Welcome back to part 2 of this teaching abroad blog post where I will share my experiences of teaching in Dubai. To read part 1 click here.
I lived in Dubai for 4 years and was the head of music at The English College school.
Dubai was incredibly different to Singapore and some people might have a view that Dubai is where rich people live, have tigers for pets and eat breakfast cereal from diamond encrusted bowls. I think I actually saw more Lamborghinis in Singapore than I did in Dubai but Dubai is a fascinating place. So what was it really like?
Finding a Job
It took me a long time to be offered a position as a teacher in the UAE. I submitted 20+ applications to vacancies in the Middle East. The competition was high and out of all of those I had about 10 online interviews. For some positions I heard nothing back at all so I found it quite a stressful experience but I learnt a lot from it.
Every application you make must be treated as a position you would love to hold so don't waste time applying for jobs you are not keen on. There is no point writing one application letter and tweaking it a bit for every application. You have to stand out so it is worth experimenting with your design and style. Read everything on the school’s website and tailor make your application to suit it. International schools around the world are businesses with paying customers (parents) so keep this in mind when applying. What can you offer from an extra-curricular point of view that might be desirable at that school? You need to be an asset to the school.
Online skype interviews are no fun at all but after a few unsuccessful ones I realised it was very much a game to learn. By my third or fourth interview I realised that schools were asking very similar questions so having my answers ready on post it notes around the screen or written in front of me was a great help. Is that cheating? Who cares, I needed a job and was willing to take any advantage I could find. As with any job interview, I often think of it as me interviewing them. It is my chance to find out if I want to work at the school. Some schools failed this test by being under prepared or disorganised. If the interview team addressed me by the wrong name or started asking questions related to a different subject then I took that as a sign to walk away. I have to admit, only once did I just shut the laptop and disconnect during an interview but that was because the head teacher interviewing me repeatedly got up and walked off to shout at people, no idea what was going on there and I didn't want to find out.
By Easter, I had 2 possible offers, so decided to travel to Dubai in the holiday to visit the schools. This was a really good decision. The first school showed me around and introduced me as the new head of music. I had to keep mentioning to them that I had not agreed to it yet, it felt awkward. Then I met the head teacher who told me he could not wait for me to start, but nothing felt right for me.
Thankfully I also had the chance to visit the English College on my trip. A very visible well known school in Dubai because of it's family friendly ethos and prime location right on the famous Sheikh Zayed Road. After a look around and an interview with the head teacher I accepted the position. It was going to be an exciting role and one with great potential for me.
My department needed a lot of work and I knew that I could make a huge impact. It is important to be aware of your strengths. Always think about the impact you can have in a new job. If the school is by far the best, amazing exam results and a massive track record of certain successes then you must be able to continue to maintain and grow it further. Sometimes a position that might look like more of a challenge can be more rewarding. There were ups and downs for me over my 4 years at the school but I am extremely grateful to have taught some lovely students and worked with such resilient, professional and hard working staff. It is definitely a school I would recommend to other teachers or parents looking for a school for their child.
Teaching in an international school is extremely rewarding but there will be big differences compared to your teaching experiences in your home country. Students are likely to be extremely well behaved and you absolutely must be delivering the most outstanding lessons every single lesson without fail. To start with, having whole classes all eager to learn and hanging on your every word was not something I was used to. After teaching in the UK, where poor behaviour is a real issue it took me by surprise in a good way and meant I would take a lot more risks with my lesson planning.
The best part of teaching in an international school in Dubai was the students, they make it all worthwhile. A favourite event every year in Dubai for me and my students was the Christmas Tree lighting in a 5-star hotel. I never had any trouble getting choir members for that gig because the hotel put on a massive buffet for us!
Food and Money
Your teaching salary is just one part of a package. You could be offered accommodation, flights, luggage costs, utility costs, medical insurance and free places in the school for your children so weigh it all up as one package before making any decisions. It is a great opportunity to save money if you don't try and live like a king or queen. Sometimes you might get invited to a brunch by some friends. This is basically an afternoon all you can eat hotel buffet but we were quickly put off these when we saw the costs involved but also witnessed the amount of food being wasted and thrown away after.
Dubai is not a cheap place to live. You cannot just go to a local café or food court to find high quality, cheap food like you could in Singapore. This was a frustration for us. We found that produce in supermarkets was not great, it had a limited shelf life and the only options for eating out was fast food outlets or expensive hotel restaurants. On that topic I am going to share three top money tips for living in Dubai.
3 Money Tips
1) Don’t fall into the trap of over spending when you first move abroad. If cars seem cheaper than back home it can be tempting to buy an older luxury car but you will end up with too many problems. It is easy to get caught up in socialising and living a lavish life but you might regret it later if you end up spending all your money on posh meals, expensive trips and alcohol. Just find the right balance.
2) Use a bank account which gives you easy access to your money at home and allows you to make instant transfers back home when needed. The HSBC Premier account is great for this and it comes with a lot of other benefits. Also look out for dips in the forex market before transferring money home if possible.
3) Take advantage of any credit card points schemes or discount apps like The Entertainer. You would be amazed how much money you can save by paying for everything on a credit card and benefiting from the points.
Dubai lifestyle for me was full of ups and downs. Most the year the weather was really nice. The summer months are really hot and there might be a bit of rain around February but I can't complain about heat when I want to live a holiday lifestyle. However, you realise quickly that being in the middle of the desert plays havoc with air quality. I loved the cultures in Dubai and the mix of old meets new. The fact you can visit the desert and then turn around to see amazing skylines is quite humbling and a walk around the Marina and the Old Souk demonstrates how wide the divide is between the rich and the poor Dubai and after spending time experiencing it all it
can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. Dubai doesn't have the community feel that we loved so much in Singapore. You get the feeling that everyone is 'just visiting'. People are not as friendly or helpful and to be honest in some cases I found people to be down right selfish. Driving was one example of this where you literally dice with death on the roads due to the massive lack of road sense displayed by many. The beach was the best part of Dubai. At one point we used to go every afternoon and could always find a nice secluded spot away from tourists and those were the best times in Dubai for me.
I started to miss home comforts like a real quality Sunday roast dinner, countryside, pubs, good live music venues, good healthcare and the ability to speak with anyone in any customer service position who really knew what they were doing and could actually help. I think over recent years businesses in Dubai have cut costs so much and hired staff who are below par and it has almost become a thing that is accepted. The longer I lived there the longer the small things began to frustrate me and as I have said a few times, many things had high and low points for me.
The mix of cultures is something I am so happy my daughter experienced. In her class of 24 children, there was probably 10 different nationalities. Whatever your hobby might be, you can guarantee you will meet people from all corners of the globe and if you want to get a real feel of that then Dubai is the perfect place. I experienced this once with a performance I was involved in and this final picture sums it up and is a fitting end to this post. I definitely made the most of living in Dubai but felt that it was not somewhere I wanted to stay for too long.
Thank you for reading this blog. My next blog posts will be about my experiences working as a supply teacher back in the UK and a review of a new brass players study book.