I knew that moving from a 1.5 form entry primary in the UK to a seven form entry primary in Dubai would be a massive change. While I do prefer the community feel of a smaller school, the opportunity to work with the huge number and range of teachers we have at GEMS Jumeirah Primary School has been a real delight. I’ve learned so much from the array of teaching styles on show and everyone truly has something to offer.
As the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a Muslim country, our school week runs from Sunday-Thursday (something that even after two years of teaching here I’m still not used to). The day for children runs from 7.30am-2.15pm, finishing so that children can avoid being in PE lessons during the warmest part of the day,
Teachers have two afternoons of meetings a week, as well a mandatory afternoon of running an after-school activity.
Specialist teachers at primary level are common in the UAE, so our timetable is much more rigid than it is in the UK. Whereas before, I would often move lessons around to have a science afternoon or catch up with some history work, it’s impossible to do that here. The class has specific times at which they need to see other teachers, which can mean the day feels slightly rushed. In key stage 2, we have two allotted breaktimes of 30 minutes each. Half of this time is for outside play, as long as “hot play” – no wet-play here – doesn’t kick in once the temperature exceeds 40°C, and the other half is spent eating a snack in class.
A potential downfall for any teacher, but especially when teaching in the UAE, is the importance of a good relationship with pupils’ parents. Parents are incredibly involved with their child’s education and are very visible owing to the events put on by school. Spending time and effort early on in the year to establish a good rapport can be of great benefit down the road. As parents pay a healthy school fee, it can feel like some are waiting for an opportunity to catch you out. An email that you’ve forgotten to send or an incident in school that goes unreported can escalate quickly if it happens with the “wrong” parent.
Pupils' lack of independence
The pupils in our school do suffer from a lack of independence. Maids and drivers are commonplace, and children can easily fall into the trap of overly relying on other people to do things for them. A simple task of tidying up the classroom after art or lunch really highlights which children have everything done for them and which don’t. Residentials in Years 4, 5 and 6 are a case of fight or flight for many of them; some step up and organise their daily rucksack confidently, others are left rock climbing in soaking wet clothes because their maid wasn’t there to pack them a spare set.
Education is a huge policy priority at the moment thanks to its inclusion in the “UAE Vision”, a series of targets the nation wants to achieve by 2021. Because of this, the leadership team are exceptionally focused to meet these demands, which include: higher student attainment, increased use of innovation within the classroom and the requirement for all schools to have highly effective school leadership. Our latest KHDA inspection (the equivalent of Ofsted) was very centred on the vision targets, which shows their importance to schools in the UAE at present.
For anyone who is considering the move abroad, it’s important to understand that Dubai is not all beaches and brunches. The experiences and workload pressures day-to-day are extremely similar to the UK.
But the sun and the wealth of things to do in your own time do contribute towards a relaxed and enjoyable work-life balance. Work hard during the day, and the benefits are there for you to reap in your own time.
Jake Andrew is a primary school teacher at GEMS Jumeirah Primary School in Dubai