I’d always been told how difficult it was to find a teaching job in the UAE, especially if you have limited experience, are a new graduate, or returning to the profession after a long absence like me. Apparently the pay is better than most places around the world for a nomadic teacher, and the additional benefits are pretty good too, so the competition for places is tough. But the truth is I found it really easy to get job offers, and I’m here to tell you how you can get them too.
To give you some idea of what I had to offer any prospective schools in the UAE, let me give you a little background on my qualifications and experience. I graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Tasmania in Australia in 1999, and spent 2000 and 2001 teaching a Grade 3 then Grade 5 class at a school in London. I moved back to Australia and spent the next three years as a relief teacher on the Gold Coast and in my home town of Melbourne. Before leaving on our travels in early 2014 I did a 140-hour Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course, and taught at various schools part-time for two months in Chiang Mai, Thailand before arriving in the UAE.
So there you have it, my qualifications are an Education degree and TEFL certificate, two years as a full-time teacher, three years as a relief teacher, then a gap of 10 years before a couple of months teaching English part-time in Thailand. When you stack that up against most working teachers out there, I probably come in just below average, or somewhere in the middle at best. I hadn’t taught for 10 years when I arrived in the UAE, and while the TEFL qualification is better than nothing, it’s not that important if you just want to be a classroom teacher. However, it does come in handy if your goal is simply to get a teaching job in a school, as they do offer English as a Second Language classes.
Before arriving in the UAE I contacted a couple of agencies about finding teaching work, but at the time I didn’t know how long we’d be staying so couldn’t commit for any more than 4-6 months. Because of the terrific benefits you get as a teacher in the UAE and the cost of those benefits to the school, the absolute minimum commitment is one year, while most schools will need you to sign a two year contract. One agency was quite blunt when they said they wouldn’t be able to get me work because I’d been out of the teaching game for so long. Others were happy with my qualifications and said they could probably find work for me, but I couldn’t commit for 12-24 months so I gave the agencies a miss.
Before I go on, let’s take a look at what benefits you get as a teacher. This will give you some insight into the offers I received a little later in the post.
- Wages – depending on how many years of experience you’ve got, you’ll probably earn somewhere between 7,000 and 15,000AED ($AU2,000 – $AU4,300) tax free.
- Accommodation – your circumstances will depend on the kind of accommodation you’re offered. Because I’m married with a child, we were offered an apartment to ourselves. If you’re a single person you may be required to share accommodation with another teacher or two. Either way, your accommodation and utilities are covered.
- Flights to and from the UAE – If you’ve applied from your home country, you’ll be flown to the UAE to start your contract, and after each year of service you’ll be given a return flight home (or one way if you’ve finished your contract). You’ll probably have to pay for the flights of any partners and children, but these could be included too if you’re lucky.
- Health insurance – This will be covered for you at least, and if you’re lucky, your family could be covered too.
- Furniture allowance – When you move into your new apartment, you’ll need furniture right? Well the school should give you an allowance for this, generally up to 20,000AED.
- End of year bonus – At the end of each 12 months of service you are entitled, by law, to a monetary bonus of one month’s salary. However, make sure it’s the full month. Some employees break monthly salary down into different components (basic salary, bonuses, benefits, etc.) and when you think you’re going to get a full month’s salary, sometimes you find just the basic salary component in your bank account.
So there you have it, the list of benefits you may get when employed as a teacher here in the UAE. Pretty impressive right? This is why the competition for places is intense and the better your qualifications and experience, the better chance you’ll have. No matter your situation, you can can have success finding a teaching job in the UAE and I’m going to tell you how.
Generally speaking teaching positions are filled by agencies towards the end of the previous school year (which finishes in late June – the new school year starts in late August/early September). So if you want to find a job before coming here, make sure you plan a long time in advance. However, there are ways around this as I was to discover. We arrived in the UAE on August 1, so the school year was to start in around four weeks and I hadn’t even begun searching for a job. My plan was to get in touch with the local Education Departments and go door knocking at local schools, explain my situation and try and get some relief teaching work for a few months before moving on. But within a few days of being here Sarah and I decided that perhaps a good idea would be to stay for 12 months, save some money and carry on with our adventure through Europe with a bit more financial security. I had no idea how I was going to get a job at this late stage, but as I was to discover, it was much easy than I expected.
There are three reason why it was so easy, and why you shouldn’t worry if you’ve got limited experience or you’ve been out of the teaching game for a while:
- Teachers change their mind – As I mentioned earlier most teaching positions are filled towards the end of the previous school year by agencies on behalf of schools. However, a lot of teachers get cold feet in the mean time, or they get offered opportunities elsewhere so pull out of jobs they’d agreed to take in the UAE (and probably in other countries as well for that matter). So when the following school year comes around, a lot of schools are looking for teachers in a hurry.
- Schools get unexpected growth – During the summer holiday enrolment period some schools experience more children enrolling than expected. The UAE, particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are growing rapidly with a lot of foreigners coming here to work. So sometimes schools need to find extra teachers to cope with the increased demand.
- I was here – Schools didn’t need to pay for my flights because I was already here. I could speak to them on the phone, via Skype or in person. I could visit the school and I could start almost immediately. The convenience for the schools, and for me, is clear.
We’d decided the best place for us was Dubai, even though we’d been staying in Abu Dhabi with a friend of Sarah’s, so I started contacting schools in the area. In hindsight, as a young family, it would have been better for us to live in Abu Dhabi, but that’s another story.
After a phone call to the Dubai Education Council (+971 (0)4 3640000), I was directed to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority website (www.khda.gov.ae/en/directory). You’ll be directed to a page where you can find the contact details of all schools, universities and training institutes in Dubai. I simply searched for all schools who taught curriculums I felt I could pick up quickly given I’d been out of the classroom as a full-time teacher for a decade, i.e. UK, US, IB, UK/IB and US/IB. All up I fired off about 80 emails in the space of 24 hours. They were all fairly generic emails, copied and pasted with a change or two where necessary, but I just explained I was here in the UAE looking for work and was wondering if any opportunities were available given teachers may have pulled out of contracts at the last minute.
I didn’t really know what to expect, I thought I was clutching at straws, but the response was better than I could have imagined. Within 24 hours I had 5-6 interviews set up, either over the phone, via Skype or in person, and I was confident from the initial contact I’d be able to get a job. In fact, I was sure I’d have a few jobs to pick from which turned out to be the case.
After the interviews I was offered several jobs, and my lack of recent experience didn’t seem to be an issue at all. Most schools get their teachers back a couple of weeks before the school year starts to do an intensive induction where new teachers can learn the expectations of the school, become familiar with the curriculum and meet the other teachers. There are also year group coordinators who help guide new teachers throughout the school year which put my mind at ease. So new teachers, and teachers like me, shouldn’t have any fear when moving to a school for the first time in the UAE.
So what were my offers like? Well, I’ll go through two I received that were completely different from each other.
This was a brand new school who had experienced a larger than expected enrolment over the summer months, so were in need of new teachers. I was going to start by teaching a grade 3 class while they looked for full-time teacher, after which time I would become the second TEFL teacher. My interview lasted 10 minutes over the phone and I was offered the job immediately. It was much easier than I thought it was going to be. The principal who I spoke with was Scottish, seemed like a great guy and we hit it off straight away. He took my five years of teaching experience into account when this contract offer arrived via email:
- Salary: just over 12,000AED per month
- Accommodation: A furnished apartment for our family with all utilities included
- Health Insurance: I’d be fully covered, but I’d have to cover Sarah and Jack
- Flights: A flight home at the end of the school year for myself, but I’d have to pay for Sarah and Jack
- Bonus: One month salary bonus at the end of the year
- Contract: One year
This school had a teacher pull out at the last minute and was looking for a replacement at short notice. I was to teach a grade 2 class for the whole year. I spoke with the Assistant Principal, who was in England at the time, via Skype for about 45 minutes. After the interview she said she had to speak with the Board and would email me an offer within 24 hours. Unfortunately they didn’t take my five years of teaching experience into account when the offer arrived:
- Salary: 12,700AED per month, inclusive of all additional benefits. The basic salary was 7,000AED, with the remaining 5,700AED constituting accommodation, furniture, heath insurance, flights, and end of year bonus.
- Accommodation: The use of an apartment for two months while we found our own accommodation. The school would assist in the process of finding suitable accommodation, and the rent is included in the 12,700AED salary offer.
- Contract: 2 years
Obviously Offer One is much better for me, given I’ve got a family to support and we only wanted to be here for a year. Offer Two is for a new or recent graduate who is single and can share accommodation with other teachers in a similar situation, benefiting from a couple of years teaching and living in a foreign country. What both offers show is that it doesn’t matter what your experience is, or what your circumstances are, there are positions available for you in the UAE if you’re prepared to show a bit of initiative and make something happen.
The obvious advantage for us was we were here, ready to go. So if you’re prepared to take the risk, and you’ve had no luck getting a job through an agency at the end of the previous school year, then perhaps you should go to the UAE and find a job yourself using the advice in this post. Having said that, my interviews could easily have been done from Australia via Skype or over the phone, and if successful, jumped on the next plane to Dubai. Either way, don’t let a little thing like rejection get you down. I was rejected by a teaching agency who cited a lack of recent experience, yet found it easy finding a teaching job in the UAE with a good salary and benefits. And you can too!