And then there’s the truly evil things that happen here.
People get attacked in these schools
In Zakher, in 2011, a cleaner took a photo of some students on her cell phone. The girls formed a mob, chased her down, and brutally beat her in front of the Western advisors (including a personal friend of mine). They reported it to the administration, ADEC, and the police. Admin and the police agreed the cleaner deserved it for taking the photo; ADEC stayed mum, and no one was punished.
I met a guy at a conference who claimed a student had attempted to rape him in his school out in the desert past Al Ain. He’d pushed him away and the student had backed off, but the incident was jarring, nonetheless.
One teacher left in December 2010 after learning several of his students had gang raped a maid and been told by the police to simply lay low for a few weeks. When he asked them why they’d been absent, they told him the story. He was too horrified to stay on after that.
My colleague in Abu Dhabi related a story about a teacher who had grabbed a water bottle from a student, accidentally spilling some on his traditional kandora. This student reacted badly, calling his brother, a policeman, who showed up at school and, together with his younger brother, attacked and beat this teacher. No charges were filed.
In Umm Ghaffa, outside Al Ain, numerous allegations of rape and assault filtered out every time you talked to someone who worked there. The Cycle 3 boys were allegedly climbing over the fence and raping Cycle 1 boys so routinely that the administrations of both schools had to come up with a special plan to prevent this. Upon inspection day, one photo of a student had to be taken down by the staff because he was notorious for being a local rapist.
In May 2013, one colleague at my school in Abu Dhabi was almost gang beaten by a group of grade 10s for trying to remove a student who had entered his classroom without his permission. The students photographed the incident and posted it online. Again, no charges were filed.
None of these incidents were reported in the newspapers and no charges were ever filed. Police were often complicit in covering these stories up. ADEC rarely did much about it.
Of course, don’t merely take my word for it. (See: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/courts/private-school-faces-dh5m-lawsuit-after-sex-attack-on-girl-7-abu-dhabi-court-told, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/girl-11-attacked-in-playground-was-near-to-death, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/education/rowdy-pupils-scare-away-newly-arrived-expat-teachers)
You have zero rights and the embassy can neither protect nor help you
Upon stepping off the plane, you’ve lost your rights to free speech, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and any other rights you’ve grown accustomed to. If you’re categorized as Muslim, you’ve also lost freedom of religion, as you cannot openly change your religion. Although the UAE Constitution provides for all these rights, none of them have ever been enforced.
In 2011, some ADEC teachers, unhappy about some HR issue, reportedly brought camping equipment to ADEC’s head office and intended on staying until their needs were addressed. They were fired and deported, according to the story.
One man who arrived with me in 2009 was arrested and deported for having a blacklisted disease. I still don’t know what that disease was, but he spent several weeks in jail for it.
ADEC has threatened its employees more than once about talking to the press. If you’re quoted in a newspaper here saying anything but praise, you can lose your job. My contract had a stipulation that I can be terminated for maligning ADEC’s reputation. This was only written in Arabic. Contracts are not standard and have changed over time, so I don’t know if this is still the situation.
You do not have the right to choose where you work or live. ADEC can dictate this to you. They do allow transfers, but typically only after a year of service.
The consular powers of the embassies located here are very limited. If you’re arrested for breaking local law, expect local punishment and local jail time. Your embassy will not get you out despite the allegations of torture in these prisons. (See: http://news.sky.com/story/1085402/dubai-torture-claims-cameron-presses-uae) About the only thing the embassy can do for you is replace your lost or stolen passport quickly. They can also demand the UAE government turn over that passport if they are, for some reason, holding it. But they have no powers to help you otherwise.
You can be arrested without charge or evidence
In spring 2012, a personal friend of mine, a head teacher in Dubai, learned one of his staff members had been arrested for publicly having sex with another man at a gas station between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Everyone thought the guy was an idiot; you don’t even do that in the West, let alone in a country where homosexuality is a death penalty crime. (See: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/courts/teacher-jailed-for-drunken-public-sex-with-another-man)
Later, however, we learned that the charges were apparently made up. The court case was not open and the man’s due process rights not observed. His confession may have been extracted under duress or torture. My friend said that the Emirati witness saw something but misinterpreted it. Regardless, it’s impossible to know because of the media blackout.
One of my colleagues in Abu Dhabi was arrested for telling a student he was acting like a fool at his prior school. This student had a father in the police who overreacted. He was eventually released and allowed to continue to work. Had that father been more of an asshole, he might have faced jail time.
The new Cyber Crimes Law makes online discussions criminal
Even if you just need to vent, or want some support for your situation, doing so is now criminal. Anything that maligns the reputation of the emirates, its rulers, or the government is a criminal and deportable offense. Although I’ve not yet heard of this law being implemented except to harass and arrest Emirati bloggers who are increasingly challenging the government, it’s only a matter of time before Westerners and teachers in general are caught by it. (See: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/07/2011717213325459958.html)
Lack of support by administration results in feral children
I went from a very good administration to a very bad one in the same school. The 2011-12 school year was a very easy year for me. Teachers were respected; students behaved well; we could do our job. The following year was a stark contrast. A new principal arrived and refused to manage the school, preferring to arrive late and eat more.
The students, especially the newly-arrived grade 10s, went feral. Incidents of disrespect, fighting , and vandalism increased. During an end-of-the-school year play, students openly shouted insults at their peers on stage as the principal was sitting directly in front of them. He did nothing. I myself was almost overwhelmed with students demanding to leave to go to the bathroom, presumably to smoke. Again, the principal did nothing.
At one point in the spring of 2013, I was in administration making copies and witnessed a student completely covered in blood wandering the hall, looking to clean himself. He was in clear view of the principal, who was on the phone with – and I shit you not here – his finger up his nose. He did not even stir and I have no idea what happened to the students who beat this kid up.
One of the Tunisian teachers ended the year by saying the grade 10s had become actual savages. For many of them, I had to agree.
Students’ level of English can be so low as to make teaching impossible
In addition, some will insult you in Arabic. By the second year, I had acquired enough Arabic to understand a few of these insults and thereby shut much of it down. Many teachers don’t bother and spend a lot of time shouting at their students while their students cuss back at them in their native language. Don’t expect admin to fix this; they’ll blame you for not knowing Arabic, if they even go through the effort of assigning blame at all.
Parents often reflect their students – with disastrous results
Good students mean good parents. That much is obvious. But bad students mean just as awful parents, who may choose to insult you, try to fight you, or simply undermine you at every turn. Even if a student is absent every single day of the year, these kinds of parents will still expect you to pass their kid. Worse, admins will often back them.
Cheating is rampant, tolerated, and even encouraged
Some schools attempt to get higher marks by helping their students cheat. I witnessed this for two straight years in Al Ain as the principal and the department head of whatever subject was being examined wandering from hall to hall, giving out answers. Students understood this was the game and therefore didn’t put much effort into class.
Even under a good principal, it was hard for me to break the cycle of cheating. It took nearly the full school year before my students learned to stop trying, as I would catch them and admin would back me when I failed them. In Al Ain, I was forced to tolerate it because admin would not allow me to fail cheaters. The principal often just shouted enough until he got what he wanted, but he always had the authority go into the system and change the marks behind my back anyway.
It is endemic of the system engendered here by the government’s handouts. Students have grown spoiled in too many cases; what’s worse, the adults in the room indulge and encourage them to remain so.
(See: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/uae-students-justify-cheating-research-reveals-1.126060, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/education/pupils-have-been-cheating-since-kindergarten, http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/education/university-expels-34-students-for-cheating)
Your accommodation might fall down
Sure, there’s the articles linked to on Wikipedia about the infamous courtyard collapse. But off the newspapers, many teachers have ended up in substandard housing, including myself. In Al Ain especially, the housing started off nice but became shit. This is less ADEC’s fault than the shoddy building practices of the UAE in general. Nothing lasts. Even if your place starts nice, it will go to shit quickly. People don’t maintain things well and inspectors don’t inspect very much. Therefore, very few buildings last long.