TEFL In The Middle East

by Katie  

Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, and for TEFL purposes, several -stans and other states I personally consider “resistant” to simple categorization as Europe or Asia: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan.

Explanation: Much like a Middle Eastern market, the TEFL Logue Middle East page will include information on a nice hodge podge of countries. Why? Some countries regularly defy categorization, and more power to them for that. Frankly, the –stan’s just don’t seem to fit in Europe or Asia, and Egypt especially is bound to be left out for some time if I categorize it in Africa, given how thin on the ground EFL is in Africa generally. But mainly – because this is the TEFL Logue and I said so. And you may not leave the table till you finish your beans either.

Salary And Qualifications
Considering how far your salary will go “back home”, with the US or UK as the measuring stick (as opposed to how well you can live by local standards) you’ll find the highest salaries in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states like Oman and the UAE. Not surprisingly, jobs in these countries tend to require higher than average qualifications – frequently an MA and a couple years of experience. At the other end, Turkey and Egypt probably offer the most entry-level opportunities. These usually require a BA and TEFL certificate.

Job Search
In contrast to other regions, It is relatively rare to conduct a job search in person in many parts of the Middle East. Part of the reason is probably just tradition, but another part is probably because a) you need a visa to get in and b) it’s expensive to be a tourist. Online job sites like Tefl.com or professional recruiting sites are the way to go.

Conditions
In the Middle East it is common for housing – and often quite nice accommodation – to be included as part of the package.

Reports of students peg them as sometimes rowdy and hard to discipline. Compared to other regions, university or other school positions seem more common than language school positions in the Middle East, so you may have more tools – grades – to encourage good behavior here than elsewhere. Working with students from rarely-visited countries anywhere, especially in the more or less neutral environment of the EFL classroom, can provide some interesting and valuable insight. Given the political climate these days, that experience in the Middle East could be very relevant in a positive way.

The culture – especially in the more conservative countries – may be the biggest “condition” to be aware of and consequently, adapt to for many teachers. Saudi Arabia is likely the most extreme example: you probably know you can’t buy alcohol, but did you know there are no movie theaters? Of course in different cultures people find different ways to pass the time, and for those who are or become accustomed to this, Saudi Arabia’s cinema-free status is not necessarily such a big deal. Cultural norms relating to dress and behavior, especially for women in some countries, can be also be very different from those in the west. Being open-minded and tolerant of other ways is certainly a must, but your willingness and ability to adapt to norms you may not be fully “down with” is also crucial. Keep in mind that this is also a point in the introduction to the JET program in Japan, so it is not as if adhering to different cultural norms is an issue only in the Middle East.

Ads often specify male or female teachers because students are grouped by gender and teachers need to be of the same gender; female teachers may face some very different cultural norms, including some related to attire, that need to be met all the time, not just when in class.

Those from the US sometimes express concern about visiting the Middle East at all in that current political climate. There are others who can speak more authoritatively than me, and based on their personal experience, but I have heard again and again that while US politics are unpopular in the Middle East, people do not make such a strong tie between individuals and their governments. In fact I’ve heard it said that Americans tend to identify strongly with the US government, and expect others to identify just as strongly with their own respective governments or hold “us” responsible for ours….but they don’t, or they don’t as much as “we” expect them to. In other words, the fact that your students can’t stand W. or US policy does not mean that they won’t like you. Check out Encounters With The Middle East and look for Kidnapped by Syrian Hospitality for an account of one Middle Eastern country by none other than former EFL teacher Jeff of Pigs in the Toilet. … is another interesting account.

Egypt: A part of the Middle East on the African continent, Egypt offers entry-level EFL opportunities and scents, sights and sounds that are said to leave your sense reeling.
IELTS In Iran: How far Iran will open to native speaking EFL teachers remains to be seen, but there is a demand for English.
Kazakhstan: Get there with the Peace Corps, with VSO, or through an advertised EFL opening. But get there.
Saudi Arabia: maybe the Middle Eastern country which is “most different” from your own country. It’s not for everyone, but Saudi Arabia offers unique opportunities for those who are up for the challenge and appropriately qualified.

Blogs: Cairogal (Egypt and UAE, several Middle East blogs in the blogroll), Dave’s ESL Cafe on Gulf Bloggers, A Foreign Perspective (Turkey), ESL Teacher Training Diaries – Hilal in Istanbul

Interviews: Teach English In Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, Richard In Turkey, Former Peace Corps Volunteer Bob on Kazakhstan, Former Peace Corps Volunteer Andy on Kyrgyzstan

Job Sites: Bayt Recruiting (thanks to Tedkarma, EFL teacher and teacher trainer with extensive experience, including in Saudi Arabia), Dave’s ESL Cafe International Jobs and Middle East Job Discussion Forums, Tefl.com, ESL Job Feed.

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