Thursday, 4 December 2014

A Teachers Induction at an International School in the Middle East

I awoke last night in the middle of the night after a nightmare that took me back to my time as a British teacher in the Middle East five years ago. I thought I would share with you some of the challenges I faced while working there that still haunt me. Within a month of applying for a teaching position online and a two hour telephone interview (while I was shopping in the supermarket) I was on a plane flying to Dubai to work as a kindergarten teacher in an International British Curriculum school as well as the gifted and talented and special educational needs advisor.

In forty degree heat on a rickety old school bus and after a two hour drive I arrived at my hot and dusty desert destination and was informed I would be collected at seven in the morning by the same rickety old bus and taken to the school for induction procedures to commence. Forty three international teachers had been recruited that year and all were to stay in a hotel until our apartment building was completed.
Now this is where it gets difficult and hard to believe but I want you to listen, believe and realise how challenging the life I was about to embark on was for a white western middle class teacher to comprehend the absolutely extraordinary policies and procedures we had to take on board and adhere to.

After the bone shaking bus ride to the school we arrived in the school parking lot and were ushered into the school auditorium where we were addressed by the senior management board (all of whom were westerners) and our Middle Eastern induction commenced.
As we all sat stunned ,we listened to our bosses in all seriousness inform us, that due to the fact that most women would wear the burka or niqab often accompanied by an eye veil when visiting the school, we would need to work out a comprehensive strategy of recognising the mothers and all female siblings, maids and drivers. They went on to advise that they had some strategies to suggest to us as follows:

Recognising female authorised persons to collect children from our classrooms by:
·         The sound of their voice
·         Their eyes (if you can see them)
·         Their jewellery
·         Their shoes
·         Their handbags
·         Their gait and walk
·         The decorations on their abaya, burka or niqab

As teachers that are trained in safeguarding and child protection, risk assessments and health and safety, we were completely speechless and dumbfounded. The end of the day at our classroom doors became the scariest and most stressful time of day. Each and every one of us was terrified we would let a child go with the wrong parent or someone who was trying to carry out abduction.

While working in the Middle East there were several attempted abductions in schools in the area by men fully covered in the burka or niqab. Thankfully the children in our classrooms went home with the correct family members or authorised collectors but I can honestly say I am glad I do not have to deal with the stress of that experience today.

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