x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Give UAE teachers the tools to discipline

Empowering teachers is the best way to improve classroom discipline and, in the process, solve the teacher shortage crisis in the UAE.

There are many reasons why schools in the Emirates frequently report a shortage of teaching talent - such as low pay and poor benefits. But there is a more fundamental reason that teachers themselves care deeply about: respect, or more accurately, the lack of it.

As The National reported yesterday, classroom teachers say they are not empowered to enforce discipline in their classrooms. And this lack of authority, teachers told the Federal National Council, can have a toxic effect on classroom moral.

The concerns surfaced during a conversation about laws banning the use of corporal punishment. Clearly, we welcome such a ban. Using violence to enforce order is counterproductive; banned in many countries, this method has been repeatedly linked to aggressive behaviour among adults who had been subjected to it at young age. There are clearly other, better ways to discipline a child.

The challenge in the UAE is finding and employing those "other ways". In the West, as well as in many countries in the East, teachers are empowered to suspend or detain a child after class in case of a serious breach of disciplinary codes. Merely suggesting after school detention or summer study - two horrific thoughts to many a grade-schoolers around the world - is often enough to prompt a badly behaving child to sit up straight and listen. Expelling a child, the most serious option for educators, carries a social stigma so serious that many students shape up.

Teachers in the UAE have fewer tools. Expressing exasperation, an Emirati teacher told the FNC: "Rules about behaviour are all aimed at teachers. They always make the teacher wrong in the end." Similar reasons caused an exodus of expatriate English teachers in 2010, which had been reported by this newspaper.

Clearly, this situation neither benefits schools looking to recruit teachers, or students looking to graduate.

Empowering teachers with classroom authority will require strong school administrators to defend their staff when overzealous parents object. Until teachers are given real authority to fail underperforming students, or push punishments when needed, teachers will never be viewed as anything more than glorified babysitters.

More than ever, learning requires discipline. Expecting teachers to teach without tools to enforce it is expecting a miracle.