When applying for jobs in the Middle East I think almost everyone, including myself, never really believed that it was something that I would pursue. I had talked about doing it for such a long time that it seemed unrealistic and unreachable even to me. Two and a half years later, I sit writing this article from my apartment in Abu Dhabi. The temperature outside it currently 37 degrees Celsius. The day is Thursday, the first day of the weekend here. I can hear the Friday call to prayer in the distance. As I sit and reflect on the past 28 months I experience an array of emotions, but mostly a sense of accomplishment in a journey that has explored and opened up so many experiences, both good and bad.
I applied for the job with Abu Dhabi Education Council in June 2013 and landed in Abu Dhabi Airport in September 2013. Everything happened so quickly, and I really believe this was the best way, as perhaps if I really had more time to think about the prospect of leaving behind everyone and everything I know and love, I may not have gone. The reality of what I was about to do did not hit home with me until I was sitting on the plane. It was like a bolt of lightning hit me as a turned to my husband and said ‘what are we doing?’
As we were welcomed off the plane and ushered through the extravagant airport to a five star hotel I instantly felt I had done the right thing. My head was spinning with the beautiful buildings, picture perfect beaches, plush shopping malls and the amazing dunes. In my head repeated the same thing ‘I live here!’ Everyone was so kind and friendly and nothing is ever too much trouble.
After a few weeks after initial introduction and training I was assigned my house and school in a place called Al Ain, about one hour’s drive from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I was assigned a Kindergarten (P1-P2) school in the outskirts of Al Ain and from the moment I stepped inside felt like I was meant to be there. However, I physically ached for my previous students and colleagues, and many times wished I could transport myself right back to my old primary school.
The school is all local Emirati students with very little or no English. I would not be working alone in the classroom, but alongside an Arabic co-teacher. Together we are expected to deliver learning through dual medium instruction. The first few months were extremely frustrating for me as teacher. I am so used to being able to communicate freely with my students and suddenly I was in an environment where the children could not understand me. Slowly, I was able to work with my co-teacher to come to a shared understanding of how to best deliver lessons and experiences. There are so many times that things can get ‘lost in translation. The school has very high expectations for both its staff and pupils, and I have been very lucky to have a management team that are fully committed to a student centred approach to learning and teaching. During my time here I have developed not only as a teacher, but in my own knowledge and understanding of quality learning and teaching.
My typical day starts when I leave my house at 6.45am and drive the 30 minutes to school. The scenery is wonderful, with mountains of sand, camels and palm trees. I sign in using a fingerprint and number and set up my classroom for the first session of the day. Students arrive by bus between 7.45 and 8.00am and we are expected to meet them in the gym at this time. The whole school (12 classes) sing the national anthem together and say Morning Prayer. Students then return to their classes and start the day. Each day consists of literacy block, numeracy block, 20 minute snack, free choice time and a 40 minute special (PE or music). Students are dismissed at 12.15 and return home by bus. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays teachers are expected to stay in school until 2.30pm for PD and planning time and can leave any time after 1pm the other days of the week.
Moving here has allowed me the opportunity to earn a tax-free salary whilst experiencing a new culture and developing my own professional experience. An average weekend here consists of relaxing by the pool or visiting one of the many amazing attractions in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. My company pay for my accommodation, medical care and annual flights and it is through these fortunes that I have been able to fund myself through a Masters Course. Moving here is perhaps one of the best decisions I have ever made, and can see myself here for the long term future.