Joined: 16 Nov 2005
|Posted: Sat Sep 22, 2007 10:11 pm Post subject: Teaching in Egypt- A Primer
|A few years back I wrote this email to a guy interested in teaching in Egpyt. I just refound it and thought I'd pass my experiences on the those interested in teaching there:
This is my second year teaching in Cairo. I was hired at the UNI fair. The school I am currently teaching at is one of the better second tier schools in Cairo. Which means there are a few expectations for our kids as far as learning. That being said, my school does change student grades at the end of the year, has massive discipline problems and is very poorly run. Teaching at my school has been the worst work experience of my life. But it's also been very rewarding. I figure if I can teach these kids I can teach anybody anywhere. It just can't get any worse.
Scare you off yet?
If not keep reading.
Let's talk specifics for a minute: I was hired to teach high school history. My first year I earned $16,400. My second year $17,600. I was paid half Egyptian pounds and half U.S. dollars. My wife was hired at my school after we arrived. She was paid 6,000 Egyptian pounds a month (about $1,000 a month). This is a very good wage for a "local hire." Meaning someone not hired overseas. We also received 600 pounds each to pay for our housing. This year my housing allowance was raised to 700 pounds (when I say pounds I always mean Egyptian pounds). In my contract I was supposed to have half my international health insurance paid for, but the school refused, saying it was too expensive. I get my flight home and back paid for each year. My wife did not.
All of the above money things are fairly low for international schools here. But Egypt is a VERY inexpensive place to live. We have a great flat, a house cleaner, eat out all the time, can pay off bills in the states and still have money left over to travel. We also spent more than a few weekends or breaks laying on beaches in Egypt or diving.
(All based on my experience teaching in an acredited American curriculum school.)
1. International schools in Cairo are businesses. Nothing more. They do not exist for any other purpose than to make money. You are an employee of that business first, and a teacher of children second. The business these schools are in is to graduate kids with A's. These kids need these A's in order to get into engineering or medical school, which is the only degree any of these kids, or more specifically their parents, want. (Sort of like how being a doctor or lawyer in the U.S. was so important to rich parents back in the day.) The customers you are serving as the employee of this business are the parents of the children you are teaching. The school may alter the grades to insure the child gets his A+ to get into engineering school. Businesses need good word of mouth; you do not get that with unhappy customers.
2. Many of your students know that the work they do in your class may not reflect their final grade, so will do no work. Or they have come from schools where the work they do did not reflect their final grade, so enter your room assuming they need to do no work.
3. American schools here in Cairo have a reputation as "easy." And in many ways, compared to the National and IGCSE systems, it is easier. Your kids, especially ones new to the American system, may be kids that could not make it in other systems or schools or come into your school assuming it'll be a piece of cake.
4. The kids you will be teaching are the rich of Egypt. Many have no concept of personal responsibility, honesty, or hard work. Wealthy Egyptian society does not always reward those types of behavior, especially for the children of the rich. This is especially true of the boys. (I'd give anything to teach in an all girl’s school. Anything.) The wealthy boys here grow up in a family atmosphere where anything they do is good and where all their needs are catered to, where they know that no matter what- dad will have bought them the apartment they need in order to get married, the car they need to get around, and probably the job they need to earn a living. Their only job as adolescents is to get into engineering school. You’d think this would drive them to excel, but you’d be wrong.
5. Egypt is a very class conscious society. People below your class are there to serve you. Egyptian teachers are definitely considered part of the servant class. Your kids will have probably come up through what is known here as “The National System.” The public schools in Cairo are a nightmare. Horrible places. So anyone with any money sends their kids to private schools. The national system is the private school version of a public Egyptian school. They teach the same curriculum, take the same exams, only in rooms with windows, fans, chalk boards and books.
Parents usually send their kids to these schools from K through 10th or 11th grade as they are far cheaper than the IGCSE (British) and American schools. Many then dump them into the American schools if it looks like they will not be able to pass at their current school with a grade good enough to get them into university. Most of the teachers at these national schools are not trained teachers. The vast majority of them are engineers who could not find work, mathematicians who could not find work, and doctors who could not find work. These people are being paid slave wages and are working in conditions not much better than the public schools. They have rooms packed with unruly children who have no respect for them, are being forced to teach subjects they do not know and are not trained to teach, and know all that matters is the exam at the end of the year. So what do they do? They beat the kids, yell at the kids, and only teach half of what the kid needs to learn for the final exam. The other half of what needs to be learned is taught in “tutoring sessions” at the teacher’s home, which cost extra.
All this means is that when a student comes into your classroom the first day of school his only experience with many teachers are the ones who hit him, who are a lower class than him and who never really gave a damn about him or his grades. In other words you get students who are used to running amok, used to little to no actual learning going on in a classroom and are used to telling their teachers to go to hell and getting away with it.
6. Discipline is a nightmare. “Full of energy” is the nice way of describing these kids. Unruly and disrespectful is a bit more accurate. They’ll lie to your face, ignore your attempts at management and will argue with you for hours over anything that happens that may adversely affect them.
7. Cutting corners is endemic in Egypt and your kids will do the same. Plagiarism? Nothing wrong with it at all. Cheating? Perfectly acceptable under any circumstances.
7. Forget any kind of critical thinking or active learning. These kids have absolutely no concept of it. Thinking independently is not a valued trait and the educational system does not reward it. Group work is unheard of, so the first time you try it you’ll be in for a nasty surprise. The first time you ask a student’s opinion on anything you’ll be answered with, “where do I find that answer in the book?” Anything that requires an independent thought will be met with stunned silence or a class wide freak-out. The educational system here is based around “The Final Exam.” Nothing else matters. Your students only have experience in rote memorization. Nothing else.
I’ve said all I can about that eh?
Now for the good stuff:
1. I love all my kids. Hard to believe after what I’ve said above, but it’s true. I teach about 100 students a day and with maybe one or two exceptions I love them all. Sure they’re unruly, but they’re also truly full of energy and life. I cannot tell you how out of control these kids are. But it’s not an evil out of control. It’s just kids who’ve never been taught to sit still. If you treat them with love and respect, they’ll give it back to you in spades. (Sure, they’ll still lie to your face, swearing their dad really was in the hospital so they could not do their homework, but they’ll do it with love.) Sometimes I end a class early and let the kids do whatever they want. Suddenly the whole class will burst into song and dance. Kids will start banging out a beat on the desk, the girls will begin to dance, the boys will sing along, it’s magical and I would not trade those moments for anything. I go home on many nights totally beat from spending my day trying to get my kids to care, but I’ll try to remember that these are kids who’ve been really given the short end of a real education, have rarely been disciplined for anything, and… they’re just kids.
2. As a teacher here, you can teach pretty much anyway you want. It really is pure teaching. No real standards. Very little oversight. I’ve experimented like crazy since being here. I’ve learned a lot about teaching. It’s great. You gotta be a very flexible teacher to survive teaching here; if you are you’ll go far. If you are not, you’ll quit and go home.
3. Discipline will be your biggest challenge, but as I mentioned above, the kids are not evil or scary. You will have no pregnant girls, no weapons, no school cliques, no girlfriend/boyfriend issues, no racial issues… The kids, at least at my school, bond very well.
4. Egypt is a great country! Egyptians are fun loving, friendly people. Your students will be the same. Again, the trick to making it as a teacher here is to gain the respect of your students. They will not learn for the sake of learning and they will not follow your directions because it’s what you are supposed to do in a classroom. They’ll only do it if they like and respect you.
5. Egypt is really a great country! Everything is dirt cheap here. With your wages you can live very very well. You can have a nice flat, a housecleaner, a cook… You can eat out every night and travel every weekend if you choose. All of Europe is a $250 flight away. All of the Middle East, the same. Egypt has 5,000 years of history at your doorstep and some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world only hours away. Last July, at the end of the school year my wife and I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton in Sharm el-Sheik for a week. With my work visa we got a $750 a night room for $95 a night. In a thousand years we’d never be able to afford anything like that back home. We’ve taken long weekend trips to resorts, beaches and dive spots just for fun. Again, back home we’d have to save for years for the same experience. It’s a great lifestyle.
6. The expat community is large in Cairo, but very friendly. There are a number of clubs just for expats that are great places to escape the grind of living here. (While Egypt is a great country, it’s also a real pain in the neck sometimes. It’s nice to “escape” the reality of the place occasionally.) There are hundreds of excellent restaurants that serve up any type of food you’d be interested in. If you choose to get involved with the expat crowd you’ll have a blast. We rent yachts for parties on the Nile, sail the same river on Thursday night felucca parties, go camping in the desert, take deep sea fishing trips on the Red Sea and drink a lot of beer.
How Do You Get a Job Here?
You may hear about people getting jobs via online headhunting services. I donno, I’d be very hesitant to work at a school that hires teachers online.
Your best bet is to attend one of the international school hiring fairs. The three biggies are UNI, ISS and SA. UNI will take anyone with a teaching certificate. So brand new teachers have a better shot at a school through them. If you’ve got at least two years of teaching under your belt then ISS is probably your best bet. They are picky about what teachers get to go to their fairs and picky about the schools that hire at their fairs, so you know you’ll be getting quality schools. The problem with ISS is that the better schools will be looking for experienced overseas teachers first. So it is very competitive. If you only want to teach in Egypt, then UNI might be better as more Egyptian schools attend that fair. But some of those schools are pretty iffy. (My school for example.)
Anyway, if you want to teach for the next school year, begin to get your paperwork in order around September or October. Apply for one of the hiring fairs and get accepted. Then begin sending your CV to all the schools you may want to teach at. Get this done around November, which is when the schools begin to think about next years hires. The fairs happen in February.
There are some really bad schools here. Truly schools that operate as only businesses. They’ll lie to you. They’ll screw you. They’ll treat your contract as only a theory, not binding. So you gotta be careful. The best schools in Cairo are Modern English School, American International School and Cairo American College (which you will probably have no shot at because it’s the expat school, and really only hires teachers who’ve been on the international school scene for years and years). Second tier schools which are not too bad are the Egyptian American International School, Narmer American College, Nefitari(sp?), Canadian International School and Chouifat(sp?). Futures school, Sakkara and a number of others should be avoided at all costs.
I know I’ve been pretty negative here. There’s a lot to be negative about. But on the whole my jaded attitude has been the result of teaching at a not so good school. Teaching here has also been very rewarding, so if you still want to teach here, don’t let my bad attitude scare you off.
I also want you to know I’m generalizing here. There are lots of exceptions to everything I’ve written. There are lots of great Egyptian teachers, lots of great and respectful students who really do want to learn, lots of rewards for teaching these kids.