This interview in our ESL Around the World series is all about teaching English in Dubai!
We created this series to inspire people to take the plunge and teach English abroad. Each interview is with someone who has done it themselves, providing a real-life experience to show you what it’s really like. The interviews are brutally honest and straight to the point.
If you’re new to this series, we have lots of other interviews about teaching English in Oman, Thailand, Mexico, South Korea, and Kazakhstan amongst others. Be sure to check them out and feel free to hit us up for more info!
Now, on to today’s guest!
I’m Joseph Yamine from Roanoke, VA. I am the creator and first chairman of The Music and Gaming Festival held annually in Washington, D.C.
I completed my MFA in Professional Writing at USC in Hollywood in 2005 where I was fortunate enough to work with several award-winning writers and directors including Irvin Kershner (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) and Marc Norman (Shakespeare in Love).
Since then I have taught English, living in and traveling to over 45 countries. In March of 2018, I was inducted into Walter Day’s TwinGalaxies Hall of Fame.
What a resume! Now let’s get on with the interview!
Teaching English in Dubai
Where do you teach and what is your position?
My most recent contract was in Sharjah, UAE, just a few minutes past the northern border of Dubai. I taught English at a vocational high school to Emirati teenagers.
What are the hours and pay like?
The hours were a bit longer than typical high school hours (even by UAE standards). With commute, it was roughly a nine to ten-hour day.
In-class time was supposed to be about 4 hours, but they are frequently short-staffed and overload the faculty. One semester, I was in class for six hours in total. Another semester, I had to commute between two schools about thirty minutes apart. I taught the boys in the morning and the girls in the afternoon (national schools are gender-segregated in UAE).
The money was very good. Standard contracts in The Gulf range from $2500-$6000 a month. The lower pay-scale jobs often come with free housing and transport. The higher-paying jobs don’t. That’s where the extra money comes in.
They often give several benefits as well: spousal allowance, children’s education allowance, Abu Dhabi allowance (the most expensive city in the country), flight allowance, end-of-year bonuses, etc. It comes to about $50,000-$80,000 a year. I’ll discuss the taxation laws and cost of living further down the page.
What is a typical day like teaching English in Dubai?
The day starts relatively early, around 6:00 AM. You will need a car in The Gulf. Public transport is virtually non-existent. We’d fingerprint with an electronic machine to clock in around 7:00 AM. Again, you’ll be in class about half the day or more.
The rest of the day was lesson planning, marking papers, departmental meetings, and breaks in the staff room where we’d laugh about the general incompetence of middle management. The day would end at about 3:45 PM and we begin the commute home. (Standard high schools in UAE end closer to 2:00 PM.)
We taught by grade level. I was in charge of the 11th-grade boys. It was a typical high school; timings varied each semester. It’s all pretty standard CELTA-style material with surprisingly little adjustment considering the vocational nature of the school.
Classes were about 45 minutes long, but with English, we’d teach in double blocks, so about 100 minutes including a ten-minute break.
What are the pros and cons of teaching English in Dubai?
PROS – Well, the standard of living in The Gulf is pretty high. Dubai is especially glitzy, but that wears thin after a while (think Vegas without casinos).
There is a general convenience to the city. Every restaurant delivers, even Burger King and McDonald’s. They have more shopping malls and hotels (read: hotel pubs) per capita than any country in the world. It’s one of the few countries in that area where you can find a beer and a ham sandwich if you want.
Women can drive and are not required to wrap. UAE is very westernized because of the historic British influence, so yeah, you can live a reasonably laid-back decent life there. (And the money is good; see below.)
We did get lots of vacation days, about 8-10 weeks a year plus public holidays (plus about 15 paid sick days).
CONS – The students were generally not interested and hard to motivate, the boys far more than the girls. (Chinese students, by contrast, are well behaved and motivated.) And most employees in the administration had never taught classes in their life, so they showed a poor understanding and lack of support for teachers. Don’t get me started on curriculum development. Teaching in The Gulf is an extra-special challenge.
Temperatures in that part of the world can reach 120F (49C) in the summer months, so we tended to stay inside with the air conditioning.
Again, the administration is largely incompetent and uncaring about the employees. They can be demanding and unreasonable. It’s fun being sandwiched between lazy students and ill-informed management.
What do you need to teach English in Dubai?
They look for very specific Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, English and teaching-related. They also want a CELTA (or similar) and several years of prior teaching experience.
Dubai will not likely be your first teaching contract after graduation. Teach in China or Korea for three years first. Get that graduate diploma. Honestly, they like to see the CELTA more than the random B.A. in ESL because the CELTA is uniform and recognized the world over. They don’t have to research if your diploma is legitimate or not.
They do have this ridiculous process of getting your diplomas certified. You’d think they could just call your school for official sealed transcripts, but no. You mail your transcripts to the college in which they were obtained and they stamp them. You get that back and do the same for the city office of the school and then the state and federal level.
I imagine this is acceptable in, say, The U.K., a relatively small country, where everything goes through London. Now imagine, you did your B.A. in Washington, D.C. and your MFA in Los Angeles, and your CELTA in Budapest. That’s close to $500 in fees and postage, and it will take a few months.
You can start work there before these steps are complete, but it will be more difficult to do it once you are there. Again, the admins over there just don’t understand that other parts of the world might work a bit differently.
They will purchase and obtain your Visa for you. That’s nice of them. You’ll lose your passport for a few weeks, so make sure you purchase a SIM card in the airport the minute you pass through customs. And make sure you color photocopy your passport picture page. Government employers will return your passport to you in a few weeks.
I’ve heard some private employers will keep your passport in a safe to keep you from running, but I don’t think they do this to teachers and Western employees.
What’s the best way to find a job teaching English in Dubai?
Google. There are several websites out there. You can apply directly on the UAE Ministry of Labor website, or you can get an agent on a third-party website. I did the latter, but I’ve heard lots of success stories either way.
They have a big convention conference every March in Dubai called TESOL Arabia. If you can afford the plane ticket and hotel, show up with a few copies of your C.V. If you have the qualifications and experience, you’ll land a job.
Note that TESOL Arabia has recruiters for the entire Gulf; Saudi, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, etc. (For fun, your top pics would be Bahrain, UAE, and Oman. For the money, go with UAE, Kuwait, and Saudi.)
Why did you choose to live and teach English in Dubai? What did you like and dislike about it?
I went for the paycheck.
As you can see from my responses above, it wasn’t exactly my favorite job, but the money was great. And again, it’s not so bad living there aside from the heat.
What is the cost of living like compared to your earnings? Are you able to save money?
Yeah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are expensive, like $30,000-$40,000 a year. But you’re getting paid $80,000 a year in a country with zero income tax laws. And Americans can use the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion laws.
If you’re there with your spouse (who might have a hard time finding work if he/she doesn’t have a contract lined up like you) and children, it will be harder to save money. If you go there single, you’ll save a bundle.
Try not to get too sucked into the lifestyle. It’s like Tokyo, way too easy to spend money. I mean, I got out in a year and traveled all over the world and still came home with enough savings to last another year. Oh, and I paid off the last $12,000 on my student loans too.
Have you taught in another city or country before?
I worked in China before Dubai. Before that, I taught for several years at a local college near my hometown.
I honestly hated living in China because I was living at a brand new university in a remote swamp far north of Beijing. It was an hour to Yingkou and three hours to Dalian, and there was nothing in between except roads and swamps and oil fields. There was one school cafeteria and the biggest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. And the money was not much better than teaching here at home.
The main contrast was the students. In China, I had perhaps the best students I’ve ever worked with. They were all so eager and attentive and studious and polite. They were so engaging, and many of them have since found me online to reconnect with me. I can’t believe they remember me of all their teachers (but then I was the only non-Chinese person on campus). If I hadn’t been miserable living there, I might have stayed a bit longer.
So “Dubai vs. China” is “money and quality of life vs. fulfilling work.”
What advice do you have for people thinking about teaching English abroad?
If you’re young and just getting started, take the low-end job in Colombia or China or wherever and travel around. Forget about shaving and body deodorant. Just backpack and explore. Teach for the fun of it.
Once you’ve got the experience and you’ve grown a bit, go for the job in The Gulf and save up as much as you can. If this is what you want to do, get started on all of it sooner rather than later. (It gets a bit harder as you get older, settling down, maybe starting a family, etc.)
And at the end of it all, just get a map and go.
I just want to thank Joe for all of that detailed information! I really appreciate the honesty. Teaching English abroad presents its own unique challenges that require an open mind and sometimes a lot of patience to deal with. It’s helpful to understand these things in order to truly decide if it’s the right move for you.
If you’re already an experienced English teacher and you’re interested in teaching English in Dubai or anywhere else in the Gulf Coast, then I think Joe has provided enough resources to help get you started!
However, if you’re just starting out and want to work your way up to the necessary qualifications to teach English in Dubai, then you should get started right now.
Get a TEFL Certificate Online
You can easily get your TEFL certificate online. Getting your certificate online allows you to go at your own pace and fit it into your busy schedule. Plus, it’s much cheaper and less of a commitment than getting a CELTA, which is what Joe mentioned schools in the UAE would rather see on a C.V. (Click here to read about the different English teaching certifications.)
My advice would be to start with the online TEFL certificate to see if teaching English is even a good fit for you. Then, you can invest the time and money into getting a CELTA if you end up loving it and want to make a career out of it.
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Thank you so much for reading this interview! If you have any other questions about teaching abroad don’t hesitate to contact us. Cheers 🙂
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