What follows is a series of posts that summarize the findings of an anonymous online survey conducted by Sarah Dubois and Marianne Graff in June 2012.
We surveyed teachers working in Saudi Arabia and received 22 responses from women and 4 responses from men working in a university preparatory program (like grade 13, with an intensive English course component).
We have broken it into 6 posts, filled with direct quotes (anonymous) from the participants, for easier navigation and discovery.
Part One includes a general summary and advice based on the overall findings. Part Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six include direct quotes gathered anonymously from participants with more in-depth and personal advice and suggestions.
SUMMARY OF OVERALL FINDINGS:
TEACHING STRATEGIES FOR SAUDI ARABIA
Here are some strategies for teaching in Saudi Arabia suggested by the 22 teachers who participated in an anonymous online survey conducted in June 2012 by Sarah Dubois and Marianne Graff.
The questions asked were about teaching strategies that worked well in Saudi Arabia based on personal experience, what worked and what did not, lessons learned, and questions about specific strategies for getting a class back on track, classroom management tips and student motivational suggestions. We also asked for general comments.
What follows is a summary of responses grouped into three general areas for easier reading.
Don’t lose your cool
Teachers overwhelmingly said that the students reacted poorly to approaches that the students perceived as authoritarian and punitive. Students responded well to praise and encouragement and poorly to raised voices and power struggles (e.g. over cell phone usage). Specific comments made included: don`t yell, don’t embarrass or single out students in front of others for punishment, and always remain calm. Many warned against treating the students like children. Giving respect as a way to get it back was suggested by a number of respondents.
Be open minded
A significant number of teachers remarked that it was important to keep open-minded and enthusiastic. Students seem to quickly pick up on a teachers’ negative feelings and thoughts and if their culture is being rejected. Some responded that it helped to admit you were new to Saudi Arabia, and ask that students to tell you if you do something that is not culturally sensitive, and to be willing to learn new things along with them.
Be open and personal
It was striking how often teachers mentioned the importance of building relationships on a one to one, individual basis. Many suggested that it worked well for them to share some personal details with the students to help build rapport, and let the line between teacher and student blur more than perhaps is necessary in other places in the world.
Interestingly, we noticed two opposite trends in the survey results on this point: while many suggested that teachers should develop a personal, caring and supportive relationship with students, a significant number were adamant that you had to be their teacher and not their friend, indicating that being firm and strict was the best way to maintain respect and control in the classroom. It seems to us (the authors) that striking a balance between these two extremes, by maintaining a friendly, kind, and approachable attitude, while staying professional, calm and consistently firm, is perhaps the key to successful teaching in Saudi Arabia.
Getting to know students on a personal basis was suggested as a useful strategy for motivating students. Tailoring lessons to meet their needs and interests with extra materials such as video clips, realia like newspaper articles, and website content (with approval) was mentioned as very helpful. Changing the flow of the lesson as needed depending on the reaction of the students was strongly encouraged.
Don’t take it personally
Since English is a required course and students are paid according to their attendance, many students may not like English or be motivated to learn it, no matter how much or how often the lessons are modified to interest and suit them. It was suggested to accept that everything you try may not work, and what worked one day may not work the next. Continually trying new tactics and activity ideas and helping the students see how learning English fits into their larger education and career plans may help. It was noted by some that if the students were not intrinsically motivated, there was nothing you could do. Don’t take it personally. Focus on the students who are wiling to learn and move on.
Be Firm but Kind
It was noteworthy how many respondents said that it was important to set ground rules the first day of class, and stick to them. Being understanding, but firm, and calmly repeating the ground-rules daily and applying them consistently until learned was a tactic reported by many of the teachers surveyed.
Constantly Mix It Up
It works well to make activities as interactive as possible according to the many teachers polled. A large number of teachers noted that it worked well to constantly mix the students up and do a variety of activities including pair-work, group work, and changing the seating plan on a regular basis such as once a week. The students may not like it, preferring to sit with their friends, but it keeps chatting down and helps keep the whole class focused and actively participating.
Roll with it
A significant number of teachers reported that it worked best to quietly wait during a rowdy spell for it to pass naturally, rather than shout over top. One noted that if you try to stop an animated conversation going on in Arabic, they will just whisper and continue. Staying rock still, turning off the lights, and letting students police themselves to quiet the loud ones were suggested as effective techniques to regain focus and control of a class without losing dignity and respect.
Closely related to the ideas of being flexible and reacting to student needs as they arise was the suggestion to resist the urge to do ‘’just one more thing’’ because it was in your lesson plan, and there is time to squeeze it in. It was recommended to always remember where the students are at in their day, the week and term overall to reduce your stress when things don`t go according to plan. A number of teachers recommended using activities that require movement, especially in the afternoons, and taking a 5 minute break in class, using this time to do exercises or letting students take bathroom breaks.
Avoid complicated instructions
A handful of teachers commented that some of their lessons flopped due to complicated instructions or the fact that instructions were not clearly delivered at the beginning. One respondent noted that it was very important to consolidate instructions at the start of an activity especially if critical thinking was involved.
Make it into a Game With Points or Hang a Mark on It
A large number of teachers noted that the students here thrive on team work, and that points-based activities worked well. Others suggested assigning marks in order to motivate students to complete a task.
Many mentioned abandoning your preconceived ideas about teaching since the students here have had a very different learning environment than anything in the west. Specifically, the students here have not had the same style or degree of critical thinking and analysis worked into their education, and have learned by repetition and rote.
While one respondent commented that perhaps the TESOL and CELTA techniques were too soft and perhaps ineffective given the cultural and educational background of these students, a significant number reported that the TESOL and CELTA techniques they had learned in other places in the world worked well here too.
Overall, respondents reported that being kind but firm, setting ground rules and sticking to them in a calm, persistent yet kind way, getting to know the students personally and continually trying new activities and management strategies worked well, based on their teaching experience in Saudi Arabia.