Student behavior is perhaps the biggest challenge awaiting teachers new to the United Arab Emirates. While the full banquet of naughtiness is not too different from a Western school, several cultural factors can make for a rocky first year. Here are some things to consider:
Building Rapport: Its Cliché for a Reason!
Top priority: relationships! Devote the first week of school to getting to know your students. Emirati culture is particularly chatty, so the best approach is to kick off the year with a series of communicative-based icebreakers.
Use what you learned in the TESOL certification to elicit personal information, establish class rules and norms, and get a baseline on proficiency. This is also the time to memorize your students’ names, including the father’s (an Arab’s second name). Reprimand a student by his full name and evoke the specter of the man you will be called should there be problems!
Be the Teacher!
Building rapport doesn’t mean compromising your authority for the sake of a get-along attitude. Good teachers strike a balance between a friendly personality and authority. If your students perceive it, they will respect it accordingly.
Fail to project that image and your students may not take you or the work seriously. This is particularly important when confronting the culture of cheating; compromise your integrity, no matter your students’ perceived attitude, and your image will suffer for it. Good luck trying to act the professional then! Emirati students, like students everywhere, respect honest and fair teachers.
Watch Your Language!
Learning a second language can be frustrating and at times embarrassing, especially for young people. Add to that compulsory English classes and an ill-fitting curriculum, and that new iPhone game becomes much more appealing! Students will tune out or act out when frustrated or lost during a lesson, so you need to be mindful of your language practices.
When differentiating for mixed-ability classes, use language and pacing that every student can reasonably follow. This takes practice and deliberate elicitation. For weak students —potential vectors of disruption— quick identification and active differentiation can keep them from slipping to the dark side.
Take the time to learn some Arabic! Even a beginner’s vocabulary can help you redirect an unruly class, support struggling students, reflect on L1-to-L2 interference, as well as a model your own language learning. The gesture alone will speak volumes to the students, proud of their language and equally so of their teacher for attempting it.
Keep it Fun! The Preemptive Approach
Finally, most students lack intrinsic motivation. It’s your responsibility to motivate them to learn English. If your lessons are boring, teacher-centered, and fixated on academic points, expect them to tune you out. Remember that Emirati students love chatting, so use Communicative Language Teaching methods when planning your lessons!
The more active and meaningful your lessons, the more tuned in and engaged your students will be. This way, you can prevent negative behavior before it starts.