JASON McKEARNEY: Living in Doha
A: I am currently working in Doha, Qatar. Qatar is a desert country that borders Saudi Arabia on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other. Doha is the capital and comprises 80 per cent of the country’s population of two million; per capita it is the richest country in the world. It is most recently famous for being announced as the host for the 2022 Football World Cup, which has been shrouded in controversy since its announcement.
The school I work at is a Private PYP (Primary Years Programme) school, using the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.
Q: What prompted you to consider teaching abroad?
A: My original plan on travelling abroad was prompted by doing an OE [overseas experience] with my wife. I had looked at teaching abroad and then travelling from that place as a base, rather than going to London and working odd jobs like others do.
Q: Have any family members accompanied you overseas? Do they work or attend schools?
A: When we first moved here in October 2011, it was just me and my wife. We now have two daughters (aged one and three). The three-year-old will begin preschool in September.
A: The main reason for the Middle East was it looked exciting; everything is new (as these cities/countries are literally being built and popping up in the desert). Also the money was a factor. On an international scale of salaries the Middle East is very favourable. We also looked at Asia, but the Middle East is central and therefore fitted our plans for travel.
A: When applying for jobs I was signed up to a recruitment agency. However, I also applied directly to schools. In the end, I got my job through word of mouth, through a family member’s friend who was working at the school.
Q: Are there many other teachers from New Zealand at your school or nearby schools? Are New Zealand teachers generally held in high regard, do you think?
A: When I first started here in 2011, there were about 30 New Zealand teachers on the staff (besides Americans, we were the most represented). Now there is only about a third of that. This is mainly based on people moving on to other areas of the world to work and have new experiences, as contracts are fixed for two years and then only continue year by year. New Zealand teachers are held in very high regard in this area of the world and internationally. What is having an effect right now, especially in this part of the world, are oil and gas prices. It has become more expensive to hire New Zealand teachers due to relocation and flight costs, based on New Zealand’s location.
Q: How do you think New Zealand’s curriculum, teaching practices and education system compares with those of the school you’re teaching at currently?
A: New Zealand’s curriculum rates very highly. We have a New Zealand assistant principal who introduced New Zealand maths to our school so we currently use that as the basis for our mathematics programme. In terms of our practices, we do things very well at home. Seeing the American system in action, they teach to tests or workbooks. The trans-disciplinary way of teaching at home and the use of differentiated lesson structures and small groups is the norm in New Zealand, but is seen as great teaching practice abroad.
Q: What are the most rewarding aspects about teaching abroad?
A: It’s the travel and people you meet, both professionally and otherwise. Having the ability to go to conferences with people from all over the world is amazing. The travel we get to have as a family is also unbelievable. The other big factor is the time. Due to the heat here, we start school at 7am and finish at 1.40pm. I am usually home from work at 3pm, so get to spend a large part of the afternoon and evening with family and friends, which is fantastic.
A: The most challenging aspect is being away from family. Also getting used to the heat. It sits around 40 degrees Celsius for a large part of the year. The other thing was that, living in a desert, there isn’t much greenery – which was very strange, coming from New Zealand.
Q: Has culture shock been an issue for you or your family?
A: Culture shock wasn’t too big a thing when we first arrived. ‘Nanny culture’ is a big part of this country though. Every family has nannies/maids, sometimes one per child. This was strange and took some getting used to. Besides that, this country is very westernised. It is mainly made up of British and American food and clothing stores and everything is bilingual with Arabic and English. Therefore the transition wasn’t too difficult.
Q: What do you miss most about teaching in New Zealand?
A: The thing I miss most about teaching in New Zealand are the students and parents and their easygoing nature and being relatable to myself. Teaching abroad things are different. You don’t build the relationships with the students and parents like you do at home. Parents do not really come into the school unless it is for conferences. Other than that, drivers or nannies/maids drop the children off and pick them up.
Q: Do you intend to return to teaching in New Zealand at some stage?
A: I cannot see myself returning to teaching in New Zealand. This would be mainly due to the workload (less time to spend with family) and the poor salaries in relation to work done.
Q: What advice would you offer Kiwi teachers considering teaching abroad?
A: I would say to other Kiwis to definitely consider it. I have enjoyed my time – the travel, the new friends, the extra time I get with my family each day and the overall life experiences I’ve had in the last few years have been well worth the move.
ANDR’E JAY: Back in New Zealand
Q: Where did you teach overseas, and for how long?
A: Doha, Qatar for six years. Doha is an hour’s flight from Dubai. We returned to New Zealand last year.
Q: What prompted you to consider teaching abroad?
A: We wanted a change and the opportunity to travel and save money for a house deposit. We also wanted to give our children a global perspective of the world.
Q: Did you go through an agency? Was this a straightforward process?
A: Yes, we used Search Associates, which is a widely used agency with a very reputable name on the international circuit. It was a very easy process. It does help to know someone who has been through the process and can answer questions. I would be happy to offer advice if another needs some quick answers.
Q: What were the most satisfying aspects about returning to teaching in New Zealand?
A: The students and colleagues. It is refreshing to be back in New Zealand and get the opportunities to teach within the New Zealand curriculum.
Q: And the most challenging?
A: The transition into school life in New Zealand and the demands of teaching in New Zealand. It is something that most people who teach internationally find. It is a lot harder to move home and begin assimilating back into New Zealand life, as well as building friendships here, after being overseas for so long.
Q: Do you think your time spent teaching overseas has enriched you as teacher?
A: Very much so. Teaching abroad offers so many opportunities to learn about new curriculums, dynamics of teaching and learning, perspectives on inquiry – not to mention the global sense of community that you are immersed in by living in a foreign country.
Q: Do you miss any particular elements of the school or education system in Doha?
A: I miss the non-contact time that you receive in an international school and the chance to use this for collaborative interaction with colleagues. Also the opportunities your students get with having specialist teachers in the arts, physical education, and languages. If you are fortunate enough there are external rewards like presenting and being part of international professional development.
Q: Would you consider teaching abroad in the future? If so, would you return to the Middle East or consider other destinations?
A: It will definitely be something we will look at again. For the moment it was a good opportunity to move back to New Zealand for family reasons and having our children settle into a New Zealand system to give them grounding in their home country. We would most likely look at moving to another area away from the Middle East to get a different experience.
What advice would you give to Kiwi teachers considering teaching abroad?
A: My advice for any teacher, with dependents or not, is to seriously consider a move to an international school to gain a different insight into the world and education. At the same time, save money, travel and experience the vast cultures we don’t really know about, living in New Zealand. It’s a chance to get a wider perspective on many things.
Source: Education Review