Sunday, September 29, 2013

School In The UAE

     As we approach week three that of my life in Abu Dhabi, life is pretty good.  I am living in Al Ain and I have made a nice group of friends.  My school is located an hour and 15 minutes(100 km/50 miles) from the hotel that I am living in (more on that later) and honestly, that is the worst thing that I can complain about.
     My school is called Al Badiya and it is an all girl school (all middle and high schools are gender segregated in the emirate of Abu Dhabi) it is a Cycle 2 and 3 school, meaning grades 6-12 (6-9 is Cycle 2 and 10-12 is Cycle 3).   The girls wear uniforms that consist of long navy tunics with a baby blue blouse underneath.  They also cover their hair with a shawl called a shayla. Not all students are from the UAE, I have students who originate from Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Jordan.  Some of these students wear the proper hijab and not just the shayla.  As a teacher  I have to cover my head at school and wear long skirts and long sleeved shirts.  There are currently 5 foreign teachers at the school.  I teach grade 6 science, another Irish teacher is grade 6 English,we are expecting grade 6 math.  The other three teachers teach in cycle 3.  Two are from the USA and one is from Toronto, they all teach English.  Most of the foreign teachers wear an abaya which is the traditional dress of the UAE.  My principal is very conservative and covers her face fully, especially when there is a male  in the school (a delivery or a visit).  If we are in a meeting or just in her office and there are no males present she will lift her face covering and we can see her face.
     I am lucky because although my school is far, I only have to teach 3 sections of grade 6.  They have Science 6 times in a week, this translates to 18 classes a week.  Each class is 45 minutes, but by the time the girls get to class and you get them seated you have already lost about 10 minutes.  I have anywhere from 3-5 classes a day depending on the schedule.  I have been at the school for 2 weeks and we have already had 3 schedules.  You can come in on any given day and have the schedule changed on you, it is just the way things are done here.  For now I have a driver take me to school along with two other teachers drive.  Since I am still in the hotel, I have to get up at 5 am to get ready to leave at 5:50.  The other Irish teacher and I then take a taxi to another teachers house (about 15-20 minutes and 8 dollars) this is where the driver picks us up. We then drive about and hour to school.  Our school in the country.  We pass sand dunes, the tallest mountain in the UAE Jebel Haffit as well as date and camel farms.  We also drive along the Oman border.  When we finally get to school around 7:20 am.  We have to check in with our 5 digit teacher code as well as our fingerprint (there is a machine that reads our index finger).  There is amorning assembly from 7:45-8:00, during this assembly students sing the national anthem (which is very upbeat by the way) as well as pray.  The principal , as well as the vice principal speak and then at 8 am the students head to their first class.
If I teach the last class I am done at 1:40 pm.  The sad thing is since we drive in with a cycle 3 teacher we have to wait until 3:15 to leave because that is when Cycle 3 finishes. Until we can get the transport sorted out so that the Cycle 2 teachers can leave at 2,I just have to suck it up.  It is ok because I get to write lovely blog posts like this.
 The students are really nice and they are so interested in me.  Even the students that I do not teach want to know my name and where I am from.   Their English is not that bad.  I must admit that the students here have better English than the students in Japan.  The New School Model (that is the name of the reform in the UAE that started in 2008) is in its 5th year,so the students that I have have had English since grade 2 and you can tell the Englishof the students in grade 6 is equivalent to the English of the students in Grade 11 or even 12.  They are very eager to learn and participate.  Just like home there are students who do not want to be there and would rather be playing with stickers than leaning Science.  Also there are kids who do not like to sit down.  All in all I must admit that  girls I teach are very good and I have not had any real problems.  There are a few things that are annoying.  First there is no travel time between classes, so if the students are in another part of the school and they are coming to my class they are going to take their sweet time and that cuts into my already short class time.  Also there is a habit here of older siblings coming to the door to ask for food.  At first I thought that this was only happening in my class but then I realized that is something that happens all over the school.  Now when the girls come to the door for chips and chocolates, I just close the door in their faces and send them away.  A few days ago I had a woman come to the door that I thought was another teacher but it turned out to be  mother that wanted to know how her daughter was doing in my class!  Also the girls love to ask to go to the bathroom.  I am always afraid to say no at that age because some of them may be on their period or genuinely have to go.  I try and only let one girl go at a time.  I caught a girl the other day who said that she had to go to the bathroom eating a sandwich because I could see her from my room.  I called her name so loudly that she almost dropped the sandwich that she was eating.
Speaking of eating that is another issue.  Students have 5 classes in a row and then they have a 20-25 minute “break” which is supposed to be lunch and that is it.  There is no recess or anything.  I really feel for them.  Sometimes in my morning class thy complain that they are so hungry so I let them eat in class.  They are only 10 and 11 years old.
Just like the students most of the teachers are not from the UAE.  They are from Jordan, Egypt and Sudan.
I am heading back to Abu Dhabi for the weekend.  Going to try and check out Ikea to get an idea of what type of prices I am looking at when I get an apartment.
Oh before I go, I did say that I was going to talk about the housing situation.  Well, there is no situation.  We have been in the hotel for over a week and we have not heard a single thing about housing or where we are going to live.  Don’t get me wrong I am not going to complain about living in a 5 star hotel, the only thing is that I have to do my laundry (there is no machine in the building) and I have to eat out whenever I want food.  Housing department said that we were going to hear by the end of the week, but we haven’t heard anything.  The rumour on the street is that there is not enough housing for us because one of the buildings they were going to put us in was not fit for living, so they are going to build us a complex.  Once, again I do not know how true this is.  If not I have also heard that the housing they are going to put up in will be not the best.  Oh well, we will just have to see.
     The good news is that we have received our housing allowance (about 5, 800$) so I am not touching that until I see my place.  I have been pricing things but I am not going to purchase anything until I see where I am living.
I wish you all the best and if you have any questions,please leave them in the comments sections.

Thanks again for reading!


  1. Don't be afraid to say no to them going to the bathroom. You can see if a child is genuinely uncomfortable. I teach 4-6yr olds right now and I take them to the toilet at the start of class and during break (if it's a 2 hour class). If they can manage it once an hour, your 10 year olds can wait the 35 minutes they actually show up to class. I find saying 'wait 5 minutes' is a good way to weed out those who are bored, if they forget to ask again in 5 minutes they didn't really need it. I would say be strict about it and expect them to go between break, if they're going to be late anyway, better they do what they need to and not disrupt the class. It's easy to get more relaxed with rules after a while, but if they find they can push you now you'll never stop them.

  2. I really enjoyed hearing about your students and classroom experiences thus far. What are your teaching supplies like? Do you have enough resources to do the things you like with the science curriculum? Do you have much flexibility in your lesson plans?

    Sounds like you're keeping a great attitude about your travel and housing. Hang in there!


  3. Hi Miss Haneefa. Loving your blog & will be following faithfully as I'm also a black girl contemplating coming over there. I would be starting in the next term in January.
    How is racism there? I got a taste of it in Dubai once during a stop over.

    1. Hi Billie,
      Have you done your interview yet? I will do mine in October in NY.


    2. Good luck with your interview Marcia! Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. This is very reading your blogs.


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  6. It was so nice to hear about your experience here in Abu Dhabi. You will find such schools in middle-east that they are co-ed and all. It's because of our culture and the rules of this culture. There are pretty good Indian schools too that are coed, founded and built by P Mohamed Ali