Monday, November 23, 2009
Previously, I've hinted at what I teach and what the students are like, but I haven't gotten into much detail. The main reason for that is because I didn't understand the system myself. Little by little, I've been figuring out what's going on and will give my interpretation of things. While I hope everyone who is interested in what teaching here is like will find what I've written informative, this posting was mainly meant for the people I know who have heard bits and pieces about teaching in the U.A.E. and have been considering looking for employment here. I'll be as frank as I can but I will put in this disclaimer: You will either read this and say "No way!" or think "Well that seems manageable." If you think that this doesn't sound too bad then read a few of my other postings or contact me via email or Facebook.
Before I talk about the classes, I need to say that I like my job and for the most part don't mind teaching my classes. A lot of what I'm going to say might come across as complaining. In some respects it is. The fact of the matter is that I'm teaching a group of kids that have any material comfort a person could want without ever having had to work for it in their lives given to them by a generation that had every material comfort given to them without having had to work for it. Basically, they're a generation of spoiled kids raised by spoiled adults.
I teach at Abu Dhabi Men's College. The word "college" should be taken to mean community college and even then is a bit lower than a community college. As far as I know there are two different programs that lead up to bachelor's level (the four-year program that most people would call college or university): Diploma and Diploma Foundations. Diploma is a three-year program. After Diploma students are given a certificate and are seen as employable. If they choose, they can then go into the four-year program called Higher Diploma. After they finish Higher Diploma, they can then qualify for the Bachelors program. I'm teaching the lowest of the low at my school. My students are in their first year of Diploma called Diploma Foundations. That means they are seven years away from starting a four-year Bachelor's degree. Yes you read that right. Assuming that a student of mine progresses naturally through the program, they will begin their four-year degree when they are 25 and finish when they are 29 years old.
That leads to the next questions: "What am I teaching them now?" and "What could they possibly have been doing for the previous 12 years of formal schooling?" First of all, keep in mind that I only teach Math so I really haven't been paying attention to what's going on with the English side of things. As far as I've seen they communicate well verbally and can express themselves easily. I would imagine that their written English is weak. On the tests, they don't read instructions or questions well, but I think that they would do equally poorly with Arabic instructions.
As far as Math, they're about high elementary school level. Some of it can be attributed to lack of English, but for the most part, the concepts aren't there. This is mainly because the school system has failed them. This is usually a statement reserved for poor, inner-city school districts, but the system that I work in is an example of how money doesn't solve all problems. From what I've heard the students study through to Calculus in high school. Unfortunately, they don't actually learn through to Calculus. The students are given the processes of how to solve the various problems and repeat them over and over until they can produce them on a test. Then, move on to the next topic and forget that you ever saw the material. There is no relating the material to real life or any explanation as to what the numbers mean.
It just goes to show how much of an impact that parental involvement has. When you consider that most of my students' grandparents were desert nomads who could barely read or write their own language much less a second language, it's easy to consider how students and their parents could be unsure of how to proceed. While families might understand the values of education, they could be excused for not knowing how to motivate their children to study or even how to study.
That brings me to the other part of "what" I teach. I have been told that I'm not only teaching Math and a bit of English, I'm teaching the students how to study. I'm teaching them that they are responsible for getting to class on time and for bringing their book, pencil, and other materials to class. I'm teaching them how to behave like responsible adults and how to deal with others in a courteous manner so they can become employable.
While that sounds a lot like teaching high school or even junior high school (it is), it isn't really that tall an order. Unfortunately, some of the students are accountable for their behavior for the first time in their lives at my school. The students need to attend and be on time. They are actually chucked out if they are constantly late or miss too many classes. If there is serious misbehavior, the students are given warnings. The administration expects us to set definite boundaries for things such as attendance and is wonderful in backing up the teachers.
For the most part, I like my students. In my first semester, I was able to get a pretty good handle on my classes. While I can definitely see things that I could do next semester to make things move more smoothly, I'm pretty happy with the way things are going. Out of my five different classes, I really like three of them. The other two have been ruined by a couple of jokers that are examples of the "spoiled Emirati" that unfortunately happens. While these students are on their way out through poor attendance and attitude, the class attitude has suffered. Things are definitely improving and were never really terrible. It's just a shame how having a few negative influences can ruin a class. Fortunately, guys like that are the exception rather than the rule.
Overall, I can recommend teaching here highly. There are a lot of people here that have taught all over. The staff is truly international. A high percentage have taught in Japan at some point. I know seven people working for the Higher Colleges of Technology (the umbrella name for the schools across the U.A.E.) from Fukuoka alone. Four of us (myself included) started this past August. It's my feeling that the U.A.E. is a gathering point, much like Japan was 20 years ago.