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10 Insider Tips for Teaching ESL in the Middle East

10 Insider Tips for Teaching in the Middle East

Teaching positions in the Middle East are extremely lucrative, and the benefits packages can be very attractive, with some including a tax-free salary, housing benefits, relocation allowances, medical coverage, paid holidays and large contract bonuses. With such enticing benefits, it’s no wonder that the Middle East is one of the most sought after regions for teaching, looking to teach, and travel.

If you have started to research teaching positions in the Middle East, you have likely discovered that the national qualifications for teachers are stricter than in other regions.

If you’re among the new and experienced teachers looking to teach in the Middle East, we have compiled 10 insider tips on what you need to get started on your new teaching adventure.

1. National Qualifications for Teachers Are Stricter Than Other Regions

If you have started to research teaching positions in the Middle East, you have likely discovered that the national qualifications for teachers are stricter than in other regions. This can be attributed to the higher level of competition and interest of teachers wishing to teach there.

For most public and private school positions in the Middle East, you must be a government certified teacher (have a teaching license issued from your state/province in your home country) as a minimum qualification.

Having additional qualifications, such as an TEFL certification from a reputable institution like the University of Toronto TEFL Online will set you apart from other candidates in these highly competitive jobs.

2. Teaching Arabic Speaking Students Poses Unique Challenges

Teaching abroad in the Middle East

Your Arabic speaking students will face unique challenges when learning English. Although some English words have their origins in Arabic, the two languages follow very different conventions. Most strikingly, the written languages are written very differently as Arabic is written and read from right to left. It will be important for you -- as the teacher -- to understand the challenges that your students will face.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) courses offer specialized units where you can learn about the common difficulties native Arabic speakers face when they are learning English, as well as activities and techniques to help students overcome these difficulties. Preparing to teach English to Arabic-speaking students specifically will not only help your students succeed but also make your transition into the international classroom much, much easier.

3. Your Relationship With Young Students May Be Less Formal

The teacher-student dynamic can differ from region to region and school to school, depending on the community and school culture.

Generally, young students in the Middle East are known for being well disciplined, likely because of this region’s strong family-centered lifestyle. However, they are still children! When teaching children especially, they may have never come into contact with someone that has a different accent, culture, and norms, and are likely to ask lots of questions and find you fascinating. Ultimately, the relationship you might have with your adult English students may be more formal than one you might have with school children.

4. Understand How Your School Does Classroom Management

The Middle East has some of the highest requirements for teachers in the world. Regardless of your experience level, it will be important to convey your ability to confidently and effectively manage a classroom starting from your first interview.

Many countries in the Middle East are currently undergoing education reforms. For this reason, it will be helpful to research current pedagogical practices the school may be using, such as positive reinforcement to manage student behavior, to impress school administration in your interview.

5. Schools May Require Teachers to Be the Same Gender As Students

Teaching abroad in the Middle East

In ads for positions to teach in the Middle East, you'll often see gender as a requirement. Coming from a Western country, this may seem confusing, unusual, and potentially discriminatory. However, this is a totally normal practice and not meant to be discriminatory at all. Since students are segregated by their gender (i.e. men only and women only classes), schools typically require teachers to be of the same gender as their students as well.

6. Teaching Positions at Public and Private Schools are Quite Different

There are many advantages to teaching in both private and public schools in the Middle East. Depending on your priorities, it will be important to make sure to choose the best school type to fit your individual needs.

Public schools typically have a high paying salary. Work hours are approximately from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and include private accommodation allowances and family benefits, such as flights and medical insurance. However, since the public school boards hire at a board level, you will not know your placement location until you arrive. Teachers can expect to work with local, Arabic-speaking students and teach curriculum content in the English medium language. In most cases, teachers will be teaching an outcomes-based curriculum.

Private schools have a more diverse student population, often including students from all over the world. Benefits differ between private schools; in most cases teachers usually receive a mid-range salary and work approximately from 7:00 am - 4:00 pm each day.

Accommodation is commonly provided for teachers, but sometimes will be shared. There can be some kind of tuition allowance for children of teachers in contract benefits. Furthermore, private schools in the UAE offer a variety of curriculums including American, UK, Australian, and so on.

7. It's Best to Apply Between January and March

The best recruitment period is between January and March. When looking to teach in the Middle East, use an "early bird gets the worm" mentality. It’s good to get your resume prepared now, and start applying for positions in November and December to make sure you have access to the greatest number of opportunities.

Most of the private and public schools in the Middle East use recruitment agencies, such as Teach Away to recruit teachers. You can also visit the Go Overseas jobs board to consult a variety of positions for schools all over the Middle East.

8. Be Prepared for Culture Shock and Keep an Open Mind

Teach English in the UAE

Even though you’ve Googled everything you can think of, nothing can really prepare you for the cultural differences you’ll experience when you move to any new country. It’s not just the new food, new people, and new climate. It’s more about day-to-day customs, and the sudden realization that you’re far away from everyone and everything familiar to you. Middle Eastern culture varies across the region, with some countries considered as notoriously ‘strict’ compared to Western culture.

It is certainly very different, but embrace the challenge! Seeing the world from a perspective outside of your own is life changing, and is exactly the reason you should be embarking on your journey in the first place.

9. Connect with Other Teachers Before You Go

There are lots of websites and forums that can help you find other teachers already teaching in the Middle East or who will be departing at the same time. This is a brilliant way to connect with others who may be able to share their experiences with you and answer some of your more personal questions.

Plus, it’s always nice to meet people in the same situation as you that you can talk to and provide each other some moral support! Moving to a new region can be challenging, and it’s never too soon to start making new friends and building a support network for your new life.

10. Using a Recruiter is a Great Way to Find a Job

Although you can absolutely find a job on your own through online job boards and your own network, most teachers will find positions through a recruiter. Not as many operate in the Middle East as, say, China and South Korea, but a few that do include:

Take the Leap!

Teaching in the Middle East will inevitably change the way you see the world and open your eyes to a fascinating culture. Whether it’s Qatar, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai, you will be rewarded with the opportunity of a lifetime to live and work in a country that’s leading an exciting education reformation.

Ready? Ask a question on the forum or find teach abroad jobs.

Photo Credit: Drei_Loewen and Shutterstock.
Christie Van Tol

Christie Van Tol is the online course coordinator for the University of Toronto's online TEFL course. Learn more about UoT's TEFL courses on their Go Overseas profile.