Part of the series: Investigating International Edtech Issues (UAE)

Disclaimer: This piece is based exclusively on my own experiences in teaching English in the UAE, I know that there are several institutions (albeit more likely in the private sector) that are much further ahead in the use of technology in education. It’s also obvious that there are great initiatives to improve the standards and the development is obvious. This post aims at trying to find ways of engaging teachers.

Teaching is a TOUGH profession
Teaching English is a VERY TOUGH profession
Teaching English in a public school in the United Arab Emirates is THE EASIEST job in the world.

Unless…..

  1. you have principles and beliefs about teaching that you would like to implement
  2. you have questions you want answered
  3. you refuse to believe that one person can come up with an idea that cannot be improved by collaboration
  4. you hold it self-evident that students come to school to use what they know in ways they never thought of
  5. you want to help other teachers become better teachers
  6. you desire knowledge that you want to discover and not just be told what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong

The last few months in a public secondary school in the UAE taught me to understand a few things:

  1. Students come to school without any expectation of it being of any use to them
  2. Teachers come to school without expecting anything from the students
  3. Students can sit for 165 minutes without knowing what is going on around them
  4. Teachers can attend 25 hours of professional development without knowing what is going on around them
  5. Students can stay at home if it rains
  6. Teachers are happy that students stay at home if it rains

This is a pretty exciting situation. So I can sit back and watch the system malfunction and do disservice to every single participant but most importantly the students, or try to do something about it.
There is no risk involved in the first option: this is what I’m expected to do.
Therefore, this is NOT what I’m going to do.
My aim for this year is to ‘convert’ one teacher.
You might say that this is a minimalist plan, and a few months ago I would have agreed with you. Now, I am not even convinced that I can achieve this.

There are three things that make the situation promising:

  1. As teachers in a new initiative, every English teacher has a pretty good HP tablet notebook and they have become quite comfortable with it.
  2. There are 6 hours a week allocated to professional development in our schedule.
  3. There is wireless internet, which is a bit like a Hungarian Orange: “a bit yellow and bit sour but Hungarian” – it’s slow and unreliable but much more than nothing. (You want to know what a Hungarian orange is, watch this short excerpt from one of the best ever satires of the late communist era Hungary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4wjQrV5A1c)

Let’s see some of the things a colleague of mine would say about the job:

  1. Teachers are underpaid
  2. Students are disinterested
  3. Professional development is a waste of time
  4. I can use a computer; I don’t need anybody to help me
  5. Lesson planning is a waste of time
  6. I’m paid to teach but not paid to attend meetings

Trying to bring the two together we can perhaps start a little grassroots movement:

  1. Make a bit of money on the side: teach Arabic/English on one of the Online course providers
  2. Get ideas from other teachers through Twitter, get your students on Twitter and see magic happen
  3. Spend an hour a day on Twitter and make a list of the most interesting things you learnt– present these at the next PD
  4. Having learnt to scavenge the net, add something to it. Create, organise your own content and you’ll learn new ways you can use the net
  5. See different lesson plans. Choose a topic and create a lesson plan you might be able to share with others
  6. Let’s meet when you have a question or something you want to share with the other teachers. Let’s meet online and talk about whatever you want to talk about.

I know that 4 months ago I would not have been able to come up with these suggestions. I know many other teachers have the same problems. Maybe some of these answers will help us become better teachers and colleagues.
Perhaps, if this model works, it may grow into something bigger and become Web 2.0 in the UAE.

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Tamas Lorincz Rome 2009

Tamas Lorincz is an English teacher who believes that a hedonistic search for pleasure in everything you do is a key to success.

After a brief and unsuccessful foray into mining engineering he found his real calling in being a teacher of English. He has worked in Hungary as a teacher, in Britain as a marketing executive and teacher trainer for a publishing company, in Iraqi Kurdistan as a dogsbody, presently trying to help teachers and students in the UAE (most of the time despite them).

He passionately searches for things that make teachers and students tick. This is how he discovered Web 2.0 and became a devoted advocate of using technology to motivate teachers and engage students.

His blog (http://tamaslorincz.edublogs.org) is hoping to develop into a source for sharing thoughts, information and materials with teachers. You can also find him on Twitter @tamaslorincz.