Abu Dhabi teachers hit back at report, cite workload for high absentee rate

Teachers say standing in class all day, working after school on marking exams and preparing lessons and constant assessments of children is leading them to breaking point.

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ABU DHABI // Veteran Emirati teachers admit that there is a high absentee rate among them, but they say that is because they are exhausted by the demands placed upon them.

At the annual Irtiqa'a School Inspection Conference on Sunday, government inspectors said the absentee rate of teachers was one of the main challenges they found at public schools.

Mariam Mohammed has been teaching at an Al Ain public school for 18 years. “Yes, it is true, many of us are absent, but that is because most of us are very sick,” she said.

Ms Mohammed is on sick leave and has asked Abu Dhabi Education Council to move her to an administrative job because of her medical condition.

“It isn’t easy that we stand for very long hours teaching a day.

“We have short breaks, then it’s back to classes,” she said.

Teaching is the least of teachers’ concerns, according to Jamila Al Nuaimi, a Grade 12 teacher. “Our job is not just to teach. It is everything. The education council has recently asked that teachers evaluate each and every student every term. Our lives are being wasted in these evaluations, which is not always fair,” she said.

“We are required to assess each student 13 to 14 times per term. If a teacher has 30 students in a class, how do you expect her to do all that in addition to all her other responsibilities?”

Teachers often teach several classes of students.

Ms Al Nuaimi, who has been teaching for 22 years, said she was exhausted by her workload.

“Emirati teachers are tired,” she said. “We each give at least 24 lessons a week. The education system is constantly enforcing new regulations that we have to follow. We are asked to attend meetings after school, supervise, evaluate and organise activities. Naturally, we eventually fall sick.”

Veteran teacher Asma Al Badi said teachers had more to do even after the school bell rang. “When we go home we still have to correct the student’s homework, then we prepare for the next day’s lesson. Work does not end,” she said.

A teacher for 18 years, Ms Al Badi said she was grateful that she was recently made a substitute teacher. “I have 24 lessons a week but at least I don’t have to do evaluations,” she said, adding that teachers were never absent because they were lazy or careless. “We are responsible for these children and we care for them, but it is a huge load. We also have our own families and children, which we have no time to look after.”

Mariam Al Shamsi, the principal of Umm Al Emirate secondary school, said there was a cost when teachers missed classes.

“It affects the education of the child because when the teachers are absent, a substitute teacher will fill in,” she said.

“The substitute is not as aware of the teaching material like the teacher is, and so the student will suffer. The teacher is the cornerstone and if she or he is absent then it affects the entire classroom.”

She said she did not have the authority to sack a teacher for missing classes if they had a valid reason.