How to Become a Teacher in Dubai: Mistakes You Can Easily Avoid
Teaching in Dubai – and for most people, that means teaching English in Dubai – holds out the promise of tax-free pay, respectful, eager and compliant students, a fabulous lifestyle and proximity to exotic places where one can holiday during the quarter of the academic year when you are not required to be at school or college, while still being paid your regular monthly salary increments.
It can actually be like this some, or even most of the time, but for all too many hopefuls, the realities can be soul-destroyingly different. A little careful research into the dos and don’ts, the things that will help and the things that most assuredly won’t help can all smooth the path to your achieving the dream check-list above.
For the best teaching jobs in Dubai or any of the other six Emirates of the UAE, you need:
- A Master’s Degree (or higher) in a relevant field
- A Teaching Certificate or License from a recognized Issuing Authority
- At least three years of experience elsewhere, doing the job that you applying for
This is the reality now: no point dwelling on the fact that it didn’t used to be like that, or that you knew someone who lucked into a fabulous teaching gig, just by knowing someone else, twenty four hours after arriving on a short holiday.
If you tick all the boxes listed above, then “Mashallah!” as we say in the Gulf. Thanks be to God, or colloquially, what good luck! Now go ahead and make your application to the institution of your choice. But take care. Not all teaching positions are desirable.
The university or college gigs are generally considered the best options. This means one of six or seven generally recognized as the best places to work in terms of conditions, benefits and salaries.
To be specific, these are The American University of Sharjah (AUS), Zayed University (ZU), The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KU, or Kustar), UAE University in Al Ain (UAEU) The Petroleum Institute of Abu Dhabi, and The American University of Dubai.
There are plenty of other centers of learning with the title “University” in their name and they may also be acceptable places of employment, but they don’t have the longevity or kudos of the named ones above.
But what if you don’t aspire to work in a tertiary institution or in adult education? There are plenty of Primary, and Secondary schools as well which employ qualified and experienced expatriate teachers.
Indeed, some of the salary and benefits packages offered by the most prestigious private schools in Dubai rival and maybe even better the deals offered by the named institutions in the previous paragraph. Again, you need a recognized degree from a good University, a Teaching Certificate or License and experience. Masters Degree? It depends on the institution, but most do not demand it.
There are many websites rating schools. Some even drawing on government statistics. Generally, these are for parents, but what works for parents also usually works for teachers as long as you are prepared to do just that – work. Here are a few successful schools that appear on these lists regularly:
- Kings School Dubai
- GEMS Wellington International School
- Jumeirah College
- Jumeirah English Speaking School
- Dubai College
- GEMS Jumeirah Primary School
However, this is boom and bust town and since Dubai began to recover from the 2008 bust, there are new schools opening up, some charging very high fees and paying high salaries. Repton and Foremark are very polished looking schools with the appearance of the English public school. Repton even offers boarding facilities, so it becomes clear that the range of schools is tremendous.
Be aware, though, that some schools are not well run. Some places tend to have an administration that is prepared to do unscrupulous things like change students’ grades. This is a clear indication that there is little respect for the teachers, and in these places you cannot anticipate the kind of support needed when taking up a position in a new cultural environment.
Bottom line – make sure that you are qualified for and able to do the job you are applying for. Be able to make this clear in an interview, either face-to-face, by video link, or by telephone conference.
Expect some pretty specific and searching questions about what you have done, what you can do and how you can add value to the institution if you should be offered a position. Make sure you ask appropriate questions about how the school is administered and what the expectations are of the students and the teachers when you get your turn to ask questions. Be alert for evasive responses about student discipline.
Scams – if it sounds too good to be true, then it almost certainly is
Sadly, there are plenty of unscrupulous people in the cyberworld keen to exploit your eagerness to get a toehold in the Arabian Gulf teaching pool. Typically, these scams start if you apply for a job online to an institution which seems plausible enough, or to a recruiting agency, then you are offered the job without any interview at all.
But to issue you with a Work Visa there is, of course, a small processing fee. If an institution starts asking for money, no matter how small the sums at first, walk away! It’s not a real job. You’re not even being contacted from Dubai, or the UAE. The email addresses are the usual give-away: they are almost always from web-based applications, or if country-based, they do not end in .ae (which is UAE address suffix), but something like .tk, or .md.
The very useful Dave Sperling’s ESL Café website has a special section devoted to all the current and past scams pertaining to jobs being offered in the UAE. You can read and prepare yourself here.
Dave Sperling’s ESL Café (UAE pages) is, by the way, a great knowledge base for all matter concerning English teaching in Dubai and other parts of the UAE in general. You can post questions regarding schools or institutions that you are interested in, or just read and glean from the posts and replies of others.
Remember – if a job you are being offered in terms of salaries, benefits, hours of work, holidays and class sizes sounds just too good to be true, then it probably is.
Read the fine print and do your homework
Assuming you lodge an application, get through the interview, then receive a job offer, what next? Before you send a letter of acceptance, pause a little to consider your circumstances and do a little research on actual costs, if you haven’t already done so.
Are you single, or married? Do you have children to support and educate? Is your spouse intending to work also? Answers to these questions will have a major impact on how quickly your salary and benefits package either get put aside for savings or swallowed up by costs you just hadn’t anticipated.
Your monthly salary is tax free in the UAE, but that doesn’t mean the taxman in your home country won’t be taking an interest. Before you sign on the dotted line, best to talk with a tax-specialist to fully understand the taxation implications of an off-shore posting.
This is especially true for US citizens. Your school or University provides health insurance as part of your package. Good, but is it a free benefit, or are you expected to pay a contribution as part of a group scheme? What’s included and more importantly, what’s excluded from cover?
Perhaps you’d like to send your children to a local school, so they can be fully immersed in the local culture. An admirable idea, but you can’t. Local government schools (which are free, of course) are for Emirati nationals only. This may change, but for the time being, that’s the ruling. So your children will have to attend a private school, of which there a vast number with an equally huge range of fee scales. This is a separate topic in itself, but for this article, the old adage “you get what you pay for” is never truer.
Most institutions and schools provide employees with a finite sum of money for children’s education: divide this sum by the number of children you have and that’s your education budget. Will it cover the costs of the schools you have highlighted as the ones you’d like your children to attend? If not, then you are going to have to dip into earmarked savings to cover shortfalls. Or, you might be working for a school that offers tuition to employees children at a reduced price. It all needs looking into.
While some schools and Universities still apportion the benefits into discreet packages to cover education, housing and annual airfares, an increasing number now just provide a single sum (usually added to monthly salary, as one-twelfth of the total sum) under the guise of providing you with total freedom to make all your own choices. This is dangerous. For a start, it can make your monthly salary appear far more generous than it really is. Secondly, where employers used to go a considerable distance to assist new employees with very satisfactory accommodation, now it’s a “go find it yourself” approach. Ditto for schooling. And, you will need to provide your air fares out for the summer out of that same pot of money.
The cost of visas for you and your family should be provided by your employer and that employer should also provide you with information on when and where to go for the medical check.
These medical checks can tax the tolerance of even the most mild-mannered type A personality. Everyone has an AIDS test, but you could also e asked to have a chest x-ray and a urine test. Then there is batch testing. What is batch testing? Well, every new resident must undergo these blood tests, so to speed up the process, the blood is tested in batches. If one person in your batch has a notifiable disease, everyone will be recalled for further testing. Depending on the subtlety of your HR department, this could be handled well or badly.
Bottom line – whereas in the past accommodation, schooling and travel expenses were all taken care of by the personnel departments of your employing body, now you are expected to do it all yourself in many cases. Exercise extreme care in estimating what your allowances and benefits packages will give you.