Future School Leaders, Samarah Qadir

For day five of our week long feature looking at Future School Leaders, we spoke to Samarah Qadir, Grade 6 Maths and Science Teacher and Institutional Leader at Universal American School.
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders
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Future School Leaders
This article is part of an editorial series on Future School Leaders

The fifth of our Future School interviewees, Samarah Qadir is the Grade 6 Maths and Science Teacher and Institutional Leader at Universal American School. Diving right in, we asked Samarah, why she thought the school put her forward?

I have been with Universal American School for nine years now, and that has given me a deep understanding of the school’s values and culture. For some of our families I am teaching their fourth child! I really have a deep connection with the school and our community. Plus, my role as Institutional Leader sees me getting involved in lots of social initiatives across the school. I am Head of the UAS Community Support group, the social committee, the support staff committee and the PTSO [Parent Teacher Student Organisation] teacher liaison.

I also represent the school at lots of school fairs and workshops. I suppose this is just one more way of representing the school!

Nine years is a very long tenure at one school by UAE standards! Can you tell us more about your career prior to UAS?

I’m a Third Culture Kid, in fact you could say I am a true representation of the students at UAS! I was born in Saudi, where I attended the International School of Jeddah. I then spent some time living in Pakistan, attending the International School of Islamabad before completing my education in the United States. I have lived in the UAE for 12 years. I consider all these places home to some extent, but now all my siblings live here and and I am just a three hour plane ride away from Pakistan. This feels like where I am supposed to be.

I studied Business at Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, I honestly didn’t think about teaching as a career at first. My first job out of college was with Citibank…I thought banking might be my path. In my spare time, I was asked to tutor the Principal of the local elementary school’s daughters. When that Principal saw me working with her daughters, she encouraged me to consider teaching and I quickly grew to love it. I think I was in the right place at the right time to discover teaching, maybe if a different path had come my way I would have stayed in banking – but I am very happy to be where I am now, no regrets!


Samarah in class and enjoying being with her students

Looking ahead at leadership roles, for me it’s a catch 22 if you love teaching and being in a classroom. Leadership roles do take you away from the kids, that’s the trade off. That said, I can see that as a leader the decisions you make have impact on students. So, we will see where things take me! For now, one leadership role I really enjoy is acting as a mentor to our new teachers at UAS.

Why teach in the UAE?

Oh teaching here is an easy win for me [laughs!]. Having lived in several places, I always say that here we have the freedom of the west and luxuries of the east! For anyone looking at teaching in the UAE, I would say that there is a really good balance of different cultures, cuisines, activities – it’s all here! I just really enjoy the multicultural society. You learn so much from each and every person, you come to understand what a ‘global society’ really means. Working here prepares you for pretty much anything!

Do you think teaching in the UAE has accelerated your career path?

For the kind of teacher I am, the opportunities to teach in truly international schools is amazing. I would be much more limited back in the US or Pakistan. Schools here are a great fit for me. I would also say that the stability I have had here at UAS has been great, it has allowed me to develop my teaching practice and career. So yes, I think progression has come faster here than it would have elsewhere, no question.

How do you see your subject specialisms changing in the next 5-10 years?

Wow! Math is just so different to when I went to school. I really can’t overstate that! There is so much more of a focus on understanding the logic of Math and on learning skills rather than content. The ‘how’ is much more important. We find our students want to learn things that are related to real life. For example, we might look at cell phone packages or deals in Carrefour vs Spinneys to see where they can find the best value. We can have so much more impact when students can see and understand real life relevance.

The other significant change is the much greater emphasis on connection with other subject areas. We make sure what we do links to and underscores what are students are doing in other areas. No subject sits in isolation anymore!

How do you see education in the UAE evolving in the next 5 years?

The government has set very high targets for all schools and one of the ways I think we will achieve these is by innovating with technology. I think Expo 2020 is going to be a great inspiration for our children in terms of technology. As teachers, the challenge is to ensure students see devices as resources that open up the world, not as a distraction!

In contrast, Moral Education is now a huge area of emphasis in UAE schools. It’s all about creating a holistic education and not simply putting all our energy into traditional subject areas. That has been great for underlining the caring ethos of our school.

What makes your generation of teachers different from the ones that went before?

Well, compared with the teachers I had, I need to be much more comfortable with being questioned! I don’t expect my students to just accept what I say as the gospel of truth. I encourage them to think deeply and question everything. In classrooms today, we don’t ‘front load’ information. We encourage and support students to arrive where they need to be. I like to say that we facilitate a productive struggle!

For teachers today, pastoral care is a huge element of what we do. Teachers don’t have traditional ‘static’ roles any more, we are on hand to mentor students in terms of their social and emotional life too. Overall, I would say that compared to the last generation, our methods are different, but the goals are always the same!

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