Monday, July 18, 2011



It has been a while since we updated our blog of our adventures in the Middle East.

Our last blog recorded our leaving Nizwa and moving across the border to the UAE where I picked up work with Cognition as an English Adviser in a local Prep School.

I’m still waiting on CfBT to refund me monies they held back for cleaning the apartment and paying for the few utilities we used while there. But, then, I did come to expect that after the hassles we had in getting paid on time and of getting a meaningful pay slip delivered on the day that the pay was meant to go into our account. I don’t know how my replacement in Nizwa fared - I only hope that it was better.

On the housing front in Abu Dhabi, Joy and I moved from our apartment in the Platinum Apartments to an apartment in the Al Nayhan Area near the Al Whada Mall where we’ll be based until the end of our contract in July-August next year. The apartment is pleasant, well lit and airy with access to a swimming pool and, if we need it, a gymnasium that is filled with machinery that would not have gone astray in the catacombs of the inquisition.

Joy is really happy with this arrangement as she is a five minute walk from her Doha friend, Priscilla, so they can head off to go “mall trawling” when ever they wish to escape from the 45C of the UAE summer into the cool of the malls.

We are now back in New Zealand and winter. This trip home has been one of getting paperwork sorted out - new passports required, renewing my drivers license and teacher registration and other bits and pieces before returning to the ME.

When we return in August we will rent a car which will allow us to explore more of the Emirates and visit friends in other parts of the UAE. Getting into the bustle and clash of Abu Dhabi traffic will be fun after six months of using the bus and taxi system.

The School and Work:
At work the semester and a bit at the school proved to be a challenge as the teachers were convinced that the changes the school had experienced over the past few years, from a school using an American system, complete with ready made teaching units, lesson plans and US text books with Arabic names like Faisal & Ali replacing solid US names like Randy and Rudy, to a local Ministry of Education programme that returned to a curriculum that appeared to insist that, like the US programme, all students progressed from page to page with total understanding every day as long as the teachers delivered a lesson, word for word from the teacher’s book, to a standards based curriculum using material from NSW and Queensland that presumed that teachers could create their own unit and lesson plans that provided for the different learning speeds and abilities of the students was nothing to get really inspired by.

Their reluctance to come to grips with the curriculum documents and associated Learning Plans meant that I had to put a great deal of time into building up trust and reasonable working relationships before pushing hard for meaningful change. It also meant doing a good deal of modelling to demonstrate what could be achieved if one was prepared to do a bit of preparation and creative thinking.

The Advisory Team succeeded in creating an English Club that encouraged the boys to play scrabble, engage in an inter-school debate and write and publish a school newspaper. The latter two activities were greeted with some amazement by the teachers who had never seen or taken part in a debate before and were convinced that the boys would not be able to do either activity as they thought the boys did not have enough English to try. I look forward to generating the enthusiasm next academic year when we will have a full three semesters to establish the activities and keep them running.

The drives to get an understanding of the curriculum meant that I spent a great deal of time creating scaffolded work books to guide both staff and students through the inquiry learning focus of the course as well as writing meaningful and curriculum consistent assessment tasks that met the descriptors of the learning plan as well as guiding the teachers towards the content they were meant to teach. Mind you, these efforts, while sound and curriculum directed, were to be limited in delivery because the English Department had none of the resources that were presumed to be available by the Curriculum writers.

We came through the inspection and compliance review with flying colours even though we'd only been in the scheme for six months and the resourses were limited.

We spent several thousand dirhams on buying in a selection of books and references that the teachers could use and adapt to deliver the courses as well as providing some limited reading materials for the boys. While this was greeted with interest by the staff their use of the books was best described as reluctant as, to them, the best resources were ready made ones they could download from the inter-net... especially if they came complete with work sheets and answers.

Anyway, we did manage to make some progress with the teachers attempting to focus their teaching and the students’ learning on the skills the curriculum required. This, I thought, would be a reasonable base to build from in the next academic year only to discover that we were to lose six of the nine teachers in the English Department as the Education Council carried through a restaffing programme designed to replace English speaking Arab teachers with native English speakers in the secondary schools and male teachers with female teachers in the Primary schools, with no indication of the quality of the replacements being moved into the Prep Schools from the secondary schools from the rest of the Emirate. So it’s back to square one next school year in developing working relationships, getting staff up to speed on understanding and meeting the demands of the curriculum and planning for the new school year. At least my task won’t be as bad as that facing some other colleagues who discovered that they had lost all or 99% of the English Department.

My other area of responsibility, the Library, was one of minute steps forward with no trained staff, no budget and no facilities to even begin stock taking or restructuring the existing limited resources. With luck and some hard talking about the budgetting necessary we may make more progress next year. I can only live in hope!!

Anyway, the year has proven interesting and challenging which makes the prospect of a new contract exciting as well.

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