From 5.30am starts to deflating dinosaurs: The life of an Abu Dhabi primary school teacher

'The National' goes back to school to spend a day in the classroom with Year 2 pupils at Al Mamoura Academy

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Read more: Here's what teachers in UAE earn compared to in their home countries

From the outside, the life of a teacher might seem like an easy one, filled with short days and long holidays.

The reality is quite different, however, as The National found out when it went back to school for the day.

Year 2 teacher Amy Louise Locker welcomed us into her classroom at Al Mamoura Academy in Abu Dhabi.

Waking up in the dark

With a daily start before sunrise, it takes a certain kind of dedication to be a teacher.

“I try to prepare myself the day before because the mornings are just so busy,” she said, waiting for her class to return from its break.

No two days are the same, that’s a blessing and also a challenge as well
Amy Louise Locker

“I don’t have a family so I just have to worry about getting myself ready.

“I have a little dog and take him for a walk each morning and enjoy the sunrise, that’s usually around 5.30am.”

After breakfast it is time to head to school, a journey that typically takes her about 25 minutes.

“I leave at around 6.30am and sign-in at the school for 7am before the children arrive at 7.30,” said Ms Locker.

“There’s not a lot of time in between before the pupils arrive so I just try to catch up with my teaching assistant and prepare the lessons for the day ahead.”

Abu Dhabi teacher welcomes The National into her classroom

Abu Dhabi teacher welcomes The National into her classroom

It takes special management skill to cope with almost 30 six and seven-year-olds, bustling with energy and arriving through the door at the same time.

“The morning is quite often the busiest time of the day because that’s when they want to tell you about what they got up to at home the night before,” she said.

Ms Locker said that there is a focus on getting the children to recognise their emotions, especially when they are heightened.

“There’s also a feelings table where they can tell us if they’re happy, sad or if they are excited.

“There was one time I had a six-year-old pupil complain that his classmate was ‘pushing me into the red zone’.”

The class also gets to vote in the morning for which story they want to hear at the end of the day.

Lessons officially get under way at 8am. The day is broken up into seven lessons on a range of topics including English, science, maths and geography.

Many of the pupils in the class are Emirati, so some of the subjects requiring specialist teachers include Arabic.

The majority of the children in the school are Emirati but there are also pupils from Russia, Pakistan, India, England and Ireland, added Ms Locker.

The first lesson today is about patterns and shapes, and this honorary pupil for the day already feels out of his depth as the six-year-olds reach for their iPads.

While the days are planned out methodically, all that pre-planning can easily go out of the window in an instant, she said.

Every day is different

“Schools are busy places and they are unpredictable,” said the 32-year-old from Staffordshire in the UK.

“You could arrive in the morning and have a day completely planned and it just completely changes, very quickly.

“No two days are the same, that’s a blessing and also a challenge as well.”

She offered an example of a day when all the planning in the world meant little in the end.

“I always think back to the time when we were celebrating World Book Day and I was dressed up as Alice in Wonderland,” she said.

“One of the pupils was dressed in an inflatable dinosaur suit, which started to deflate and this was making her quite upset.

“Then another pupil began vomiting on the floor. This was all within the space of a few minutes.

“It’s often an unpredictable job and you’ve got be able to think on your feet.”

Time management is often an issue for many people across a wide spectrum of industries, but for teachers it seems it is particularly challenging.

“Imagine preparing for a presentation but having to do it seven times a day,” she said.

“Then you’ve still got the matter of your emails and paperwork after that.”

Work goes on when school is out

Her working day does not end when the school bell rings at 2.30pm and the pupils go home.

Far from it, in fact.

“The school offers a broad range of extra-curricular activities, including clubs for coding, drama and writing,” she said.

“It’s not unusual for a teacher to offer their time to help pupils develop skills in areas they are passionate about.”

Ms Locker, who also serves as Year 2 head, often spends time after classes have ended working on forward planning and training with her colleagues.

She will typically find herself asleep by 9.30pm to make sure she’s ready for the next day.

“Here in the UAE it feels like there is no ceiling when it comes to limits on what can be achieved,” said Ms Locker.

“I’m teaching little six-year-olds who tell me they want to be everything from doctors, nurses, astronauts, footballers to medics and researchers.

“To be able to help to inspire a love of learning in them very early on is a pretty cool job.”

Updated: May 23, 2023, 11:13 AM