My name is Linda Parsons and I am a teacher in Dubai. Four countries and 8 years since completing my PGCE, I am enthusiastically sharing ideas about pedagogy and digital strategy with a phenomenal network on twitter. Contributing to this international conversation to develop us all has become incredibly important to me.
Today I would like to contribute something that is a little bit different. Today I would not like to share anything classroom related, but it is still important to share.
Today I want to tell you about the 8 years that lead up to this moment.
Before I start, I have been fortunate enough to listen and learn from Philippa Wraithmell and Shazia Saeed over the summer. These are two teachers who I have greatly admired for a long time. We realised that we share many of the same experiences as female teachers in the Middle East. Experiences that we had to overcome alone. I am writing this because there is a high likelihood that you will find elements of my past in your present. This is a story of how an unmarried, female science teacher made the Middle East her home.
The beginning: The NQT that took her girls to The Royal Institute
8 years ago I turned up on the steps of a 150 year old, all-girls Catholic school in Newham, East London. I chose London to complete my NQT because I had completed my PGCE in inner city Birmingham schools. I chose this school because I wanted to grow as a teacher. An all-girls school, to me, was my own personal hurdle to overcome.
St Angela’s Ursline’s demographic is 17% eligible for Free School Meals. The school is truly an oasis for the girls and my 2 years were every bit as tough as I expected. I sat with the on-duty CPO on the late gate and learnt about the school’s role in supporting families, the form classes and assemblies were organised around the most robust pastoral curriculum I have ever seen. And I recited the St Ursuline’s prayer approximately 1892 times (at the beginning of every lesson). All of this was designed to instill routine and build a foundation of high standards for everyone within the school, including teachers.
At St Angela’s there was always someone there to help. My Head of Department developed a working bond with the girls that ran so deep, they trusted him to provide the answer to anything in class. He tapped into the best in his department too, and by my second term I was happily running the STEM club and the coordinated the Gifted and Talented provisions for science. The highlights of my time in St Angela’s was organising the G+T trip to the Royal Institute Christmas Lectures, the Greenwich Observatory and a lecture by Brian Cox on CERN and Virgin Galactic. Even taking the girls out was rewarding, never mind the destinations I chose to inspire them. Just because they lived their lives in London, did not mean they saw outside of Newham.
Sounds like a dream school, right? But I left. And I left because after 1 and a half years, as beautiful as the school was, living and working in London took its toll on my health. two-hour commutes on the underground each day and working hours that frequently toppled 10 hours a day meant I barely saw daylight and I had no personal life. I was not alone, and my school was not solely to blame. During my time in St Angela’s, I took part in this survey, which found that the average working week for UK teachers exceeded 54 hours in 2014. Upon leaving, my mental and physical health vastly improved. St Angela’s provided a gold standard towards student and teacher development that I will always remember and work towards.
Still with me? Let’s move onto my next school. I went to St Angela’s to push myself as a training teacher. My next choice was 3000 miles away and driven, largely by curiosity of other cultures… and the desire to not become all consumed by work!
The best advice I can provide you about moving to any school, in any country, is research and school and the area completely, not from the glossy PDF’s, but from real people. And when you find those real people ask as many questions about both as you can to the school and on social media. Twitter did not exist in my life then. I wish it did.
Qatar: Teaching 4 new curriculums in 2 years and the importance of standing by your own morals.
Qatar is a beautiful country and the adventures we had exploring the desert I will always remember fondly. I will also remember the first-time shocks of how fast and dramatically the sun sets and the feeling of the first time I heard the Call to Prayer from the neighbourhood mosque. Somewhere in my archives I have photos of random indoor palm trees beautifully adorned with fairy lights stretching up inside cavernous glittering malls, and countless photos of camels, Arabian horses and the occasional falcon, which we visited frequently in the Souq Waqif, the market that came alive at night. It was here that I met my partner for the first time. In Qatar, I had evenings free to enjoy.
I chose a school that taught a British Curriculum because this was what I was familiar with. What was not fully explained to me was the cultural impact of teaching a British science syllabus in an international school that contained a very high proportion of Qatari students. Within 3 months I had converted my suits permanently into Abyaas.
I had previously taught in mixed and single sex schools; however, this was my first-time teaching in a segregated school, which impacted hugely on when and how the science syllabus was taught. This was also the first time teaching a Btec Science course, which caused huge anxiety over whether I was providing the students with what they needed to pass. The Head of Btec provided the support and solutions her teachers needed. She was a phenomenally strong woman who, no matter what happened, protected her team’s right to class time and ensured that we were able to deliver the curriculum with the same rigour as we had done within a UK school. I was also so fortunate to be lab buddies with Shazia, who’s chats, mentoring and guidance not only got me through my IB training, but also provided the perspective and advice I so desperately needed as a 26-year-old unmarried woman in a completely new school and culture.
I will never forget my Year 8 girls form class, who patiently attempted to teach their new teacher written and spoken Arabic, my Btec girls who taught me the correct way to tie a Shayla on National Day or the team of boys and girls we took to the Destination Imagination competition. However, I found that I did not quite fit into this school’s culture. And that was ok. Because although I had found my first international school difficult, I was also becoming aware of schools within the region that I could see myself fitting in more.
I made the decision to choose my work life over my personal life. Within this past four years I had:
- Embarked on a completely new career
- Moved to a new house, twice
- Established myself in an outstanding school and used my first two years to build a STEM and G+T programme for science
- Moved alone to a new country
- Trained and delivered lessons to Btec, A-Level and IB Diploma Biology level
- Co-lead the extra-curricular programme Destination Imagination, which involved Primary and Secondary students working together
The drive to find school that fit my motivation was still out there somewhere, I had got this far, and I was determined to find it.
New English School: My introduction to Digital Classrooms and outstanding school leadership
That was how I found myself in Kuwait City. This time, I was prepared with my own set of abyaas for the evening (which it turns out, I barely needed anyway) and a whole host of questions for my new Biology department which included “do you have gas taps in all your labs” and “what is your policy on mixed gender classes?”.
New English School is a school with high rigour and standards that seemed to be ingrained into foundations of the school and every soul that passes through its corridors. I have never met a hive of blazered students that are all so motivated to excel, and a team of teachers so motivated to ensure their success. Just to make clear, all labs were fully and beautifully kitted out. And every class in the school was mixed gender.
Although I loved the school, the culture and the students within it, it was not entirely plain sailing. I learnt hard way the impact of having a colleague that harboured a deep and personal dislike towards me. Looking back now the bizarre (but at the time truly upsetting) accusations that were fired towards me should have been warning that I needed to speak up to the leadership team. But I didn’t, because she was my boss. And that is something I never want another person to ever go through alone.
I was so fortunate that I became friends with others within the department who saw the impact of what was happening, and they encouraged me to speak out to the headteacher and Director, who completely supported me throughout the rest of the year. Through their support, I was able to find a new passion: NES had become a Google School and I found so much potential in further supporting my eager students through using technology, which frankly took hours and hours off my marking and feedback workload.
I have met many influential women in my life, but none more so than the Director: Ms Doran. The high expectations she has for every child to make a success of themselves, she modelled herself with her staff. The mentoring she provided me throughout the year made me a stronger person because she provided the tools I needed to get through adversity. She also personally ensured I did not decide to stay in Kuwait through sheer stubbornness! She knew of the personal life I had left behind. With her guidance, I found a school that fitted me as a whole person. This time, my journey would take me to Dubai.
Deira International School: Handling Change Management and becoming a Microsoft Fellow
I am now proud to be starting my fourth year in Deira International School. I’ve learnt from this school the importance of transparency in leadership and culturing a growth mindset within the community, which helps everyone develop. My passion for technology as a tool to transform learning was fully realised here, which was hugely influenced by the leadership of my previous Director and trailblazers that have given up their time to help our teachers and school grow. During the past two years I’ve lead schoolwide transformation of it’s learning environments. The journey the school is now on is every bit as exciting and fulfilling for the future of education. Which is exactly what I was looking for in a teaching career.
My takeaway from the last 8 years is to not only find a school that is right for you, but also find a support network where you can speak freely and without judgement to seek help. Questions such as “How do I deal with being talked over in meetings”, and “How do I even talk about _______ without coming across as bossy, controlling or patronising?”. Gender does play a huge (but never centre stage) role in a team. We should collectively explore and develop this as strengths, not outline them as hinderances to ensure the success of every team.
Just like forming a network to share teaching practice, I would like to invite you to join a support network for female teachers in the Middle East. For women who are new to a country, a school or a role. For women who have that innovative idea that could transform their school but are not quite sure where or how to begin to talk about it.
Wii.Edu stands for Women who Innovate, Integrate and Educate.
We would dearly like you to become a part of our network.