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For the TESOL teacher the countries that comprise the bulk of the Middle East include Dubai and the rest of the UAE, Bahrain, Israel, Palestine, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. As a region it has many stark contrasts. The oil-rich states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, offer generous salaries, and very pleasant living facilities. At the other end of the scale Palestine, on account of its difficulties, attracts few TESOL teachers.
Even within the oil-rich states one can find considerable contrast. For example, Qatar is engaged in a programme of rigorous westernisation - including the free availability of alcohol; however, in Saudi Arabia, one is dealing with very much more an Islamic state. In general TESOL teachers report of the region that the salaries are considerable; however, there is very little to do; hence, it is a region dominated by the hard-core, professional TESOL teacher, out to make a good living and build up some savings, and then perhaps move on somewhere else.
It should also be noted that in many states single women are at a serious disadvantage. Posts are often advertised for single males only, or to married couples. A woman may, for example, be able to teach in Saudi, but she won’t be able to drive a car or go out without being clothed from head to foot!
The oil economy has meant that English is a necessity, even if it is sometimes grudgingly accepted as such. On the other hand, in places like Qatar it is becoming the first language and is part of a great move forward. With all this said, there is, in general a great deal of opportunity for well-compensated work and very good conditions.
Given the high salaries in the region it is not surprising that the highest qualifications are demanded. Not simply a TESOL qualification, but also an undergraduate degree, and often an MA in TESOL or comparative linguistics, and three years’ teaching experience! The irony being that you may need all that baggage, just to teach high-school children elementary English.
Outside of the official education system there is a plethora of language institutes, and these tend to be on the lookout for well-presented, confident candidates, and, of course, all the qualifications you can muster will help you gravitate to the better institutes. Another thing to be aware of is that many companies run in-house English language training, and these tend to be the better paid, more stable and predictable posts.
One of the peculiarities of the region is that students - even in a group of thirty - feel they have an individual relationship with the teacher, and that their questions should be answered immediately, even if twenty students have just asked the same questions. Some TESOL teachers complain that nine years of high school English appears to have taken little hold on the students, who often have very rudimentary problems. What this means is that you may have to work and be prepared to innovate and adapt in order to qualify for the substantial salaries on offer.
The visa situation varies with each Middle Eastern State. One should enquire with the relevant consulate in your home country, and at the same time make it clear that you wish to go and teach. This may yield some useful leads. In general, in order to get a visa, one should be ready to submit copies of education certificates, a blood test and medical report, and a resume or CV. Tourist visas for most of these countries are very difficult to get.
Your visa requirements and entitlements will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with the host country. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your? How can this be converted into a work permit?
Think also about exit and re-entry visas, often required in the region. You might like to take a holiday to Bahrain from Saudi. What does the exit and re-entry visa cost? What is the process?
Bahrain is probably the most liberal of the oil states, and as such attracts many TESOL teachers, including women. Israel has such a high proportion of ex-pat English speakers that there is not much of a market. Palestine is really for the person wanting to do a bit of good, rather than earn any money. There are a great many voluntary agencies active in the area and this is the best route to teaching in the region. In Kuwait salaries are not quite as high as they once were; however, there are many organisations seeking to lure highly-qualified teachers to the country. Lebanon is trying hard to recover from its war, and is looking toward a fruitful future. English looks set to overtake French as the official second language - much to the chagrin of the French and - whilst salaries are not high, there is a lot of opportunity for the less well qualified TESOL teacher. In Oman a very peculiar situation exists where most of the ex-pat teachers are from the Sudan, Sri Lanka, India and North Africa. Historically, it has been the case that few westerners have had much of a look in, nevertheless, there is a fast expanding TESOL market, and it is worth having a go. Qatar is a tiny desert country, bordering the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia. It is experiencing great growth in the TESOL market.
Although Arabic is the official language, English is widely spoken, and in 2003 the authorities announced sweeping reforms placing English in front of Arabic in the school curriculum. It’s a very wealthy state, and offers some of the best packages around for TESOL teachers. In Saudi Arabia expatriate packages are still very attractive, but as in all the oil-rich states, you may just as easily find yourself teaching local bureaucrats as school children. Much the same as other oil states, you will probably find yourself living on in an expatriate compound, with good facilities and a good standard of living, but not a whole lot to do. At the other end of the scale Syria is a poor country, and whilst there are many opportunities available in the growing TESOL market, salaries are rather low for the region. Finally, Yemen is considered by many to be the most beautiful and intriguing countries in the region. That said, salaries are, again, not that great; however, many find its history and culture very engaging.
If you are thinking about the Middle East then a modicum of preparation prior to setting out will pay dividends. Think of not one country, but the whole region. You may come to value mobility once you hit this part of the world. Hence, it is a very good idea to contact all of the Middle Eastern embassies in your country of origin, enquiring about teaching and visas, and see what you get back. You will find that you have a nice big file folder of leads and information, but will vary from country of origin to country of origin, embassy to embassy.
Due to visa restrictions it is practically impossible to get a job on the spot. You need to fix up a post in advance, and there are a number of avenues you can pursue in order to achieve this.
Many embassies in the region act as recruiting agents for their home country, hence the advice above. In addition to this the British Council is active in all of the countries in the region, and may be able to provide you with a list of schools in your chosen country.
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around a contract that gives you a work permit, and then, bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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