While studying for my MA degree in Dublin last year I knew that it was to be my last year of college. I was also adamant that I would have to move directly into paying work once I finished my degree, without delay, and go out into the big bad world by myself. I thought, what better way to showcase your courage and independence as a person than to leave home and go teaching in a foreign country? Let’s go!
So I signed up for a 20 hour classroom TEFL course with TEFL Courses Ireland in Jury’s hotel in Dublin, just to get a feel for what’s involved in this teaching business. It was a very enjoyable weekend and I even made some new friends in the space of a few days. One thing that struck me when we finished on the final evening of the course was how strange it felt that you would probably never see the other participants again. It was sad in a way. That’s how much fun we had in just one weekend, sharing this experience with one another. Our tutor, Deirdre, was an inspiration on every level. We were all fragile and frightened at the prospect of moving abroad and changing our lives completely, but Deirdre made it seem like a genuine adventure. As I write this, all the way over in Abu Dhabi, I still maintain that her energy and enthusiasm over those few days provided the necessary fuel to the spark of my interest in teaching abroad.
I decided to follow up my 20 hour certificate with the 100 hour online TEFL course. Here I explored the various facets of teaching in more depth and detail, and crucially I was now writing mock lessons plans. With no previous teaching experience or education it was important that I learn how to structure a lesson. I found the online course great, a very relaxed learning atmosphere, and the tutor was always quick to offer helpful feedback after every assignment. It covers a broad range of topics, from the more challenging grammatical aspects of the English language, to simple things like how to talk to and correct students constructively. You get plenty of time to complete the course and the site itself couldn’t be easier to work with, so all in all an enjoyable experience. Fortunately and/or unfortunately, before I had finished my online course I was offered a teaching job in Khalifa City in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. I’m now trying to complete the course in my spare time while also teaching full time in the desert plains of Arabia! But I’ll get there.
Teaching and living in Abu Dhabi:
Teaching in Abu Dhabi is quite different to teaching in one of the destinations traditionally associated with TEFL Working with the SABIS organisation means that I have a very strict curriculum to stick to and, for the most part, the material I cover in each class is pre-decided for me. There are a number of specific rules and techniques that I must follow to teach in this school. As I understand it, working in a school associated with TEFL generally allows you a little more freedom in how you teach, how you discipline students, and how you structure your lessons. In a way though, the pre-organisation here is good for someone like me, stepping into my first ever teaching job. It helped me find my feet. With more experience under my belt, perhaps I’ll move on to another location a few years down the line and, given more freedom, I may become a more unique teacher. I may discover if I really have the ‘calling’.
The students I teach are grades 8 to 12 in the SABIS system, which consist of students between the ages of about 13 and 18. So I teach secondary school English essentially. Grades 10 and upwards are mature for the most part, some hardworking, some less so. But they are easy to deal with. In grade 8, and from what other teachers tell me about the grades below grade 8, the students can be wild at times! Don’t get me wrong, they are a lot of fun. And with this being an international school, you meet children from a vast and interesting array of nationalities and backgrounds. Once you get them on side, and make sure you’re in control of the class, you will have great fun with the students. Just take note going in: they are loud!
To anyone considering the United Arab Emirates as a teaching destination, I would suggest that the culture and society are the main factors
to consider in making your decision. While your social life will be deceptively lively here (yes, you can drink! It’s a bit of a misconception that drinking is a problem for westerners over here), and while you will make lots of great friends working with other teachers from Ireland and all over the world (I certainly have!), there are day-to-day details that you need to be okay with if your time in Abu Dhabi is to run smoothly. Obviously it’s well documented that women are treated basically as second rate citizens over here, and while it doesn’t really manifest itself all that often it could potentially be disturbing to someone with a western mentality. If you’re willing to respect the traditions here, however, and accept that you can’t show as much skin or ride in the front seat of a taxi, the benefits will outweigh the restrictions in my view. None of the girls I know have had any real problems over here bar maybe being glared at occasionally! Crime is virtually non-existent here from what I can see. If you were thinking that the UAE is in any way similar to the likes of Saudi Arabia in that regard, think again! It’s totally safe.
Another thing to consider is the heat. This is the desert. It’s really hot, and while air conditioners are fitted in almost every room and building you will enter, walking around outside can be tough. This is especially true between around March and September when the temperatures remain above 40 Degrees Celsius and often well above that figure. This means that it’s very much a taxi culture in the spring and summer months, as walking anywhere is close to unbearable. Put sun cream and sunglasses on your shopping list before you arrive! Be prepared to see a lot SUV’s, a lot of supercars, and other general displays of gleaming, extraordinary wealth. This country is rich for now, at least. Until the oil runs out! Oh, and be prepared to see both Arab men and Arab women dressed in long robes everywhere you go! It’s only new for a while. Eventually you will be wishing that you too could go around wearing a white kandoora in this heat! (Interestingly, I’ve tried one on and they do cool you down. However, it may be seen as disrespectful for a westerner to wear one in public so I don’t advise it). Be sure to visit the desert itself and ride a camel!
Above all, and this applies to any teaching job you take up, be it TEFL or otherwise, just head out there with as few preconceptions as you can, with an open mind and a thirst for adventure. Enjoy your time and don’t take things too seriously. You’ll have a blast!
Thanks for reading.