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.