So, you have been teaching for the past five or more years. You have completed your postgraduate degree in education, actually, in educational leadership. Every observation is followed by glowing comments and commendations echoing how fantastic a teacher you are. You begin to think that you may need a new challenge. You are encouraged to apply for the latest management post at your school. However, you have never really seen yourself behind a desk or doing enormous amounts of paper work. Interacting with the students is what you enjoy. It is what wakes you up in the morning.
The pressure from peers and even family to pursue a management role is great. You like the idea of becoming an administrator, but your heart is still in the classroom. You begin to look at your options and realise that moving abroad to teach might be just what you need. After doing some research online, you find a possible solution in teaching abroad in the United Arab Emirates. This opportunity comes with the ability to travel, meet new people and an attractive salary. Despite the potential challenges that come with teaching in a new country, you are happy because you still get to teach.
You apply for a position to teach in the UAE and are successful. The first year of teaching in your new country was a blur. You adjusted well to the new school and you have made some great friends. Three years have passed and your administration ensures that you are happy and why not? You are the same fantastic teacher you were in your home country. Then, that sneaky, familiar feeling of wanting to do more begins to crowd your mind. Once more, you are being encouraged to apply for the position of an administrator by your current administration and by those closest to you.
You are well aware of the trap. Going into management and getting stuck doing something you do not want or even like to do. What’s worse is that unfortunately the UAE does not have a clear-cut pathway for you to become a leader and remain in the classroom doing what you love to do; teaching children.
In the United States this plight has been long recognised and a new career pathway called “teacher leadership” was developed. Teacher leadership programmes recognise the talents of the most effective teachers and deploy them in service of student learning and school system improvement. Their time is spent between actual classroom practice while coaching and mentoring their peers. Teacher leaders are also compensated on a similar salary scale as the school’s administration. The programme draws on the skills of excellent teachers while keeping them in the classroom.
The United Kingdom has a similar programme called the ‘advanced skills teacher programme’. Like the teacher leaders in the United States, the advanced skills teacher splits his or her time between actual classroom practice and teacher training. Teachers are recognised for their talents, knowledge and dedication. They get the respect they deserve without having to completely leave the classroom.
The dilemma teachers in the UAE face is that in order for them to earn more or be recognised for their hard work and innovation in the classroom, their only option is to move into management. Many administrators may not openly admit it but they often regret such a move, as they end up feeling trapped. Both private and public schools in the UAE could benefit greatly by developing pathways for teachers to advance without leaving the classroom. It is time that schools in the UAE fully recognise that teachers can lead and encourage growth in both their colleagues and their students, all in the same job.
Schools in the UAE and the region would be better served by actively creating pathways for teachers to progress without having to leave the classroom if they do not want to. The benefits of keeping great teachers in the classroom are many, but above all students will not lose out and it might just help with reducing teacher attrition.
By Leisa Simapili