What is Needed to Teach English in the Middle East?
A potential teacher who knew I had spent five years in Saudi Arabia asked me the following questions recently:
What qualifications are required, besides a TEFL certification to teach in Saudi Arabia?
How did you adapt to the lifestyle there, and was the pay reasonable?
The better jobs in the Middle East, not just Saudi Arabia, tend to require a relevant graduate degree and usually a minimum of 3-5 years experience – usually more than less.
Students in that part of the world can be difficult to work with and schools there tend to prefer more experienced and older teachers, as they know how to deal with such difficult students. The culture tends to be very argumentative and students are often quite spoiled and view teachers as servants. Therefore you’d better have an excellent handle on how to deal with discipline problems BEFORE you go.
The lifestyle is not easy to adapt to, but that is quite an individual question, some people adapt well to different cultures and not to others. The failure rate of teachers who went to Saudi Arabia was high, even though schools tended to be very careful in their selection process.
They culture of the KSA in particular can be difficult to live in – depending also on the part of the Kingdom in which you live and your housing arrangements. Do some reading on the country and visit forums of people who live there to understand better. There, for example, is no such thing as “dating” – it is against the law with very harsh penalties. No movie theaters. No night clubs, no nothing. And on and on.
Wages were good because they had to be good to get and keep only the best of teachers who could survive the culture and handle the discipline problems. I spent five years in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and it was a real education about things we have no idea about in Western Christian countries and societies.
I taught at the university level and I met a few people who taught at the high school level and it was generally thought to be “hellish”. I wouldn’t even try it and that is likely where you might end up with just a TEFL certification and a degree. Even the students at language schools are difficult. So, be aware that wages are high for a reason. And there is a reason why they hire only seasoned and well experienced teachers. Because the culture will chew up and spit out the inexperienced and unqualified rather quickly.
Now, there are some people who like the culture and the Middle East is a haven for gay men – as it is a man’s world – though it is a bit underground. If that is your world then you might want to explore further. I don’t know that world and can’t give many details as I went and left as a married heterosexual. If you are a single male, realize you may live in that subculture and be housed and sometimes room with members of that subculture. If you are married, as I was, you would be housed in different housing settings for married people and families.
Do know though that the local culture, as a result of a lack of recreation and/or sexual outlets, is high tension and argumentative. Especially in SA, you will teach and be allowed to interact ONLY with men. My wife taught a branch of the same school where I taught, yet in five years I was never allowed, nor would I ever be allowed, to set foot in her school. She visited mine only once – when the school was closed – on a tour with other female teachers to visit the library.
That said, can you break into that world to teach? Probably, but I don’t know your qualifications and experience. Or your goals or ability to adapt and survive in a very different and difficult culture.
My statements about teaching in that part of the world are strong, but it is not a place for the weak.
TED’s Tips™ #1: Research the culture of any country you intend to work in. You will not only work there, you will LIVE there too.
TED’s Tips™ #2: Wages are relative. If wages are high there is usually a reason. Either the cost of living is high or the students are difficult – or both. You can sometimes save more in countries that pay less. I earned less, but saved more in Korea than in Saudi Arabia, for example.
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