Shannon Smith’s college choice wasn’t a surprise—her mother is a proud alumna and her high school crew coach encouraged her to attend and row. Where her studies have taken her is more unexpected.
After finishing her undergraduate degree in psychology, Shannon immediately jumped into the Graduate School of Education to get her master’s in elementary education, which she earned in just 18 months. Not long after graduation, she boarded a plane bound for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where she’d been hired by the country’s government to teach kindergarten.
“Deciding to move to the UAE was difficult, but it’s the best decision I've ever made,” Shannon says.
Shannon lives in a nice apartment close to her school with other teachers in the bustling town of Ruwais.
“My town is proof of the rapid changes happening in the UAE with lots of construction, a burgeoning oil business and an increase in people coming here to work,” says Smith. “I've never met more warm, welcoming and non-judgmental people than the Emirati and they take very good care of all of us. People warned me about culture shock but it didn't happen because everyone is so nice.”
Her class at the Al Jinan school is just like one in New England. Smith teaches math, English and science to excited students, many of whom are the second generation in their family to have formal schooling. There are differences, though – her co-teacher helps to translate lessons between English and Arabic and there is no separation of church and state. Yet Smith is already at home in the school and enjoys the challenges.
The UAE is establishing and reforming its formal educational system so there’s no set curriculum. The government sets the guidelines and required learning outcomes, and the teachers design lesson plans by pulling from their experiences and expertise. Smith says that her studies at UMass Lowell prepared her for most of the job’s requirements.
“I’m becoming a much stronger teacher and enjoying working with curriculum. It’s been a great experience to pick up a new language, teach children and meet so many new people,” Smith says. “I love teaching and can’t imagine doing something else.”