May: Saudi Arabia and the Pedagogues

This post is in response to Lee Leonard’s “A Typical Day Teaching English in Saudi Arabia.”

Like the darling buds of May, Saudi Arabia is a perennial favourite of discussion for English teachers. Every year a new crop of teachers brave the unknown to come and experience the Magic Kingdom. But rough winds do shake, and many teachers don’t last long.

So when I saw a new article about teaching in Saudi Arabia I didn’t think much of it. I bookmarked it to read later. I come across these articles all the time: new teacher to Saudi Arabia (or his wife) trying to make sense of the mess he’s thrown himself in to. Even for the most experienced traveller, the culture shock one experiences here is very much like no other. But for me, it’s “Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and then came back again.” So it wasn’t until a colleague of mine in the UK sent me the same link and asked me what I thought about it, did I actually stop to read it. What I read was not surprising in the least, but no less disappointing. Read the article for yourself here.

When I first started reading I felt an immediate sense of empathy. His experiences echoed my own and that of other colleagues and bloggers– everything was true. The students were chronically late, had a penchant for fatty foods, and a general disdain for exertion both academic and physical. What I took issue with was the tone of the article and more importantly, his classroom management style.

The writer sounds a lot like myself when I first arrived in the Magic Kingdom back in 2013. I was naïve but ambitious. I felt that I had a mandate to bring my fresh and innovative Cantabrigian approaches to whip the next generation of Saudi learners into shape. I mean, that’s why they hired me, right? Lol. Without going into much detail, it was a challenge to say the least and I felt like everything, from the students to the administration to my own colleagues, was against me at times. CELTA and Delta don’t prepare you for a place like this. They assume your students (and higher ups) have already gone through a ‘western’ education and are disciplined and motivated enough to appreciate your efforts. It comes as a shock, then, when there is so much resistance to your approach. I felt I understood the author’s frustration.



It starts when he asks a student that has come in late, “Would you like some tea?” I thought they were doing a functions lesson on eating out at a restaurant. “Would you like some cake?” he continued. But as this went on it started to take on a more degenerate tone culminating with “this… is a classroom not a coffee shop.” It doesn’t stop there however, but it should have. He continues to berate the student with another line of sarcastic questioning and asking pedantic and abstract grammar rules. A less experienced me would have cheered this behaviour on. “You show him!” I probably would have said to myself, silently nodding approval in his direction. But this kind of heavy handedness, this kind of rule-stickling, causes more stress than its supposed worth.  And no “rule-stickling is not a real word, but it should be. We as teachers here are indeed in the business of teaching English, and also academic/study skills, professionalism, etc. because they do, for the most part, lack these skills. But we are not here to humiliate and degrade students. This teacher ate up 5-7 minutes (maybe even more) of precious class time to make an example of this student rather than reward the students who did show up on time with his full attention. Aside from suffering this indignity, this student will have to write “I will not be late” 15 times on a piece of paper which he’ll have to turn into said teacher. How dare this student forget “one of the 23 class rules, he signed a pledge to uphold”! Mind you, these are not children. They are college age 18-21.

Also, what does the student’s weight or health have to do with anything?

He admits “It may seem that I am being an overbearing asshole, but my class works, and the kids love it.” This may be true in the short term, but being a pedant or having a reputation for pettiness will not serve well in the long run. If a typical day involves going over the “23 rules” and chastising students publicly for relatively minor indiscretions, you’re doing it wrong. You would be surprised how far a stern look and polite gesturing will go. In my experience, sarcasm rarely achieved more than a few cheap laughs and a small boost to my ego for the day. This, at the cost of mutual trust and respect. Taking a step back, I know I wouldn’t appreciate being in this student’s position, especially as an adult. I’m not really sure what the point of this article was besides to make a caricature out of the country and this poor student.

I used to employ tactics similar to his. Not as extreme, but I was known as the “hard” teacher. Some students respected me, but the vast majority resented me. I blamed their resentment on a lack of understanding the intent of my methods. Which for the most part was true, but I never fully accepted that if I expected them to change I, too, would need to change my methods to reach them. That’s my job. That’s not to say it’s always the teachers fault but I think our belief in what we do and how we do what do often interferes with the reality in the classroom. Sometimes we need to take a step back and critically re-evaluate our roles and our methods to make sure we’re as effective as we can be. This is especially true in a new country and with new students.

(one of my lessons on nationalities…obviously the pre-teaching stage of the activity.)


Maybe we, as British or American (or Canadian, Irish, Australian, South African, etc.) teachers should stop looking at Saudi culture as a problem to be fixed. Who are we to think we can change a society  or the institutions it’s made of?  Regardless of our qualifications or years of experience, we are not messiahs. Yes, Saudization charges us with equipping our learners with the skills they need to take their country into the 21st century, but as long as we continue to infantalise the young people of this country, we can never expect them to realise their potential. Or maybe that’s been the point all along.

For more information about teaching in Saudi Arabia check out this powerpoint or leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch. Also check out my post 7 Taboos in the Saudi Classroom.

Next post: British versus American teacher-training styles

5 Do’s and Dont’s of Delta Module 2 (Weeks 3-8)


In my naïveté I thought it would be possible to update weekly on my progress through the Delta course. How wrong was I! Work started to pile up by Week 3 and I had more or less lost steam by Week 5. It’s all done and dusted now and we won’t get results until December, but to be honest I’m not expecting a pass. In any case, I’ve come up with a list of Do’s and Dont’s of what you can and should do if you want to be more successful on Module 2. These are based not only on my experience and those of the other candidates at my centre here in Poland, but also conversations from other Deltoids at centres in Greece, the UK, and Thailand.

  1. DON’T do the the pre-course tasks. This sounds counter-intuitive but they in no way prepare you for your assessed coursework. This may be nominal requirement from Cambridge. These are usually a series of language awareness/analysis tasks. While well-intentioned, your tutors were probably not involved in crafting the pre-course tasks, they probably don’t know what they entailed, and the material will most likely be covered in an input session anyway (which you are not assessed for). The best way to prepare for your course is to have a look online for previous LSAs (Language Systems/Skills Assignments) to get a sense for the style that Cambridge want and also what will be required of you (Check out they have a large database of essays you can access for free). Depending on how much time you have, you could try writing a few drafts to get a feel for how to get your point across effectively given the word count.  The other thing is start writing lesson plans. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Senior Teacher, DoS, or teacher-friend who can go through it with you. At the Delta level, it’s not enough to just do something that kind of makes sense for 60 minutes. You’ll need to show a critical awareness of why you’re doing what you’re doing (think Lesson Aims and Stage Aims) and also the students will need to leave having learned something worthwhile. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a battery of “go-to” lessons that just “work.” You’ll probably not have a lesson plan for this though. Make one. Do a post-hoc write-up of what you’ve done and try to fill in those aims.
  2. DON’T compare yourself to others. This is a trap quite a few candidates on my course fell into. To get onto a Delta course you have to prove that you belong there. As such, there will be some very strong candidates in your cohort. They just get it. They know how to write good aims, they know how to manage a class, they’re always on top of things. Just remember, it’s not a competition. You aren’t being ranked by Cambridge and your tutors (if they are as professional as mine were) won’t compare you to the other candidates either. You’ll see ways of doing things you never thought of before and if you’re like me, it can make you feel wholly inadequate. The best thing to do is to learn from and support everyone on your cohort. Have lesson jams, share ideas over lunch, read and critique each others lesson(s) (plans). But remember, you got onto the course for a reason. Observe others, learn from them, but be yourself.
  3. DON’T be afraid to ask for help. Even “experienced” teachers could stand to be knocked down a few pegs. There are a lot of things we didn’t know we didn’t know about. As a matter of pride, asking questions or for help might be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not. At the end of the day this course is down to your own development. Take full advantage of the resources at your centre. This isn’t just the school library, it includes your tutors, the other candidates, your learners, and possibly other Delta-qualified teachers at your centre. This is a unique opportunity to “Ask all of the questions you were too afraid to ask” and experiment before you go back to wherever it is or whatever job you came from. Your tutors may be cold and stand-offish, the other candidates may be unfriendly, but you’re paying for this experience, make the most of it. As the Geordies say, “Shy bairns get nowt!”
  4. DON’T fall behind. Good time management is absolutely essential. Again, good time management is absolutely essential. You will most likely have to attend the input sessions on your course, and these will sadly eat up the better part of the day which you could be using to do your planning or writing your LSA. Between all of the assignments flying around and the accompanying (excessive!) paperwork, you’ll need to account for just about every waking hour of the day (and sometimes sleeping hours as well). On the intensive course, the workload can be downright unreasonable–especially given that there are no allowances for slips in quality. If you’re the old-fashioned pen and paper type, get a planner. If you’re more MacBook than workbook, use applications like iCal to manage your workload. It’s easy to spend too much time on lesson planning– 15-30 page lesson plans in addition to your LSA is normal, at the expense of just about anything else really. So, whatever you use, staying on top of things is first and foremost.
  5. DO take care of yourself. If you’re doing the intensive 8-week course, it will probably be the most stressful 2 months you’ve done in your entire career. At least once a week, make a point to do something you enjoy, or explore the city where you’re doing your course, or just nothing. You’d be surprised by how many candidates forget to breathe after Week 3. But again, not comparing yourself to others and managing your time well, will keep stress levels in check. Stress leads to errors in judgement, oversights in planning, and bad rapport with the other candidates and your learners. All of these you can’t afford to let happen. If you ever feel yourself being overwhelmed, remember why you’re doing the course in the first place and breathe.

If you’d like further reviews of the Delta course, you can find some insightful reading herehere, and here.

Did you have a similar experience on the Delta? Is there anything else to add to this list? Comment below, it’s free!

11950835_10101888177045093_568277467_n From my LSA4 Writing lesson, students wrote an online review of a restaurant and “posted” them on Yelp. Afterwards they read each others and “liked” their favourite.

Delta Module 2 Week 2: The Going Gets Tougher

Dzień Dobry, Wrocław calling!

11695785_10101823046477273_5051946845036992849_n We’ve just finished week 2 here at IH Wrocław and things have definitely reached a more frenetic pace. I have been told and reassured however that after this week, things get more manageable. During this week we have completed or Professional Development Assignment (PDA) Stage 2, Finished all of our Developmental lessons, and been tasked with our first Language Systems Assignment. If it seems like a lot of work, that’s because it is. During the day there are input sessions from 12-3 and we’re observing our colleagues from 4-6 (or 6:15-8:15 for group 2). So there’s really not a lot of time to focus on incorporating the input sessions into your actual lessons just yet, I hope the idea is that we’ll have time before our first assessed lesson next week but we shall see.

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So far we’ve had input sessions on lesson shapes (TTT & PPP), clarifying and analysing target language, and phonology. Fridays are our 1-1 tutorials with our tutors to discuss our LSA’s and general feedback.

I have to say the workload is overwhelming. I haven’t had to write anything academic since I finished my MA 5 years ago, so switching gears is a bit of a shock to the system. Fortunately all of the candidates are supportive of each other, and we spend some of our (very) limited down time sharing lesson ideas, journal articles, and resources with each other. And of course there’s always the moral support over a glass of wine at the end of the day. It’s nice to be in a community of professionals who are passionate about learning and teaching!

I was asked last week by @anthonyash “What were you expecting?” To be honest, I thought it would be more experimental and lesson planning would be more hands on. I imagined lesson jamming and really pushing the boundaries of teaching. The lesson jamming hasn’t happened yet, but my boundaries have been pushed in other ways. The course is really more about making you a solid, proficient teacher. I was expecting to have to come up with lessons á la Thornbury or Judy Gilbert, but that’s simply not the case. Like I mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time on the basic lesson shapes, so the idea is to have a good pedagogical grounding rather than collecting more bells and whistles (though sometimes there are bells and whistles!).