Hi there!Mark Whitworth I am Mark Whitworth -
writer, educator, traveller
and all round good guy.
Welcome to my website.

October 2010

Doha, Desert, Mark WhitworthQ & A in Qatar III

No one said life should always run smoothly and this week has provided us with the potholes, minefields and razor wire fences that periodically lie across everybody’s path.

In the desert you have to get used to a different way of life; at least we do not have to go without water! In many respects Qatar has felt like a desert, as it is, but both of us have started to scratch the surface of things to do; at least occupying our bodies, if not our minds.

Andrea Kidd, Doha, Qatar, Mark WhitworthUnlike myself, Captain Kidd did not have such a long break away from the chalk-face and has moved from a condition of some comfort in Suzhou to one where she can officially be described as peripatetic. This is a word that teachers use and nobody else in the world, as far as I know, does. I hate the word with a ferocity I also reserve for its implications for, as the odd one or two of you might know, it means to wander lonely as a cloud, gathering no moss, without even a hat to lay down to identify a home base. The Kidd is teaching in four classrooms and has her homeroom in a fifth; I’ve done it, more than once, it isn’t nice and it’s hard work.

For myself, all my lessons are in one room, albeit one without the desired equipment, and a little on the wee side when it comes to a class of more than twenty. Fortunately that number has yet to be reached; the class sizes are generally comfortable. My own room lacks a computer and overhead projector, which might seem a tad over the top in some schools, but they are supposed to be present in all our teaching rooms; the resulting problems are at two distant ends of the spectrum.

In my Humanities lessons for Years 7 to 9 (G6-8) much of the work has been well prepared on Powerpoint presentations and there is video content; the difficulty is I haven’t got the hardware to use them. For my Business Studies course there is nothing prepared, it’s down to me, but I have no resources whatsoever; the Internet is essential. Thus I am temporarily hamstrung. Resuming teaching is taking up the slack in the cranial department but this does mean that I am off track on pursuing the completion of the third section of my novel. The long layoff out of the classrooms has probably paid dividends; I’m not firing on all cylinders yet but I can sense it won’t be long. The difficulty is wrapping the teaching requirements around a writing schedule; I’ve struggled to find the time and energy to write this piece.

One upside of getting back to grips with teaching, the relief of being in the classroom, is that you’re finally back in a situation over which you have a little control! Students, SSIS, Suzhou Singapore International School, China, Mark WhitworthAny new member of staff in any school experiences this; when you’re back with the students, things always seem rosier. Almost a month has now passed since our arrival in Doha and the vast majority of events have had us bouncing around like dhows in the Gulf. For all the moans and groans that emanate from teachers, anywhere and everywhere, the most pleasurable bits are when you’re with the kids. For me it’s coming up to twenty years in the profession and the students are the constant hum; the factor you can be sure of. For sure, there’s always a few, or more, who are trying, but that’s the nature of kids. It is other aspects of school that irritate most teachers I know!

Apartment, Doha, Qatar, Mark WhitworthIn the world of international teaching the major hurdle is often with accommodation. Quite why international schools don’t get to grips with the importance of teachers’ dwellings I’ve never really understood. In Suzhou, Guangzhou and here there have been problems that really should not occur. In the last week alone three teachers, in three different apartment complexes, have had floods; these have not been minor ones. In Moshi, Tanzania, the difficulties were more understandable, but nonetheless there were also issues that could have been dealt with quite easily. Moshi, accommodation, ISM, International School Moshi, Mark WhitworthIn many cases it boils down to an imbalance between longer term financial considerations and shorter term budgeting. Quite simply, a stitch in time saves nine. The productivity of staff is long term and a key aspect to it is retention; keep your staff happy and the future savings will be considerable. Providing adequate housing is a short term cost and has the bean counters jumping up and down; it’s just a question of how long they are allowed to get away with it!

Unlike some other new teachers our apartment does not leak, it is clean, the maintenance staff are excellent, it is in a good location, the views are reasonable and the furniture comfortable. The problem is simply that of size. I believe the place is around 70 square metres and currently, although we can only get away from each other if one of us goes to bed, we’re coping very well and enjoying the place. Apart from the bathroom and a toilet there are only two rooms, the living area and the bedroom; all fine and dandy if we didn’t have eleven cubic metres of shipping waiting on the docks for us.

Our Head of School has been aware of our predicament, as were the majority of the teaching staff, all of whom are more than somewhat surprised that two teachers should be sharing a one bedroom apartment. We had requested that the situation be addressed but, for a while, there was no action. A couple of days ago we learned that we are to be moved.

The new accommodation is a three bedroom house. If that seems to you as if we’re going from one extreme to the other, you’ve got it right in one. We’ll also be moving from close to the focus of ex-pat living near the centre of Doha to a compound out in the desert, but we’re cool with that; at least our belongings will fit! The parallels with our move to Guangzhou in 2007 have been startlingly similar but this early move breaks that mould and our mindset.