My first week of teaching in Doha!

I can’t speak for all schools in Qatar but if the first week was any indication of what this school year will be like for this teacher, I am in for a treat.

I woke up this morning with my feelings all over the place.  I woke up this morning missing home.  I wanted to call my sister but it was 3:00am in the states and she would be asleep necessary for work in a few hours.  It might have been 10am and the weekend for me but not back home.  I tried to call my other sister that works overnight but no answer, probably busy at work.

I woke up this morning wanting a lobster and egg omelet.  The kind my husband used to make for me at home for breakfast while my little Zoey would be sprawled out on the cool tile floor, panting, waiting for something to drop so she could gobble it up.  I haven’t eaten eggs in over 2 months or any other animal product other than seafood and the thought of eating an egg makes me cringe.  Then I thought about Ackee and Salt fish.  Ackee, when cooked, looks alot like eggs but it’s actually a fruit from West Africa that is more prevalent in Jamaica.  I had a Jamaican best friend when I was a kid and her grandmother used to cook Ackee; that was my first encounter with Jamaica.  Maybe I am just missing my island.  The island of Jamaica.  I call it mine because I love it so much.

I woke up this morning missing HOME.  Why?  I wanted to leave home for so long.  I hated home.  Is there something missing from here that I can do to make it feel more like home, the parts I miss, or should it feel different since I didn’t like it there?

img_2162Good thing Darryl is still here because he does a great job of trying to make me feel better.  Here is the breakfast he made for me.  It is very colorful, like the Caribbean.  But even he will be leaving me soon to return home.  His medical exam is finally scheduled for Sunday.  Once that is done, it won’t be long ’till we have his RP and his passport will be returned.   Right after that he will be back to work and school and it will be just me and the boys.  I received Zarien’s RP yesterday.  Since he is younger than 14, he doesn’t have to get a medical exam done or fingerprinted so his RP was complete.

My students started this week and the first week is a wrap.  I can’t speak for all schools in Qatar but if the first week was any indication of what this school year will be like for this teacher, I am in for a treat. Week 1 was really good.  I like my students.  Some are really funny.  There are about 3 high flyers so far but nothing major.  My class list has 19 students but two have not shown up yet.  One has dropped as of yesterday; I wonder if I will get any replacements or will I have 17 students for the school year.  Smile!  They seem to be very respectful and some are well traveled.  One little girl loves Target (in America she says). Some have been to Turkey, London, America and Germany.

The typical things that teachers worry about,  I don’t deal with here.  I have a helper who sits in the hallway and goes behind the children as they go to the bathroom.  She sharpens pencils, and cleans my room.  She die cuts letters for me and cuts out laminates.  She makes Reading A-Z books for me.  She carries and moves things for me, organizes and sorts things for me.  Well maybe not for me, maybe for the kids.  There is a copy room, where two gentlemen copy, enlarge, laminate and give out supplies on demand and big jobs in time.  There are housekeepers who walk around and just clean all day.  There is an IT room, where two gentlemen set up printers, and show you/me how to use a smart board, work your/my computer and help with all other IT concerns.  There is a printer in a classroom where I can print to, when I want, and pick up small print jobs (in color).  There is a library with two librarians, and lots of books.  The routine books that I read in the beginning of the year, they have them.  I went in, asked for three book titles, and walked out with all three.  The majority of the things I ordered and said you need in a previous post, you don’t even need.  They were right when they said, there is an abundance of supplies and resources in our school.  And most times other teachers are giving stuff away or you can borrow from them.  I stressed for nothing.  I spent a lot of money on ordering stuff, mostly shipping, that I don’t need but I am not sending it back.  I will use it or save it.  But take it from me, SAVE YOUR MONEY.  If you are still wondering what to bring, bring decorative stuff, like if you want a class theme or something and some give away trinkets for the kids (maybe some things that say America or something from your home country with a logo).  That’s it.  We have a Reading A-Z, a Brainpop jr. and IXL online account.  There are probably more accounts that I don’t know about.  There are 3 other first grade home room teachers.  They are all helpful and nice. They are from Jamaica, Lebanon and Canada.  Also part of the first grade team is 2 Arabic teachers, and a math teacher from America.  I teach one English class for an hour a day, 1 Science class per week for one hour, and 2 Walk To Read (a scripted phonics and reading program, completed in small groups) lessons a day- 1 with a first grade group and the other with a Kindergarten group.  On average I teach no more than 3 hours straight or 3 hours in a day excluding the 1 hour lunch and recess time that I cover 4 days a week.  Pretty sweet right. An example of my typical schedule: 7- Meet kids in room, 7-8 prep (kids at math in room), 8 pick up kids and take to PE 8-9 prep, 9-10 Walk to read with a group of first graders, 10-11 cover lunch in class and recess in class (red day, too hot to go out), 11-12 Walk to read with a group of kindergarteners, 12-1 prep (Arabic in class), 1-2 Teach English, 2- wait for parents to pick up kids, 2:15 take kids to the late pick up area and meet with my grade group for a meeting or PD or work in room, 3 out the door.  This past week I didn’t teach for more than 2 hours a day because kindergarten had not started their scripted program yet.  I had to test my kids this week to find their level for WTR while the kindergarten teacher I will be working with covered my class.  Next week I will be covering for her while she does the same and she will be covering for me while I complete Aimsweb.  Aimsweb is new for me as well but I am anxious to learn it since that is how so many schools are assessing now. We are not required to hand in long scripted lesson plans or sub plans.  We collaborate for the big ideas and hand that in. Then we come up with our own learning experiences for our kids. My sub plan was just a description of what to do with my kids when I’m out.  I was given permission to leave early Sunday to take my son and husband to their medical appointments.  That is why I needed a sub plan for whomever will cover my last English period.  Compared to what I am used to, working as a teacher in Philadelphia, this is AMAZING!  I hope it stays this way.  I work 6:45-3:00pm.  The students are gone by 2:15pm.  Other than waking up at 5 am with the sun IMG_2147.JPGevery day, I LOVE IT.  This is how teaching should be.  Let’s see how I feel after a few months.  I still have to run one after school activity, once a school year, once a week for 6 weeks and join a committee.  I’m thinking of a gardening after school activity and I’ve joined the social club (for new teachers that will be joining for next year).  (Maybe I will start a healthy cooking after school activity).  I just thought of that.

Zarien likes his new school Qatar Academy Doha and Zamir does not.  Talk about role reversal.  Hopefully he will adjust. Hopefully we all will.

One month later

Everything is an adjustment here…

On August 17, we boarded a plane and headed to Qatar.  I had no idea what I was stepping or should I say flying into; I just knew I wanted out of Philly and to live somewhere other than the USA.  So how are we doing 1 month later?  Well I do not have regrets but there are days when I wonder was this the best idea, like the day a week had gone past after I was supposed to have been paid but wasn’t (and still have not been by the way, but I did receive an advancement so that’s a pretty good indication that I will be eventually).  Like the day I realized that my husband was not going to receive his Residence Permit and in turn not have his passport back in time to fly home next week and back to work.  And there were many days similar to these where I expected something to happen but it didn’t turn out the way I expected.  I often have to remember to not have expectations.  But then there are other days when I’m super surprised.  Like when I first arrived I sent an email to the supervisor of my housing compound about my mattress not being new; I didn’t get a return email about it so I bought a mattress topper from IKEA but then a week later, I got a knock on my door from the security guard with a new mattress in tow.  Or the time when I found Pine nuts and ground Flaxseed at one of the food markets after I had just about given up on them (that was just yesterday by the way). Everything is an adjustment here and it already feels like I’ve been here for a year.  But I am here now, I don’t plan on going back and there are some interesting things here.

Tomorrow I meet my new group of first graders.  I know students often have mixed emotions about returning to school.  Well guess what students, so do teachers.  I am nervous and excited.  Not only is this a new country, a new school, a new group of coworkers and administration, a new curriculum and new culture, not to mention I vowed to never return to the class as a elementary school teacher again.  So much for that.  And if your paying attention to the date, our first day is on a Sunday.  The work week in Qatar is Sunday-Thursday.  That makes Friday and Saturday the weekend.  I will be using the PYP curriculum this year.  I am excited about that.  It looks good on a resumé.  Each grade at my school has a helper.  I haven’t quite figured out the extent of their help.  So far I know that they sharpen the pencils for our kids, can cut out laminated paperwork, organize your cabinets, put up your bulletin boards and much more.  I am not used to this and find it difficult to ask but like everyone else I assume I will get used to it and will use my resources to make my life easier.  There is also maintenance persons who are always cleaning and are there for you as well.  Picture coming in to your class room on your day off and finding two young ladies in your room, scraping the old name tag adhesive off of the desks.  Then asking security to communicate to two other men working on the premises to come into your room and scrape old labels off of the outside of your cabinets.  Yeah that happened.  My classroom was also full of supplies and resources, including a leveled library and interest books.   My classroom has a smart board, elmo, projector, MAC, dry erase board, and chalkboard.  It is a small classroom and for the first time in my teaching career I felt like it had too much furniture in it.  Believe me when I tell you, American teachers would give anything for these luxuries.  On the other hand, the school is growing so much that it is running out of space and my students will spend almost their whole day in one class including lunch.  First graders get instruction in Language Arts and Science in English from me, and math from another English teacher.  They get instruction in Language Arts in Arabic as well as Islamic Studies and Qatar History. They also have specials like PE, Music, Art and IT in English.  It is a private school.

Sometimes it feel like nothing makes sense here or works right but maybe it just takes time to get used to.  I am getting used to using a 12 hour clock, but at first I wanted to take my new alarm clock back to the store because I thought something was wrong with it when it read 00:32.  I tried to take my new printer back today because it just doesn’t seem to work right but they wouldn’t accept it until I have a tech come out and reinstall it because of course it worked fine in the store.  It reminded me of when you go to the doctor’s because you are sick and when you get there, nothing is wrong. Don’t you hate when that happens?  But I didn’t know a tech would come to my house and do that.  My shower spout is too close to the shower wall and so when I wash the water goes everywhere including the bathroom floor.  Mind you all the bathroom floors have drains in them but who wants a wet bathroom floor every day. Well they came to fix it several times, and eventually even replaced the spout but water still gets on the floor.  I’ve gotten used to it now, besides it is so hot, it only takes a few minutes to dry anyway.  I haven’t been able to find shower liners here at all, but I guess they figure, what’s the use.  Oh and store hours, I haven’t quite figured out yet.  Many stores open up early, then close around 11:00 am and then reopen around  12:30 pm and others close ’til around 4pm.  Most times it’s best to shop early or late except on Friday or Saturday evening because it’s the weekend.  And don’t even get me started on the driving and construction here.  If you get a chance research slip roads and roundabouts in Qatar.  If you want to get to a store on the other side of the road, drive one mile and do a u-turn or at the roundabout take the 4th exit.  I actually like roundabouts now but boy do they take some getting used to.  It’s kind of like playing a real life game of Frogger.  And it may be a roundabout at that corner tomorrow but don’t get used it, because it might not be there tomorrow.  There is construction going on everywhere here.  They are really building this state up but google map and WAZE (another gps app) can’t keep up, so driving can be frustrating.  On the upside, I rented a car for a month and the last time I gassed up, it cost me (you ready for this) a whopping 38.75 QAR which amounts to $10.71.  I also passed my driver’s test on the first try so I was able to pick up my driver’s lic for 250 (it was either 250 or 150, I can’t quite remember) QAR once I received my RP.  That’s about $70.  And yes I also received my RP, which is sort of like your Social Security card/State ID.  Once I had my medical done, I had to get fingerprinted and a few days later I got my RP and I got my passport back.  The whole process took about a week, which surprised me because I had heard horror stories about people not getting their passports back for months.  We are still waiting for the boys and Darryl’s RP but I am hopeful that they will be here within the next two weeks.

I don’t know if I will be able to save any money this first year.  There are some expenses that I hadn’t really considered and I will have to get used to spending here. Tomorrow the boys start school and I had to find them a driver because their school is about 30 minutes away from our house and in a total different direction than mine.  Most drivers/companies that I spoke to want 2200-3800 QAR/mth, which equals to about $608-1,050.  I never read that in any of my research, so I want to share that because I think that is important to know.   I found one who quoted me 1950 QAR/mth which is about $540.  This is the cheapest so far.  A driver is supposed to come and pick up my boys tomorrow, take them to school and bring them home after school. Prayfully everything will go well.  I will then pay them for one week at the end of the week.  And food, OMG, is expensive here, especially if you want food that you are used to because that kind of food is imported.  I’ve been spending about 1000 QAR a week ($276) in groceries.  That doesn’t include what we spend on eating out.  For now I am renting a car on a monthly basis for around $550.  I plan on continuing this at least until I complete probation, eventually I will buy a vehicle and that is another expense. The good thing is it is pretty easy to get a loan here after a few months.  The bad thing is, it is pretty easy to get a loan here after a few months.  My job also gives 20% of the price of a new car (no older than 2 years old) and if you decide to stay and work for 3 years here, you won’t have to pay that 20% back.  Another good thing is that they give us a monthly transportation allowance, but my son’s transportation will eat that up alone.

There are 3 main food markets here: Al Meera, LuLu Mart and MegaMart.  Megamart is a little on the expensive side, sort of the Whole Foods of Doha but they do have a lot of American foods.  Al Meera is in between, kind of like the Acme and then there’s LuLu. LuLu is like Walmart supermarket.  It has everything but maybe not what your used to but if you see something good, stock up, because you might not see it there again.

Things to know about shipping.  It’s expensive to get things shipped here from stores. There is no way around it.  My sister sent me my first care package which was some things I had ordered and sent to my house in the states.  It cost her $31.00 to send a small box weighing 2 lbs via FEDEX (thru the USPS) but it got here in 3 days, which I thought was super fast.  It didn’t come to my villa, even though she put my address on the package.  Someone had told me to make sure she writes my Qatar phone number on the package or I might not get it, so she did.  So the QPost (the main post office here) sent me a text message that said I had a package and to pick it up. When I went to pick it up, we had to pay 15 QAR.  They said the fee was because I didn’t have a I didn’t know I could get a p.o. box.  You can, for 500 QAR ($138) for the year.  I haven’t gotten that yet, because this week was EID and everything shuts down for EID.  EID is like Christmas and the 4th of July all in one.  Anyway, I also bought an ARAMEX account.  It is a shipping company that provides you with a U.S. address.  You can ship things to that address and the company will ship the items here for you for a fee of course.  Come to find out that if you are a Qatar Foundation employee it is free to join Aramex.  I wish I had known that before I paid $45.  Recently I shipped quite a few things thru Aramex.  My heaviest order was from a teacher resource store and the weight is 29lbs.  It will cost me 963 QAR thru Aramex ($266).  Yes, that’s alot of money.  It should be here tomorrow.  We will see what happens.  Next I will try the p.o. box and see which shipping method is the most cost effective.

Okay I know this post is long but stay with me.  Here are a list of things I wish I had bought with me: Many times before I came I asked people what teacher supplies should I bring and most people just said Sharpies and Expo markers but as a teacher that likes to have specific things I am finding myself purchasing things that I had at home and could have just brought with me, which pisses me off.  Table caddies, specific decorations, name tag clear pockets, routine story books, seat sacks, etc… If you like your room a certain way, bring it with you.  Curriculum stuff, leave home.  Besides teacher supplies, I wish I had brought: shower liners, nutritional yeast (can’t find it here), snacks (little bites, skittles, my kids miss these, peanut chews, dipsy doodles, I miss these), shower curtain rings, grits, dryer sheets, stock paper, bed sheets, mattress covers (the kind that zipper), instant oatmeal, static guard.

Besides all of this I have had some fun too. I have taken many trips down to the Corniche- it’s like Penns landing x 2, Sand dunning in the

desert, img_2035

img_2047bowling, shopping, paint nite with Darryl

and two trips to very beautiful beaches minus the jellyfish. img_2004I even have a favorite store.  It’s called Centre Point.  It has lots and lots of aromatherapy products.

Well it is time to say good night.  My alarm clock says 22:06.  I think that means 10pm and I have to get up earlier than I ever have for work, 5am.