching are straightforward: you complete your training, qualify and successfully pass your year as a newly qualified teacher. You overcome the obstacles of being a newbie and remain excited about your new career.

Your dreams of inspiring future generations for years on end are still intact – but not for long.

As soon as I became a “proper” teacher, the reality of the lifestyle suddenly became clear. I was now experiencing the staffroom tales of woe that are told by many in the profession. And I didn’t like it.

So I jumped at the opportunity to teach in the United Arab Emirates. I know most people will assume that the attractive salaries and inclusive packages were the draw. These may have had pulling power, but they weren’t enough to compel me to stay, and I returned to the UK.

Although I have chosen to teach in this country again, it has been hard – and my biggest gripe is the lack of work-life balance. In Abu Dhabi, teachers get out on time, there is never an expectation to stay behind and no real need to either. When I was there, it didn’t matter how busy my day was or what classroom challenge I was facing, I knew I would still leave smiling. The end-of-day bell became a symbolic reminder to renew and refresh.

But teaching in the UK has always felt like the opposite to me, no matter what school I have worked in.

My free periods are hardly ever free and I find myself planning and marking until there are no hours left in the day. Family and friends take a back seat and I don’t even have time to inform them that they’ve dropped down the list of priorities. And then, when you think you’ve finally mastered it, a memo arrives stating: “All planning must be revised to show evidence of the latest…”

The impact on the health of teachers worries me. The pressure coming from every angle makes it increasingly hard to draw a line between work and life. Many schools abroad seem to understand this – so why don’t schools here?

The writer is a teacher in London


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