Thursday, July 5, 2012

Final Days in Abu Dhabi

The End of the Middle East Adventure.

What was originally going to be a seven month adventure in Qatar at the end of 2008 has ended up with us completing our work in Abu Dhabi on the 12th July 2012.

During this time I worked in two schools in Qatar, in a Teachers Training Centre in Oman and in a Boys Preparatory school in Abu Dhabi while Joy immersed herself with her painting, producing musical shows for the Qatar end of year dinners and “mall trawling” with, initially, The Doha Darlings and, in Abu Dhabi, with her friend from Doha, Priscilla Ellis.

Now Joy has been busy packing, bubble wrapping everything, including me, as we prepare to exit the UAE and return to New Zealand carrying with us souvenirs, photographs, friendships and many memories of an adventure we have no regrets embarking on.

Mind you , returning to New Zealand and rain, wind, earthquakes and temperatures in single digits is not something to contemplate with pleasure!

Immediate Plans:

Joy and I leave Abu Dhabi on the 13th July to head off on a tour of Eire, England and Northern Italy that will bring us back to Abu Dhabi around the 13th August and then the long haul home.

Our Eire and UK trip will take us to visit the Irish relatives and give me a chance to add more information on the Bates family tree, perhaps answer questions about personal names, gather photographs of ancestors and present relations and the places, villages and towns Mum’s family came from so, when we are back in New Zealand, and the Bates family meets for a reunion in January next year we can share memories, information and add to our shared histories. I’m praying that I’ll get fewer rain greyed photographs of places than I did 15 years ago when Joy and I last visited Ireland.

The Tuscany trip should, with luck, give Joy the chance to collect a file of photographs that will provide inspiration for her painting once we’re resettled at home. I can already see that I’ll be kept busy at every stop on our tour as we pass from one photogenic village to the next.

Reviewing the past 18 months in Abu Dhabi

The Team 2011-12.
Colin, Saeed, Self, Shane, Lynne, Dave, Gavin

I have spent the lat 18 months working with the teachers of English in a Boys Preparatory school in central Abu Dhabi guiding them through the demands of the Australian English curriculum as adapted to the UAE.
The entrance to the school

The first six months were with nine teachers who had already gone through one trial with an American provider, using an American scheme and syllabus, only to be told that the American trial was over and they were to revert to the old MoE curriculum then, a trimester or so into the year, to change to the new adapted Australian curriculum. Needless to say there was some opposition to the arrival of a new team of advisors coming into the school to demonstrate and advise on yet another curriculum change.

Once we got over the teething troubles we got down to work attempting to develop an understanding of the pedagogy behind the curriculum, design unit and lesson plans around the very limited resources available in the school, create assessment tasks that were both understandable to the teachers and able to be completed by the students and also resource the Inquiry Based Learning modules that make up over 80% of the course. This would not be a major task in a NZ or Australian English Department as one could easily draw on readily accessible resource banks and a ready supply of reading texts that would support the thematic units of work supported by colleagues who have a good idea about Unit and Lesson planning that addresses both the needs of the students and directs the learning according to the demands of the curriculum. However, here it was not so easy  as the resource base at the school was non-existent, the data on student readiness to cope with the curriculum was sketchy, coloured by teacher beliefs and often artificially inflated to meet parental expectations of continuous success. Add in the limited experience with inquiry based learning - summed up in the often heard statement from teachers “ I know what a research is.” - and a paucity of familiarity with rubric based assessment processes and one can see that our advisory role was to be an on going challenge.

We spent much of the first six months coming to terms with the curriculum and attempting to build up a basic resource base on which to build the unit and lesson plans only to lose six of the teachers at the end of the year as the Education Council moved its supply of English speaking Arab teachers from the secondary schools into the preparatory schools as they replaced the Arab teachers with native English speakers imported from the USA, UK, Australasia, South Africa and Canada.

So this academic year started with four new teachers appearing in the English Department, all from the secondary schools and with different levels of understanding of the curriculum. It was not quite start again but it did mean that much of the first trimester was one of reviewing where teachers were in terms of understanding and, because I had, over the last half of the last trimester, reworked the curriculum to provide a clear school syllabus reworking the the few resources we had access to into reasonable units of work.

This exercise was going well until I realised that one of the teachers, whose name translated to Mr. Right, had not understood the work we’d been doing or that there actually was a curriculum that he had to engage with and prepare units and lessons to address. Every time I tried working with him, tried to explain the terminology and the pedagogy that the curriculum demanded of him he began to cry and then revert to screaming that he knew how to teach but he couldn’t teach unless he was given a proper curriculum textbook .  His final attempt to dodge any PD, to dodge out of coping with the curriculum changes and planning, which resulted in him being given a severe dressing down by the Principal, was to refuse to teach his classes if I was observing and advising in his classroom. 

The other teachers (the English translations of their names being ) , Mr’s: Winner, Selected, Builder, Double Maturity, Algebra, Opening, in the department shrugged and got on with the jobs of preparation and making do with limited resources as they worked their way to coming to solid grips with the curriculum. An attitude for which I was eternally grateful for they would be the ones who would ensure that all our work was going to be sustained and developed once we headed for different jobs in different parts of the world at the end of the contract.

After my experiences in Qatar where we succeeded in developing and cementing in inter school debating and using class newspapers / magazines as part of the English language development programme in the school I was working in I embarked on a programme, aided by Mr Jabr, that would demonstrate to the teachers that the boys were capable of doing a lot more than they were often given credit for so we set up an English Club which was able to produce a school newspaper each trimester, engage in an inter-school debate and finally write, produce and edit a 10 minute film on how to succeed at school.
The film makers in action

When I look over the  records of the newspapers, the debates and the film and compare the work with that I’d seen at home from Years 9 & 10 the boys exceeded themselves as their work was of high quality in presentation and language use. Our plan, using Mr Mustaffa's contacts in a neighbouring school to run another debate got stymed when the dates of the external exams got moved forward by a little over a week thus cutting down the time for preparation, organisation and delivery during the trimester to an impossible time frame. 

The hope is that the boys will take their experiences on to the next grade level at the school or will take their skills to the secondary school and, in both cases, persuade their teachers that they can use them in the classroom and, perhaps, the teacher will plan for and include the skills in their lessons and thus develop their language acquisition.

At the Grade 6 level we introduced a guided reading programme based on the New Zealand produced Rainbow Readers which proved to be just as interesting as the Newspapers, debating and film making programmes as the boys responded with the sort of enthusiasm I see and hear regularly from our grandchildren whose exposure to books and reading for pleasure is well developed. My argument for the introduction of the programme was based on a conversation I had had with a young Omani who had proudly informed me that she was “reading English” but who, on being asked what book, story, novel, was she reading looked blankly at me and then simply replied that she was “reading the grammar textbook.” She was surprised to discover that there was more to reading than simply “reading” the textbook and that she could improve her knowledge of English and get some pleasure from it.

There is, I think, nothing more pleasurable than going into a classroom to be greeted with a chorus of “Are we reading today
 Mr Alan? “ and then having a queue of boys, with varying degrees of reading confidence, all waiting to have their turn to read a page or two of their book to the class.

For their teacher, Mr. Ammar, the reaction to the reading programme was evidence that the boys would read and could read. That what was needed was a greater supply of reading material in the classrooms and, ultimately, the exposure to reading benefitted the boys in their acquisition of English as a means of communication and not just a language whose rules needed to be learnt as an exercise.

As well one feels rewarded when a teacher from Qatar emails and says:

 How are you Mr.Alan? i hope you are fine . Thank very much for the treasure you sent me from Radio New Zeland . I downloaded some stories especially the Mountain who wanted to live in a house.It is fantastic. I will make use of all of them in the next school year. I'm travelling to Egypt on 18th July and I will be back on 2nd Sept as the school year for teachers starts on 5 th Sept and on 9th for students. I'm looking forward to drinking more of your knowledge and experience river.
It’s then that you know that you have made and are making a difference.

Now, with the end of the contract in sight, many of my colleagues are looking for work elsewhere in the world. For some the steppes of Khazakstan look promising while for others the lights of Singapore, Australia and the UK have more appeal as they find employment and chance to continue the work we’ve been doing in the ME.

For Joy and I it is a return home to regroup and catch up with family again while I look to finding a job somewhere around Auckland or, perhaps, some short term contracts somewhere around the world.

1 comment:

city said...

.thanks for sharing