ABU DHABI // Aziz Al Mesaabi will fulfil a lifelong dream when he steps into the classroom this September.
He is one of six Emirati men who will be taking up teaching positions in Abu Dhabi government schools. It is a momentous occasion for them, and equally so for the education system: they are the first Emirati men to graduate from a teaching college in more than three years.
Attracting men to the teaching profession is a global problem, but it is especially pronounced in the UAE, where an Emirati teacher's salary of Dh16,000 to Dh20,000 pales in comparison to what their peers are earning and prestige is at stake.
"It's a profession that is looked down upon," said Mr Al Mesaabi, 23. "I face this problem every time I meet friends. They ask me why I am still pursuing this and say my career will go nowhere. Not one of them has ever encouraged me to continue."
When he took his first class in practical training as part of the Abu Dhabi Education Council's New School Model, he said he knew he had made the right decision.
"What encouraged me was that I could see the boys were more comfortable with me," he said. "One of them came up to me and asked me to speak in Arabic with him. After that day, I never cared what my friends said."
Mr Al Mesaabi and five other men from the Emirates College for Advanced Education (ECAE) passed the interview stage last week and will be hired to teach English, mathematics and science in Abu Dhabi's state primary schools.
Ahmed Al Maamari, 24, is also in the group of new male teachers and has already started working on his lesson plans.
"It was a difficult decision for me, too," he said. "It's not like other professions where the remuneration matches the workload."
"Most of my friends want jobs with Adnoc, Etihad and the Army. Who can blame them?"
Only 7 to 10 per cent of the male teachers in state schools across the country are Emirati.
For Mr Al Maamari, that was a motivator. "They aren't many male teachers around so I thought, 'Let's make this work'."
Maitha Al Marri, an education student at Zayed University, will research the absence of Emirati men from schools this year. She is studying the perceptions of 200 men and women. "I am asking women because I want to know how they view male teachers," she said. "From conversations with many, I have found women prefer not to marry teachers."
Dr Jim Mienczakowski, vice chancellor of ECAE, said society needed to do its bit to encourage more men into the field. "If we are looking to attract national teachers, we need for parents to endorse the career. We must make people recognise a teacher's importance for society's future."
ECAE has 12 more male students training to be teachers and the numbers are increasing.
Dr Mienczakowski said there is an increasing interest among more mature male students. "Those with families want to be a part of the system because they see how they need to pass on the culture to their children."
The college also plans to diversify its programmes to include physical education and health courses to attract more men.
Other federal universities have not been successful in attracting male students in education.
United Arab Emirates University has not enrolled a male student in education for three years. The Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) does not even offer the programme, because of a lack of demand, although plans are in motion to introduce male-friendly courses on being a sports teacher.
Adec has been relying on expatriate licensed teachers to fill the gap in schools while it encourages more Emiratis to become bilingual educators.
Mr Al Maamari said the council had recognised the need to boost incentives. He said they had been promised starting salaries of Dh20,000 with benefits.