Where work is an oasis in the desert

9th January 1998 at 00:00
Tina Orr-Munro escaped from England and OFSTED to Dubai

I am at that age when I seem to spend most of my summer Saturdays at friends' weddings. When I let slip that I am a teacher, my table companions usually exhibit a sudden desire to do the Hokey cokey with the under fives. However, if I reveal that I teach in Dubai I often detect a flicker of interest followed by an invitation to describe what it is like. My response is to paraphrase that well-worn saying, "when teaching abroad is good, it's very, very, good. When it's bad it's still pretty good".

I first flirted with the idea of teaching abroad after I graduated and went to work in Greece. Rather than teach English, I spent considerably more time learning Greek in order to exploit the full potential of living in a town whose only distinction was that it was home to 30,000 soldiers. After a year, and in response to my mother's demands I get a "proper" job, ie, one in England, I returned home. My dreams of living abroad faded faster than my tan.

I stayed in England for five years, acquired a proper job, quickly followed by a proper man and a proper mortgage.

Then, one wet November afternoon, while suffering from a serious bout of pre-OFSTED tension, my husband and I decided that there must be a world where inspections were what the local constabulary did. Our salvation seemed to lie in the back pages of The TES, and we applied for a job in Kuwait.

It is a worrying comment on our education system that faced with the choice of working in a school in England or one in a post-war, politically volatile Islamic state situated in the desert, the latter won hands down.

Our interview was little more than a formality, although the director must have been suffering from desert fever as his description of the school was no more real than your average mirage. However, on arrival we were quickly seduced by the sun, sand (albeit mined) and a school where cuts were what children returned from break with. Our timetable had a liberal sprinkling of 14 "frees" and any suggestion that we take work home drew looks of concern and whispers of over work.

I cannot deny that living in Kuwait had its downside. It is a dry state, which may dissuade many from working there. Unfortunately, it was not enough to deter Kuwait's nearest neighbour, Iraq, from having covetous feelings towards it. One of the most interesting staff briefings I have ever attended was when we were issued with various escape routes through the desert as Saddam Hussein massed his troops on the border. Consequently, my husband and I retreated south to the relative safety of Dubai, where the only invasion is the hordes of tourists lured by the promise of sunshine and duty-free shopping.

We are now teaching at The English College, which is situated on the outskirts of the city. A relatively new school, it boasts a swimming pool, squash and tennis courts and, its most prized possession, a grass football pitch.

The pupils are mostly British, as are the staff. Morale among the staff is high, as many seem in a perpetual state of gratitude that they are left to do what they know best - teach.

Staffroom banter no longer focuses on the latest government attempts to undermine teachers, but on the state of the currency markets and the merits of offshore banking. These days, my only stress is caused by the local taxi drivers' cavalier approach to road usage and if I am kept awake at night it is not through the worry of work, but by the wailing mullah at our local mosque.

In terms of teaching abroad, I am a relative novice, this only being my third country. I have encountered people who have taught their way around the globe. Many have found themselves in difficult situations, but few of them seem to regret their decision to work overseas.

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