Teaching in the Middle East – for Good Money!

Teaching English in Saudi Arabia

A recent TEFL training graduate recently asked me about teaching in the Middle East and specifically in Saudi Arabia. Since we talked a bit about ESP the last couple of weeks this might fit in as another specialty area.

Would I recommend heading to the Middle East to make good money for a new teacher? No. Read on . . .

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 can be very argumentative and students can be quite spoiled and sometimes 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, but the failure rate of teachers who went to Saudi Arabia while I was there was high, even though schools tended to be very careful and thorough in their selection process.

They culture of Saudi Arabia in particular can be very difficult to adjust to. It is important to 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.

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 only a BA/BS 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 underqualified rather quickly.

Now, there are some people who like the culture and parts of the Middle East are 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 but I don’t know that world. I went and left as a married heterosexual. If you are a single male, realize you may well live in that subculture and be housed and sometimes room with members of that subculture. If you are married, as I was, you are 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, as a male 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 it will depend on your qualifications and experience. And your goals or ability to adapt and survive in a very different and difficult culture.

All the above said, once I had spent a couple years in Saudi Arabia and learned the best ways to deal with the discipline problems, my time there was virtually trouble free. I thought, before I went, that I was an experienced and tough teacher, but I came out the other end much more experienced and much more capable of dealing with difficult discipline issues.

TED’s Tips™ #1: My statements about teaching in that part of the world are strong, but it is not a place for the weak.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Get a few years experience under your belt before heading into the culture of the Middle East to teach.
It’s not bad, it’s just different.Very different.

What’s up in China? Learn what kind of jobs are on offer if you would like to Teach English in China Discipline is NOT much of a problem in China!

2 thoughts on “Teaching in the Middle East – for Good Money!”

  1. Dear Ted,

    Appreciating the fact that you have been out there for five years and so at least have spoken from a position of some experiance, i still find your comments blindingly one sided.

    I would say that in my experiance which is a tad more than your own, white westerners are pretty much treated with kid gloves and given lots of reasons to choose to stay and work in KSA. Firstly they will with any decent employer be generally housed with other westerners or if not within a compound at the high end contracts. They will generally be paid much more than anyone else even darker Muslim westerners with a similar CV. they will in public mostly be granted the greatest levels of hospitality and manners generally veiwed as they are as guests in the country and in need of Guidence to Islam, thus to be treated extremely kindly.

    As for teaching then no doubt anyone teaching Saudi children in a classroom then they will have some discipline issues but non more than else where at this level. Really for those with a BA and CELTA and at least the skin to win then they should not be going to teach in a school anyway. The many contractors ovr there that have training contracts with major businesses and Unis and colleges means you can avoid that sector altogether. Further to add and this is true throughout the GULF the big issue for us from the west (don’t know about it being chritsian these days) is teh Kafeel or your sponser – basically he invests to bring you and is responsible and so they have extrondinary rights when it comes to you place of work and also what you can go at teh end of the initial contract. Mostly either you sign on with them again or its see ya !! and you leave on that return flight home. Freedom of movement in tehemployment sector is non exsistant really for guest workers. This is the issue to bear in mind and so choose well.

    Basically anyone who is either thinking that they can have a western lifestyle the same as in London or new york should think again but in major cities its easy enough to have a fairly liberal life as long as you confine those activities against the law to your own home. But then again that goes for London too right

    REMEMBER Islam is not just the religion in KSA it formulates the Laws and all who reside their are expected to abide by those laws just as you are expected to abide by the laws in teh country you are from. The difference only is that as a non muslim some will not apply to you, such as having to attend to your daily prayers and fasting in ramadhan.

    the Money in KSA is no longer great so make sure that your changes in your lifestyle are worth what you will be getting cos if not then go elsewhere and have the life you want with just a little less cash in your sky rocket !

  2. Good comments, thank you!
    Having spent over twenty years abroad, I would tend to disagree about the behavior of students in the classroom in Saudi Arabia. After teaching in four other countries at a variety of levels, I found the students in the KSA to be disruptive, immature, sometimes even infantile. And I am talking about the ADULT students. However, once a teacher implements very strict control things do work very well. But not every teacher is able to master that and I saw more than a few wilt under the pressure.
    I agree that wages are not now what they were perhaps 20 years ago. But when everything is provided and even your electric bill is heavily subsidized, you have almost nothing to spend money on except food. My point was not – and never is – making a lot of money. It was SAVING money. The Middle East still provides an opportunity for teachers to save MORE than they could just about anywhere else.

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