You may think that working at an international school in Qatar, the richest country in the world, would be easy. After all, families can afford a good education and extra tutors if necessary so no one should fall behind. Expectations from parents are also high so aspiration is not an issue.
However, early on in my first year here as a newly qualified teacher, I was asked the following question: "Miss, what is `deh-bih-tuh' ?"
It took me a while to work out what the student was trying to say, but I eventually realised and corrected her pronunciation. Problem solved, I thought.
"Ah, OK. So, what is it, this `debt'?"
Apparently I had not solved the issue after all.
At this point, it was clear that I would have to restructure the way I taught any kind of financial maths. It was a strange situation, as having students from all over the world meant that some knew all about money whereas others were blissfully unaware of credits, debits, debt or taxes.
The best way I could think of to help the students was to make it real and tell them about my own experiences. It was a tad risky because I knew some of them would look at me with pity. When I described "large" sums I'd had to save or pay, these would appear minimal to them. On the other hand, not all my students were well off and I didn't want to make incorrect assumptions.
I have begun to talk a lot about travelling, UK average income figures and my home lifestyle. The students now realise that some people have to pay for things such as utility bills, mortgages and rent - their shock that I was not given free accommodation and an allowance when I went to university was interesting.
The response has been really positive. The students have a much better understanding, not only of maths but also of different cultures and each other's backgrounds. They all have a new-found awareness of what money is, its importance and how that varies depending on where we live. The more financially fortunate seem very humble about it all. And I have built a strong, friendly yet professional relationship with my students.
Jennifer McKenna is from Glasgow and teaches in Doha, Qatar
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