Initiation – 2

Our newest Western teacher began teaching in September.

She is an amazing woman:



and full of positive energy.

I visited her classes several times and was always impressed with the range of diversity in her classroom activities and the way she shared herself so generously with the students. One of the things that really impressed me was that she didn’t have any behavioral problems!

Then the grades came out.

And then this warm, sensitive, amazing teacher got her initiation:

I was away from school that day, gone to a meeting, so I only have this story second-hand. First I was told by the other Western teacher who witnessed it, and then from the Emirati administrator who served as translator as well as in her role as administrator. Both stories were the same, though the conclusions were different. Note that the administrator prefaced her story by telling me that “students and mothers have a right to know their grades.” This sentiment was not voiced by the Western teacher who told me the story because she already knew that I would know that this “right to know” is a value we share and uphold.

Here’s the summary of the story, told by two different “sides”, but the language used and the events told were the same by both parties:

Two students who had always been labeled “excellent”, meaning that they had received “full marks” throughout their schooling received 8 out of 10 on one part of a project. (The project was graded on 4 different criteria and the rubric included a clear description of what was required to receive full marks, minus one mark, minus two marks, etc.).

The teacher was called to the principal’s office to discuss the grades with the students and their mothers who were already there, and had already told their grievances to the principal.

The room was chaotic.

The two Western teachers sat on the sofa; the mothers and students remained standing.

Mothers and students filled the room with their animated expressions of protests.

The students complained that the teacher hadn’t told them the criteria for the marking. (The teacher told them verbally and wrote it on the board, but she didn’t have any proof of that. However, she had also given them a handout with the criteria and she had that in her file. Students admitted they had received that handout.)

The students complained that they didn’t understand the criteria. (The teacher reminded them of the activities that led up to the submission of the project and had her notes on student papers that demonstrated her guidance in students understanding it. Students admitted they had understood those activities and the teacher’s feedback.)

The teacher had examples of other students’ work and showed the difference between full marks and 8 out of 10. The students and parents looked at the differences and appeared to understand, but refused accept it.

The Students and parents tried again and again to argue that the teacher wasn’t fair; that the teacher hadn’t done her job; that the teacher was incompetent; that the teacher didn’t know how to teach; that the teacher had ultimately failed.

Throughout it all, the administrator translated without taking sides as the mothers and students remained animated and angry and the teacher slid lower and lower on the sofa like a rapidly wilting flower.

At the end, realizing that the grades would not be changed and even the principal would not (could not?) enforce the change, mothers and students left the room.

There was no polite exchange of words as a conclusion, no eye contact or recognition of the teacher’s presence in the room, and no apologies for jumping to conclusions and accusations of failure to teach.

There was certainly no acknowledgement of the students’ role in their “low” grades.

After mothers and students left the room, the other Western teacher took the recipient of the onslaught of slander by the elbow and led her back to the teachers’ room.


Conclusion made by the 2 Western teachers:

  • Keep excellent records.
  • Add pictures of information written on the board.
  • Get students to sign declarations of receipt of rubrics and understanding of grading criteria.


Conclusion made by the Emirati administrator:

  • Well, now she understands our culture!


My response to that that last comment:

Really? You are telling me that the behavior of the students and their mothers was your culture?

The treatment of that teacher was




Is that really your culture? Is this really what you want us to know about your culture? Is that really the face you want to show to the outside world?

  • We understand that the failure of the students and their mothers to acknowledge their own role in earning grades vs. being given grades indicates that 1) the only satisfaction they got from the meeting was being able to self-express their anger and frustration (not from receiving information – i.e., “their right to know”); 2) this will happen again and again if less than “full marks” are received; and 3) to avoid this in the future, teachers should not teach to learn, but rather do anything in the class and then give marks at the end that make the students and their mothers smile.
  • We understand that lying to save one’s own face is acceptable.
  • We understand that verbal abuse is acceptable.
  • We understand that our students, their parents, and even our colleagues and administrators do not appreciate or respect the concept of education (as now defined by the UAE Ministry of Education).
  • We understand that you resent your foreign teachers.

I’m surprised that you are satisfied that “now she knows [your] culture” because if this new understanding is correct, it certainly doesn’t paint you in a very good light.

Did we misunderstand something? You are welcome to explain and clarify. I’ve searched my mind and cannot find another way to interpret the words, the actions, the sounds of angry voices, and the lack of conclusion that acknowledges the accused.

And finally, while I agree that it is the students’ and mothers’ “right to know” why they got the grades they did, I do not believe that it is their right to treat another human in this way. Period.

This is not a matter of “culture” or “cultural differences”; this is a matter of decent behavior in an adult world.


My own initiation happened one year ago. I have not fully recovered, even yet. That experience changed me. It didn’t change me at my core; it changed my behavior. It shattered my sense of freedom and it produced walls around my experiences to protect my beautiful heart. I responded by going into my shell and withholding my gifts. I remain hesitant to give freely; I remain suspicious. I remain protective of my integrity. I struggle to remain open and to refrain from judgment.

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