Teach English in the Middle East

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.

What’s up in China? Learn what kind of jobs are on offer if you would like to Teach English in China

What TEFL Training Courses Don’t Teach You #4

Miscommunications and Misunderstandings When You are Looking for a Job

It doesn’t need to be a big deal. Pay attention!

If you remember last week’s post we talked about a misunderstanding between a new teacher and his employer. The misunderstanding came about due to some miscommunication when the employer – a non-native speaker – had some difficulty expressing urgency in her message, causing the new teacher to assume he was about to be fired!

Clarify Clarify Clarify

I want to relate another relatively similar story that says “New teachers – pay attention and clarify, clarify, clarify!”

Another newbie English-teacher-about-to-be in the middle of their visa process understood their employer to suggest that everything that cost money during the visa process would be paid for by the school, including things he needed to do in his home country. This, in spite of a contract that specifically said the expenses in China would be paid.

You are dealing with non-native speakers

Please understand, when you are seeking a new job teaching English in another country, that many times your communication will be with speakers of English who are NOT native speakers. And remember that even native speakers can have misunderstandings and miscommunications. So why would we expect our communications with non-native speakers to be problem free?

We should, in fact, assume that those communications might be problematic.

Whenever anything seems to be “too good to be true” or a rather surprising problem, seek to clarify the situation using the strategies suggested in the previous post (#3). Rephrase what the speaker said and ask if that was what was intended. You will often be surprised!

If something upsets or confuses you, ask a colleague to help sort it out.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Our Job is Communication. Communicate! Practice good communication skills all the time.

TED’s Tips™ #2: I hope you can see that this post and the previous one had very unhappy potential and both could have been solved easily.

Is this possibly the difference between people who are successful abroad and those who are not? You tell me.


What TEFL Training Courses Don’t Teach You #3

They don’t teach you how to apply what you have just learned to your job search skills.

This is important. And the next post on this same topic is important. But only if you are looking for a job or are thinking of looking for a job teaching English abroad.

A man I was working with recently became upset over a conversation with a new employer. He was in the process of getting his visa paperwork set up, but had experienced delays in getting his health exam (required in many countries) completed.

When he contacted me she reported that his new employer was possibly going to fire him or at least cancel his new contract if he did not complete the health exam by the following Wednesday.

Wow. Big problem if you have quit your job and are packed and ready to head across the world.

Well . . . it didn’t quite sound right so when I checked with the employer – who was not a native speaker – the message was different. The message was “hurry up!”

How did this miscommunication happen?

Where did good communication break down and how might you avoid or solve such an event?

Where it broke down was that non-native speakers of English often don’t know how to express themselves strongly. How to press a point assertively and appropriately. They need to be taught such things (did they tell you that in TEFL Training?) and almost every experienced Business English trainer will have spent considerable time on exactly that topic.

Somewhere in the communication with the boss, the boss implied or somehow communicated more than what she intended. And the teacher-to-be took the English quite literally and seriously and assumed that he was about to be fired.

You can’t do that!

(take things too seriously) Do you see how easily this could have become a disaster to the new teacher? And even a major problem for the employer as they would have found themselves short a teacher come the new semester?

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you intend to be a language professional, you quite need to learn how to interpret what is said to you by non-native speaker supervisors and colleagues (and your EFL students) and to seek clarification if something doesn’t seem to make sense to you or seems to be an exaggerated or inappropriate response to a situation.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Check the suspect statement by repeating it back to the speaker and then rephrase it and ask if that is what they meant. If it is still confusing, ask again and rephrase again. YOU are the teacher and the communication may well need to be sorted out and you are the person with the skills (we all hope!) to figure it out. Consider it a challenge!

Don’t let these little things get in the way of your new life teaching English abroad. They are too easy to avoid.

Cheating in the EFL Classroom

Another thing they don’t teach you in TEFL Training

When I look through the CELTA Trainer Manual and the Trainee Book – there is not one single page on cheating. Not one single word! It is as if we are pretending that it is not a problem for those of us who teach in public schools, colleges and universities.

We can actually spend more than a couple posts on the issue of cheating, but I am going to help you first with some ideas that can help keep you out of trouble.

I’ve not yet worked anywhere that had a policy that cheating was okay. But I have worked many places where cheating was going on and rules against cheating were not enforced.

As we are all aware there are formal and informal procedures that go on in all institutions such as schools. How cheating is dealt with is an issue that often has vastly different formal and informal procedures.

What’s Wrong with Mr. Tucker?

While you might think that some schools will happily back you up when you catch cheaters, you will sometimes find your zeal quickly dampened.

I worked once at a school in Saudi Arabia with a very strict anti-cheating rules and this school was excellent for backing up their teachers when it came to discipline in general. But if you caught people cheating just a bit too often (like maybe more than once!), the question quickly became, “What’s wrong with Mr. Tucker? Why do people cheat in his class so much?”

Yeah!! Teachers that were too successful at catching cheaters were often in trouble themselves and brought under scrutiny to see why THEY were such a problem. Welcome to the real world . . .

Prevention is the Key

There is a good lesson in the question of “What is wrong with Mr. Tucker” and issue is prevention.

Understand that your job as a teacher is not to bust cheaters, but it is to prevent cheating. To not allow cheating does not mean that your task is to catch people at it. In a school setting it usually means that your job is setting up the environment so that people won’t cheat.

Preventing cheating is relatively easy unless you have a classroom that is bursting at the seams with students. And even then you can schedule two different exam times and test people in smaller groups even in your office if you have to.

Have your students leave their books and telephones and other devices in the front of the room where you can see them. Have students take tests and exams only on paper that you give to them. They should take their seats only with a writing implement.

Have strict absolute rules about no talking and about keeping one’s eyes only on their work. I used to post a big notice on the marker board that said, “No Talking, No Looking and No Crying” (for those who hadn’t studied). Put a couple eyes in “Looking” and a crying face next to the “Crying” and you can remove a bit of the tension of being strict.

Walk about the room. Don’t sit at your desk or at the lectern grading papers or reading a book. Standing in the back of the room and walking about quietly is the best way to help students resist temptation. After a few years you will have a good laugh at some of the wonderful ways students try to cheat.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Try to determine the level at which your school will support you in fighting cheating. If the informal rule is that they don’t want you creating any problems at all – there are informal ways of enforcing rules. I have more than a few times walked up behind a student as he was beginning to slip out a cheat sheet and just taken it out of their hand and walked away. Cheating was prevented, the student was happy they weren’t busted, so didn’t say a thing – and the school was happy too. That is not ideal. But it is one way to deal with it informally.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Prevention works best if you talk with your students about cheating and what the rules are BEFORE they take an exam. About exactly what is allowed and what is not. Talk about the rules both in the class preceding the exam and at the beginning of the examination period. If you are an educator, believe in education and teach your students to NOT cheat.