Qatar is a tiny country with ridiculously rapid growth. Many expats are flocking to this land of “new money,” where teaching jobs are plentiful and salaries are enough to make you giddy. But before you make the decision to teach abroad in Qatar, consider these essential points so you can truly answer the question “Is it worth the money?”
Let's Define "International Teacher"
Before looking for a teaching job in Qatar, it's essential to identify what type of teacher you are. Working as an "international teacher" can often be confused with "teaching English overseas." Both are respectable jobs, but most schools in Qatar are likely looking for certified teachers to teach Elementary or Secondary subjects in international schools, where the language of instruction is already in English. This is due to the large number of expats in Qatar and the number of international schools needed only seems to be growing in the wake of Qatar's rapid development.
Reputation & Benefits
International schools are typically private schools that are not necessarily required to adhere to national standards. This freedom can allow for innovation and impressive rigor in academics, but it also means that some schools may not operate according to standard procedures you may expect in your home country.
Ask around. The International School community is actually quite small. Once you know one international teacher, they will likely know someone who knows a school's reputation.
Read reviews, but take all advice with a grain of salt; everyone's perspective is different, and relative to their own previous experiences.
Pay attention to a school's benefits package before you agree to teach English in Qatar. When directors hire an international teacher, they are not just hiring you as a teacher, but welcoming you into their community. Salaries in the Middle East used to be known as the highest possible for an international teacher, but cost of living can make schools in other locales just as attractive. The best school packages should include housing or at least a housing allowance, health care, annual round-trip flights from your point of origin, and some will even include shipping, settling in, and transportation allowances. These benefits are signs that the school will take care of you while you teach in Qatar, understanding that an international move is a life changing event.
Sponsorship: The Kafala What??
Qatar still operates under the controversial Kafala system, meaning every person in Qatar must be sponsored by an employer, organization, or even a spouse or family member if living as a dependent. All employees must obtain an exit visa, or permission to leave the country. Some organizations grant their employees multiple exit visas, which means employees do not need to request permission for each individual trip. Before accepting a teaching job in Qatar, ask which procedure the school follows. Hope for multiple exit visas, but unfortunately single exit visas are still quite common.
Know Your Students
Most international teachers realize this is the most essential part of teaching abroad, as well as in your home country. Treat all your students like they are the same and as if they have had the exact same cultural experiences as you, and you might as well quit right now. So, here's an intro to a complex topic...
International schools in Qatar can have students of nations from Qatar, other Arabic countries, Latin American countries, India, Britain, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the U.S., just to name a few. A teacher in Qatar could teach students of the royal family whose monthly allowance for being a member of the Al Thani (royal family) will rival your own monthly paycheck, to students of refugee families who are on scholarships. Though Qatar has been named among the richest countries of the world, the reality is that the income gap is immense.
Middle Eastern culture, in particular, is very relational. Students will connect with the teacher who shows an interest in them as people. Timeliness is also of a lesser priority. Rather, focusing on the task, person, or situation is highly valued, similar to many Latin American cultures. Attempting to enforce Western philosophies of punctuality can often be a losing battle and frankly, not the most important factor while you teach in Qatar.
Remember that you cannot change an entire culture, but rather can learn to relax into the laid back vibe of a culture that greatly values leisure and social relationships.
Culture: Serious Business
Qatar's economic development has brought with it an interesting national struggle to hold onto its culture amidst a time of modernization. It is also worth noting that culture and religion are considered somewhat synonymous in Qatar. As a result, non-Muslim expats are given certain "freedoms" not allotted to Islamic citizens and residents. While alcohol is banned for Muslims in Qatar, non-Muslim expats can purchase alcohol in hotels and for consumption in their homes. The same is true for pork, which, along with alcohol, is considered haram, or forbidden.
*IMPORTANT: It is imperative to remember that when living in a foreign country, one is subject to that country’s jurisdiction, even if you do not agree with that country’s national policies.
Expats, and especially individuals who are teaching in Qatar, are also asked to dress modestly which translates into covering the shoulders and knees. Most take this expectation as a creative fashion challenge, and let's be honest, most of your days as a teacher in Qatar will be spent shivering inside the air conditioned buildings anyway.
Weather: Can you handle the heat and air conditioning?
The weather can soar from temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit with dripping wet humidity in the summers to comfortable highs of 70 degrees Fahrenheit and blue skies in the winter season. Most residents flock elsewhere during the nearly unbearable summers, but winter weather can be lovely, perfect for taking walks on the corniche or strolling through Souq Waqif for traditional shopping and dining. The rest of your time teaching in Qatar will be spent indoors, wearing sweaters.
Lifestyle: Does Qatar have yours?
Though Qatar has been growing rapidly, its capital city of Doha can still feel like a small town. After newcomers get their fill of the exotic tourist activities, like dune bashing and desert camping, and there is a niche for most people to settle into, whether it be yoga, theater, live music, or runners’ groups. There is somewhat of a night scene in Doha's hotel bars with a few spots for dancing and sports watching, but many agree that Qatar is often a better fit for families than young singles. If you're looking for fast paced city life, this is not the place for you.
Qatar's lack of public transportation and infamous traffic should also be taken into account when deciding if Qatar will fit your desired lifestyle for teaching abroad. Most residents choose to either rent or buy a car (women are allowed to drive, no worries in that area) or take taxis as these are currently the only options. If you choose to drive, learn the rules of the road. But, be aware, don't be the overly cautious driver who crawls through the roundabouts, you'll get run over by the speeding land cruisers.
Safety: Be Smart
Many expats come to Qatar, having heard it is one of the safest places in the world. While it can still be relatively safe, it has had its fair share of crime. Unfortunately, most are not reported in Doha's official news. Doha is just like any other city, there are parts to avoid and parts that couldn't be safer.
Find a Health School Community
Moving to a completely new country may seem like a daunting and isolating idea, but teaching abroad in Qatar often couldn’t be more opposite. Working at an international school means you are joining an already existing community and the best schools will work to foster this community for you while welcoming you wholeheartedly. Do some research on what type of community activities are offered for teachers, staff, students, and families.
Are there staff events, weekend festivals, community and service projects? Do local and international teachers collaborate in the classroom? What type of morale exists in the school climate? Is there a mentoring system for new teachers? Will you be assigned a “buddy” before the big move? These questions are essential! A great international school knows that happy people = happy teachers.
Get Out of the Fishbowl
Once you have established yourself within your school community and began your teaching job in Qatar, you will have a network of friends and colleagues. But sometimes you may want to find your own independent way within Qatar. Don't be afraid to DO IT. The school community will still be there to catch you when you need a support system, but you will thank yourself if you step outside of your comfort zone and distinguish yourself as an individual.