x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Boys will be boys, but they still need caring teachers

Teachings boys is a tough job, but one pro shares how he did it.

One teacher was tripped by a student, causing him to break his leg. Another limped back to his country. A third left the class every day in tears because the students chided her so severely, knowing that once she was gone they could resume playing football in the class.

These scenarios seem bizarre. But I can testify to such madness. I have seen a class full of students walking on their desks, falling in class from the windows and wrestling on the floor, often with a teacher sitting in the room. These kinds of teachers have perfected the technique of zoning out.

This is not unique to the UAE. Some teachers are there just to collect a paycheque. They bring a book, a bottle of water and read while students walk in and out of the room, joke around, and get into fights.

These problems are particularly acute when teaching boys. Ask anyone who teaches boys and their eyes start to roll. In the female staff room, teachers and their assistants often burst into the room, throw their stuff on the table and hiss: "I hate teaching boys!"

Teaching the male sex is definitely a skill, but rarely does anyone show up with the necessary skills to meet the challenge. Those who have managed to perfect their skill are very successful.

Iyare Omoruyi, who is a former teacher for seventh and eighth-grade boys, is one such person. This old pro said: "You have to be a father, brother, and friend. They have to know that you care, no matter what."

It's a shame that he was one of the many teachers to leave in 2009, when a hike in tuition fees sparked a battle between school administrators, teachers, and the education ministries. This battle also coincided with the beginning of the school rating system. Before they left the class or entered the auditorium, Iyare would always warn his boys: "Don't embarrass me." And they did their best to make him look good.

Iyare, a medium-height, broad-chested man of mixed Benin and American heritage, had lived in Egypt for two years before coming to the UAE. These qualities made him the perfect candidate to teach a room full of boys who had very few masters who could set them straight. Before he got there, there was a string of teachers who'd quit because they just couldn't handle them.

With the recent rumblings about the difficulties of not having enough national teachers in government schools, I asked Iyare what his secret was to getting his students to be quiet, learn, and perform at their best for a teacher that they loved, respected, and sometimes, feared.

He advised that teachers should get to know all of their students by asking lots of questions; that they should be assertive, demanding and flexible; and that teachers pay attention to what parents tell them. For example, a mother says she's having trouble with her son when his father's away. The teacher has to fill in.

Let them know you care no matter what, he also advised. He added to make sure that they understand your expectations and your limits, and that being Muslim helps, because you can use the Hadiths and Quran to get them thinking and put them in line.

Finally, it all has to come from the heart.

What Iyare's advice shows is that what most boys need is someone who they can relate to and who understands them, and is not afraid to put them in line when necessary. So why not use that same money for teachers like Iyare who can do this?

Testing teachers' cultural and historical competency could help to find such gems. Do they know about the Emirates, for instance? Sheikh Zayed? What are the expected manners and protocols? It might seem stringent, but it will save time, money, and heartache on all sides.

More importantly, it might just show some young Emirati boys that being a teacher is the coolest job ever.

Then, within a few years, they'll become teachers themselves, reminding their own students: "Don't embarrass me." And to be sure, they won't.

Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE