Classroom lessons from an experienced shepherd

Some tips to wrangle an Arabic brood in the first weeks of school to ease the transition from summer for everyone.

So it's only two weeks into the school year and you're wondering why you can't stay awake past 5pm. Don't worry. Most teachers are the same. Whenever you have the energy to sit up, make something quick to eat and then pass out - that's the first tip of being a teacher, no matter what country you live in. The second is to memorise all the names of your students and most of their faces. Maybe you've already figured out who shouldn't sit together - these chat monsters will have a party while you're trying to get your point across - so best thing to do is create a seating chart and use it to take attendance. If they're out of place, put them back where they belong. Give the fidgety ones some jobs like keeping the books neat or passing out things. By next week, you will have your "team leaders" and will have organised your reading partners.
Some Emirates-specific classroom tips: "Shoo?" means "What?", and other common words floating around the classroom like it will sound like none of the Arabic you've learned. Get a copy of Maryam Behnam's Heirloom: Evening Tales from the East. It will help to explain a lot of things around you and your kids will love you if you read them a passage or two. If you're searching for more classroom inspiration, there's a sheep you can call on. His name is Shaun. He features on an animated series called, appropriately enough, Shaun the Sheep, and the show is the very metaphor of school life.
The farmer assumes the same role as a school administrator: making sure that everything is in its place, that everything is organised and running smoothly. That's the best case scenario. Administrators, like farmers, are often overworked by their farms. Kindhearted though they may be, they simply don't have enough time to handle all the tasks that need doing throughout the day. That's where the sheep dog comes in. On the show, his name is Bitzer. In real life, he is Bob or Ahmed. Acting as the vice principal, team leader, or a fellow teacher, this character is very efficient, time conscious, and perhaps takes his job a little too seriously. He rarely relaxes, nor does he know how to have fun. You might even look in the mirror and find Bitzer staring right back at you.
Bitzer's main flaw is not that he works too much, but that he often is so tough that others can't figure out when he needs help until it's too late. This is dangerous, because on the farm, just like in school, people rely on his ability to get things done and done right. When he messes up, it's generally beyond repair. In school, this usually means attrition, and with this you get revolving-door staff. Of course, Bitzer, the sheep dog, is not equipped to do an administrator's job. He wings it and it's not his fault. Really it's not anyone's fault. However, if any of you notice that someone working close to you may have a Bitzer type of character, step in and help out. You may then get more help from him than anyone else. This is how Shaun the Sheep would do it.
Shaun the Sheep is what I might call the quintessential starter teacher. He is quick minded and can triage a situation. He can figure out quickly where trouble bubbles up and how to plug it. Unlike Bizter, he knows how to ask for help from his peers, who as a team find solutions to dilemmas as they arise. Shaun is not perfect. He messes up, and often his endings aren't so happy. But isn't that how school is? Inshallah, you'll start fresh every day, equipped with all of the skills you've acquired the day before.
Oh, don't forget the students. Part of Shaun's success is that he and his fellow sheep work as a team, even though they know that he's the boss. They offer their suggestions when it comes to sticky situations and most of the time they work out. So remember: your students are your team members. Once they understand that, you can start strutting towards your goals. Finally, remember these wise words: "Patience is the road to paradise." It will get you through the year quicker than anything else. This axiom is not just meant for trying times with students but also with every tribulation that you may face.
Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the US and the UAE