South African teachers are readily finding employment in the Middle East, and in Abu Dhabi in particular where up to 500 are working, says a Cape Town recruitment specialist.
Irene Toerien is the operations manager at SA-Recruitment, which specialises in sending qualified teachers to the Middle East.
“South Africans are particularly well-suited to the region, because they are hard working and have a reputation for getting the job done without hand-holding,” Ms Toerien says. Coming from a background where state support is erratic, many are accustomed to working through issues without seeking help from management.
Also, South African schools are multicultural with students from different racial and religious backgrounds. This helps them slip easily into schools such as those in the Middle East, where classrooms are a United Nations of diversity.
Some find the transition a positive experience particularly if they come from the South African state school system where classrooms can have as many as 45 students. “When they walk in and see smaller classes than they are used to, it’s a pleasant surprise,” says Ms Toerien.
She says recruited teachers are given cultural training to prepare them for living in a country far different from their own. They are also helped to settle in. “People arrive and their air conditioning breaks down in the first month or something else goes wrong – we help them deal with these kinds of things to smooth the transition.”
Apart from money, South African teachers also encounter valuable job experience teaching a curriculum different from that at home. Many expat schools use the British-based General Certificate of Secondary Education. For teachers, this provides fresh work challenges and a chance to build their skills.
Time out as an expatriate can also be a break from a system that can be difficult to navigate. A few years spent abroad provides a chance to recharge before returning home.
However, not everyone is suited to the life. Teaching in the Middle East is not for everyone, candidates are warned; they need to be adaptable, resilient and open-minded with good classroom management skills. Rarely, though, has anyone from South Africa quit because they could not hack it, says Ms Toerein
Teachers are motivated mostly by a tax-free income, but the contract nature of employment in places such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai also plays a role. Recruits know they can work for two or three years and return home with a chunk of cash saved.
“Some stay on longer – we hear from people who we sent over 10 years ago and they’ve met their wife or husband while there,” Ms Toerien says.
“Many return from the UAE with a twinkle in their eye.”
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