October 7, 2010

Abu Dhabi in the distance...

... and we are safely on American soil. Funny how I never referred to myself or things here as American before. Always felt that was too arrogant, since North and South America are bigger than just the US of A. But, over in the UAE, we are "Americans", and I've taken a liking to this, even to the extent of using a fake accent when I say it. But, all kidding aside, I am quite thankful that we were welcomed back to America.

As you could probably tell from previous posts, Nate and I entered this Abu Dhabi teaching adventure with the openest of minds. I embraced the go-with-the-flow pace of life, the endless sitting around and waiting, the chaotic organization of meetings and document-gathering/receiving. I didn't mind waiting 3 hours to get my med card or bank card... Well, maybe I minded just a little, but you didn't hear us complain. I was the perfect picture of someone who went over there with no expectations, as they keep telling people to do.

But after two weeks of nothing-getting-done-and-it's-okay, on the first day of school, I was thrown into my classroom with zero guidance (after being told there that our first two weeks of school would be planned out for us). And from that day forward, anxiety began to eat me alive.

Now, before I even begin with the details, I know there are people over in the UAE that are happy with their situations. Some people have good schools. I have noticed a lot of the folks enjoying their situations are in schools with western principals and a lot of western teachers. I'm also under the impression that most of the people who have stuck it out (or returned for their second year) are teachers who either have no choice financially, or have given up on the idea of 'really changing things'. They've accepted the system for what it is and are putting in their time.

The first couple of days at the boys' school, I tried to stay positive... trying new things, using different manipulatives, moving around a lot, singing songs, etc... to no avail. Very quickly, I moved into the state of mind that it had to be solely about the money, because I was *not* going to be able to teach using the western methodologies we were brought there to share. And finally, I realized that my mental and physical health deserved better... I refused to compromise myself professionally, even for a huge salary and luxury apartment.

The hardest, and most unexpected thing, was the behavior of my students, especially my Grade 2 group. At all times, there were students strangling, hitting, kicking, shoving, running, climbing, crawling, and destroying things. I have never seen anything like it in my life. Out of 24 students, I had 2 who behaved appropriately on a consistent basis (poor Amin and Hazza, right?!), probably 5 more who chose to behave occasionally, and about 15 students that ran wild and exhibited zero control. The strange thing for me was that I didn't connect to any of the out-of-control students.

Here in the States, I've had students that exhibit violent tendencies and deal with anger issues... I've had kids knock over desks and chairs, throw things, and bang their heads-- and typically those are kids that I've formed special relationships with, because they seem to need the most loving. In the UAE, it seems to be the culture causing the behaviors, not some deeper issue. Students would run around the school, knocking other kids around and avoiding teachers. They would bring 3 bags of junk food plus lollipops for their snacks. They would keep smiling, even when hit by an Arabic teacher.

As a plea for me to stay, they said they would put an Arabic teacher in my classroom. Well, for one, I didn't believe it would happen. A western teacher requested the same thing last year and is still waiting for them to follow through. And really, I wouldn't want an Arabic teacher in my room, at least not one from that school. The Arabic teachers suggested I "get a big stick" to control my students. They use hitting, twisting ears painfully, and smacking with a switch as their primary forms of behavior management. I wouldn't be able to stomach being around that every day.

Anyhow, back to the disrespectful behavior being a cultural thing... My friend Diana teaches kindergarten over there, and she had a parent ask her, "What's the difference between schools here and in America?" Diana told her, "In the States, the students don't usually hit the teachers, and they don't fight as much." The mom said, "Here we don't tell them no. They play how they want to play, eat how they want to eat. We don't say no this, no that." We confirmed her statements through observations of families at the malls.

Malls are a really big thing in Abu Dhabi; I went to the mall more during our time there than in the past year here at home. We've heard that malls provided a safe place for Emirati women to come out without their husbands constantly alongside them. Anyhow, at the mall, you will see children running wild. I saw a young boy hit his dad hard, and the dad did nothing. Nate saw kids kicking each other while wearing ice skates. And the arcade was full of children at 9:30 at night on a school night. And, actually, now that I think about it, Diana and I noticed that the malls seem to be a kids' paradise... TONS of play areas, lots and lots of junk food places, and crazy statues of kid stuff (Snow White, dinosaurs, and more). Most of the kids are raised by their nannies, so you'd mostly see the children with their mother and nanny, sometimes with their dads.

Each morning, before school, I would wake up around 4, stomach hurting and mind wishing the school day wouldn't arrive. Then, we'd get up and have breakfast, then I would cry as we said goodbye. Each afternoon, I'd come home and burst into tears. And so, instead of battling against a culture of wildly-behaving children, I decided to flee. And Nate supported my decision wholeheartedly, as he was not the biggest fan of the UAE.

Abu Dhabi was a strange place. We met many amazing people... but the amazing people we met were not from there. We saw some neat sights... but something doesn't quite fit when I'm more interested in the slums than the flashy new buildings. There's obviously a whole lot more to write about, but this entry needs to come to an end. Stay tuned for my next analysis.


Sara Griffin said...

WOW!!!! Erin you are an amazing women. As I read this I couldn't help but think how lucky we are to live in the country we do and despite all our hardships as teachers (no money, somethimes large class sizes, children with emotional and educational needs) that we are lucky. We have support, we have caring and compassionate people that want what's best for our children with morals and sense of right and wrong.
As I read I couldn't help but have tears come to my eyes as you spoke of the "difficult" children and how those are usually the ones you connect with the most and that you could not do that there. That is myself and I couldn't imagine having no compassion and not building those bonds.
As teachers we struggle everyday but in the end we are not supposed to go home and cry everyday as a result of our situation. We do what we do because we love it, have a passion for it and for the children.
I applaud you and send hugs your way for the difficult situation and ultimate decision you were faced with.

Ali B. said...

Whew. I am so pleased to be heading to my lovely 2nd grade classroom this morning... filled with happy children who know good behavior. Wow.. the anxiety I felt just reading your account was enough for me to want to cry! :) Happy you're back in America! I want to hear the accent!

burnera said...

I don't think I could have lasted three days in a school like that! It is interesting how having money brings families a whole different set of problems. How strange that this particular culture seemed to cater to spoiled children (although some have said the same about the US).

I am glad you were able to return safely. I am sure better opportunites are right around the corner for you. If you end up subbing, I am sure you will make an impact on the kids whose classrooms you visit, even if you are only with them for one day.

Debbie said...

Holy Smokes, Erin! What a fiasco.
I wonder if this is new cultural behaviors or if they've always been this way with their children. If it's new, I shudder to think of what kind of adults those kids will be in a few years.
Good for you in having the strength to cut your losses and come home.

Mom said...

Good for you Erin for having the courage to say NO to that appalling education system and what they expected of you in terms of controlling the kids and accepting their intolerable behavior. And good for you and Nate for - as one said - cutting your losses and coming home. He was wonderful in his support of you and we are so glad you two had each other to lean on during this experience! And good things are in store for both of you - I have no doubts about that! Love to both of you!

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you both left! Reading that broughttears to my eyes. For 1 Cause you had to go through all that. and then the Children how the behave and or get treated. I give you props for staying there as long as you did. Its nothing like what it is here. really is sad. Glad that your both back and now you can move on in your life.
Love ya, amanda