Peach County native to join thousands of foreign teachers in the United Arab Emirates

alopez@macon.comMay 29, 2014 


Kay Road Elementary School teacher Brittany Marshall is leaving in August to take a teaching position near Dubai.


BYRON -- Brittany Marshall is relocating about 7,500 miles away from her hometown of Fort Valley to Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates. She has no experience with Arabic or the Middle East.

”It is crazy,” Marshall said, laughing. “I’m extremely excited. I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to really network and meet people and travel.”

Marshall, 27, is leaving Kay Road Elementary School in Peach County to work in the Abu Dhabi public school system, where she will teach English to Arabic-speaking students between kindergarten and third grade. She has a two-year contract and is scheduled to start in August.

Abu Dhabi is the largest emirate, or state, in the UAE, and also is the richest in oil, sitting on 92 billion barrels in reserves. But because Dubai -- a neighboring emirate to the north -- is more well known due to its skyscrapers and tourism, Marshall tells people who ask her where she is going that she will be teaching near there.

She applied to work in the UAE through a Toronto-based company called Teach Away. Thousands of teachers from all over the world travel to Abu Dhabi each year to work in its public school system, according to Teach Away’s website. In a job posting, the company stated teachers can expect to make $3,500-$5,500 per month tax-free with housing and health insurance provided, along with plane tickets for family members who visit.

The use of foreign teachers in Abu Dhabi public schools is part of education reforms that began in the late 2000s. The country is moving away from a system based on rote learning to a more Western student-centered approach, Marshall said.

”We’re just coming in and we’re taking what we’ve done in our home country and bringing it to them,” she said. “They want to pull their students away from that rote memorization. They want them to do more hands-on experiments with math and science.”

The model used by the Abu Dhabi school system since 2010 involves creating a standardized curriculum, and helping students develop critical thinking skills, cultural and national identities, and English and Arabic language skills, according to the website for the Abu Dhabi Education Council, which oversees education policy.

A traveling teacher

After her mother died in 2006, Marshall and one of her sisters committed to seeing more of the world. Since then, they have visited Mexico, Jamaica, the Netherlands, South Africa and Ghana.

Graduating from Valdosta State University in 2009, Marshall applied to teach in the UAE through Teach Away. Rejected, she considered an offer to teach in South Korea before taking her position at Kay Road.

Marshall completed four years in the Peach County school district and taught math and science to first-graders. She said she feels more prepared now than when she initially applied to teach overseas out of college.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “I’ve grown a lot.”

In the UAE, she may be assigned to work in Abu Dhabi City, or Al Ain, nicknamed “The Garden City,” or near the desert town of Al Gharbia.

Knowing people already teaching in Abu Dhabi had a big influence on her when deciding to apply, she said. In addition to a cousin who is currently there, one of her Valdosta State classmates, Duana Glenn, of Newnan, has been in the UAE for five years.

“I love working with my Arabic co-teacher,” Glenn said in an email from Abu Dhabi City. “Abu Dhabi is beautiful. It’s a country that is very young but growing at a rate that I almost can’t believe.”

The UAE is made up of states ruled by hereditary emirs, or chiefs, and Islam is the official religion. There were more than 8 million people in the country in 2010, according to an estimate by the UAE National Bureau of Statistics.

Though non-national workers far outnumber native Emeratis, the education reforms put in place in the last decade have produced tension in the country, said Matt Duffy, Middle East media expert.

“The centralized government is in favor of this program, but the individual schools are not necessarily behind it,” said Duffy by phone. “Parents in the Emirates, especially in the rural areas of the Emirates, that are more tribal and rustic, they don’t think it’s good to have English taught in the schools. They want their kids to just learn Arabic.”

Duffy taught at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi from 2010-2012, but has since returned to the U.S. and is teaching this fall at Berry College in Rome. He said non-nationals can expect warm welcomes and generous salaries in the UAE, but they should understand there are limits under the authoritarian government.

”People that speak out against the ruler can be arrested, can go to jail,” Duffy said. “There is no transparency, there is no due process, so people can be kicked out of the country because someone orders it.”

Marshall said she is aware of the challenges she may face adjusting to a foreign culture, but remains committed to making it work in Abu Dhabi. She said she has always envisioned herself as a traveling teacher.

“I’m not a tree. I can move and plant myself anywhere,” she said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 478-256-9751.

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