I am an assistant headteacher at Dubai English Speaking College (DESC), a large secondary school that follows the English national curriculum.
I’m up and ready before my daughter wakes, and by 6.45am I’m in the car enjoying the beautiful, deep-red desert sunrise as I head to school and away from the famous Dubai skyline. Despite the glorious view, driving in Dubai is not relaxing – after six years living here, I still have daily moments of terror at the risks that other drivers take.
Our students arrive at school for 7.30am. I welcome them at the gate with the senior leadership team – the students are always overwhelmingly polite, responding to our greetings with more than the usual teenage grunts. Standing during assembly for the UAE national anthem, I am struck by our diverse intake – from privileged western expats to Emirati students, plus others from across the globe; some struggling to adjust after being plucked mid-year from a British comprehensive school. Our house system of four “mini schools” enables tailored pastoral care; it also allows staff to frequently run competitions as part of the race for the coveted House Cup.
Driving forward high-quality teaching and learning is at the top of our agenda, and my first meeting is to finalise details with a building contractor, who will turn our functional but uninspiring library into a vibrant centre for learning. Most Dubai schools have superb facilities – such things are crucial to capture the fee-paying market. I am fortunate to work in a not-for-profit school with a supportive board of governors who encourage our focus on teaching and learning.
We are determined to maintain our mixed intake of students and our non-academically selective ethos, despite the continual scrutiny of headline figures that all schools, regardless of location, are subject to. We believe that every student, whatever their starting point with us, can make progress and we strive to maintain this growth mindset for everyone.
Before lunch, I drop in for a 15-minute observation on a member of the Arabic team. A particular challenge in Dubai is that all students must study three hours of Arabic a week until the end of Year 9. Students range from the very proficient – the ones who will go on to take GCSE Arabic – to those who may have studied for years but have not got further than basic pleasantries. The senior team works closely with our Arabic staff, supporting them and providing them with weekly observation and feedback.
During lunch, I walk around the school site interacting with students, and, in the hottest months, empathising with staff on duty.
The site is spacious, with students dotted throughout our central Desert Forest Garden, playing sports or rehearsing music.
In the afternoon, I catch up on my emails and meet with line managers. After school, I’m back at the gate waving students off, with some dedicated members of the pastoral team also braving the fierce heat.
I also support numerous extra-curricular activities or attend professional development sessions run by our teachers, before risking the roads again to collect my daughter from nursery before sunset.
Night always falls quickly in Dubai. On most evenings, I catch up on various bits of work. The wide-ranging responsibilities and constant challenges ensure that I always look forward to the following day with enthusiasm.
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