Are teachers in Dubai overworked?
Teachers in particular agree that it's difficult to strike the right balance between work and play
The UAE's year-round sunshine and tax-free salaries are a big lure for many expatriates. But a recent study found that 56 per cent of the UAE workers think their work-life balance is 'awful'.
The survey, by salary-benchmarking site Emolument.com, proved that while these locations are attractive to professionals, employers expect a high commitment in return for that extra cash.
Teachers in particular agree that it's difficult to strike the right balance between work and play.
In a poll conducted by Khaleej Times, 87 per cent of the 300 teachers polled said they worked "longer hours in the UAE" compared to back home. And the majority, 32 per cent, said they worked between 40-49 hours per week, on average.
For Grade 5 English Teacher (US curriculum) TS, her workload is "average" compared to some, but she told Khaleej Times that most of her colleagues complain about increased paperwork.
She said she spends a lot of time doing "bureaucratic tasks", and they are increasing by the day.
"I do feel my time can be better spent on actually planning my lessons rather than all the useless administration tasks."
And when Khaleej Times asked the 300 respondents how much time they spend on tasks considered "unnecessary or bureaucratic", a staggering 37 per cent said between 1-1.5 hours, and 36 per cent said between 2-3 hours each day.
RI is the head of the mathematics department at an Indian curriculum school here. He said teaching is a dedicated job and demands "huge hard work".
And ex-teacher, Clive Pierrepont, Director of Communications at Taaleem said in his experience "the very best always sacrifice their own time for the benefit of their classes, regardless of external pressures".
Not just a local issue
Although the UAE is an attractive place to work with lots of career opportunities, the trend seems to suggest that it's not the place to stay long-term.
Just 18 per cent of our respondents said they planned to stay teaching in the UAE for five to six years, while 54 per cent said they'd only stay for up to four years.
And many are of the consensus that it's because teachers are struggling to cope with heavier workloads. For British Primary School teacher VM, location only plays a small part in this workload trend.
"I think overburden of work is a common complaint among teachers full stop, regardless of where they are around the world."
She said that teachers are "undervalued", and in the UAE a 10-hour day in school is standard - and that's not adding the "marking, report writing and other tasks" carried out at home.
"The holidays don't compensate for our workload. And often teachers are doing extra work to earn additional income or professional development during those holiday periods anyway. I don't think this is necessarily a Dubai story, it's a worldwide story.
How to keep them satisfied
Shaun Robison is the Co-Founder of UAE Learning Network.
He told Khaleej Times that many teachers look to start their international careers here, but if schools don't offer the right incentives to compensate for the workload increase, they tend to look elsewhere.
"The bottleneck for teacher-jobs comes from a select group of schools that teachers are racing to get to. These schools pay well, and treat their teachers professionally. When teachers move here, they learn about these schools and wait for opportunities to come up. If unsuccessful, they look at different countries."
And sadly, these types of schools are "not in abundance" here, he said.
According to a 2015 OECD report, the UAE's teacher turnover is high here and Robison said this is in large part linked to housing and salary.
"For many, professional training does not replace those two and teachers will compare their housing and salary with other teachers and move when the opportunity comes up."
To hold on to good teachers here and compensate for the heavy workloads, Robison said the formula is "pretty simple".
"Put the teachers in a good location, with good amenities, pay them well so they don't want to leave. This will create continuity within the school and parents will see the value," he said.
How increased workloads affect teachers, students
For teachers overburdened by work, it can often result in a lack of motivation and energy, poor teaching skills, and low self-esteem.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Fadwa Lkorchy, Counsellor at German Neuroscience Centre (GNC) said she has treated many teachers here for issues such as depressive mood, physical health issues, anger issues, and developing learned self-helplessness and pessimism.
"Most teachers in the UAE complain of being overworked, especially in public and low budget private schools."
She said they often feel overwhelmed with the "student/teacher ratio, the extra time they need to put in to meet the demands of the curriculum, and parental reliance".
But not only does work overload affect the well-being of the teacher, she said it negatively impacts students, too.
"A teacher is a role model, and spends more time with the student than his parents. If the teacher is unhappy, then trust, learning and communication are negatively affected. It becomes a toxic relationship, not one of nurture, development, and positive regards."
And in these cases, the teacher can tend to miss the identification of students in need of extra help, and they often allow for mediocracy in the classroom.
When it comes to the typical complaints of teachers, Lkorchy said lack of resources, low wages, lack of professional development, and lack of personal satisfaction are some of the main drivers pushing teachers to the edge.
And the typical signs and symptoms associated with overworked teachers are: tiredness, recklessness, disinterest in the job, lack of innovation, avoidance, escapism, decline in values and principles, and anger or been overly emotional.
For those feeling at a loss, Lkorchy said they need to reach out to the school administration, set their priorities within realistic expectations for themselves, and work on developing a "work-life balance by making sure they eat healthy, exercise, and spend me time alone or with their loved ones".
"Try not to focus on the negativity of the situation, but zoom in on the positives and the good you are doing by becoming better at it."
Work-life balance - the work load in the UAE
A hot topic of recent conversation in the UAE has been the workload of teachers.
As a school community, we recognise a work-life balance is crucial. I think it is true there is a perception that the workload of teachers is demanding in the UAE. The expectations are high here in Dubai in the drive for outstanding schools.
To counteract this, a focus for our school this year has been well-being. At Greenfield we pride ourselves on being a happy school, we enjoy superb staff-student relationships.
Initiatives that we are trying out include: a well-being room, staff yoga, morning boot camps, desert and theatre trips, and a general recognition that what staff do positively to develop themselves will have a positive impact on their teaching and our students' learning.
We have staff members involved in the Rugby 7's, Crossfit, triathlons, and marathons.
We think this also sets a good example for students in balancing their lives - children need time to play and socialise, not just sitting in front of their laptop doing countless hours of homework every night.
We are currently running an initiative focusing on girls' participation in PE. We are also very proud of our students leading the way through their participation in international sporting competitions such as swimming, cycling and fencing.
After all, we are an IB school and one of the IB learner profile attributes is balanced, which is very much about the holistic nature of learning.
It sounds so simple, but it takes a conscious effort to close down the computer.
Dubai is looking to address this, which is great, through a focus on wellbeing.
We, as school leaders, have a responsibility to watch our teachers, and ourselves, for signs of burn out.
Going forward, I think the UAE needs to look very carefully at the balance between the hunger for development, and managing the health of its workforce.
Neil Bunting Head of School (Secondary)Greenfield Community School
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