True Colours are sometimes best left Unseen

Life is continuing as usual here in the Kingdom, though the past two weeks of school have been quite interesting. I’ve been continuing my ‘Deputy Principle’ duties which basically amount to daily confrontations with the South African to keep him on track as he continues his charade as ‘principle’ then delegating the tasks he should have completed months ago to everyone else. Its worked out fairly well and there has been significant progress, but, as with all change in Saudi, sorting out one set of problems immediately creates another.

A vacant lot near the School.

As far as actually teaching, my life is fairly easy. My students have finally gotten accustomed to the routines I established back in September, and I haven’t had to introduce any new students to the concepts of Western Education, or basic education in general, in more than a month. Outside my classroom walls things are different. Last week I helped institute a behavioral management plan that went beyond the usual shaming and yelling. Surprisingly, once the other teachers were asked to use logical consequences (both positive and negative, which was quite the shocking concept) and send letters home to parents instead of yelling until they lost their voice, they started to notice an improvement in behavior. After a week we moved to using mostly positive consequences instead of threats, and rewards instead of verbal abuse. It’s been nice.

I’ve also been coercing teachers to monitor their students outside their classrooms, something that didn’t go over very well at first, but as my Roommate noticed the other day “when I line my students up in the hallways and make sure they use their inside voice, I don’t have to yell as much and I’m in a lot better mood.” He’s starting to have these types of earth shattering revelations almost every day. The next item I’ve placed on his  agenda is teaching his students (5th graders) how to properly use the toilet, something he doesn’t feel is very important, but then again he’s worn the same outfit every day of every week for the entire school year and doesn’t smell too peachy himself.

On other fronts its much the same. Back in January the Vice President was given the option of hiring an “Academic Coordinator” to help fix the many problems I’m now dealing with. Obviously, this didn’t pan out as originally intended. As usual, a person was hired from an outside source with no knowledge of the situation and little if any experience with the task at hand. Latifah, as she is called, is a ‘college professor’ from Riyadh, though she refuses to disclose what college she works for and what subject she teaches. The only meeting I’ve been in with her she was wearing a burqa, covered head to toe in black, not even her eyes showing, and she talked using a mix of English and Arabic, none of which was all that intelligible. What’s more confusing about the situation is that she’s an American. Her real name is Nicole; she is very large, very loud, and very Black. She is also extremely confrontational and has what could politely be called a Bitch Complex. Her original job was to write a curriculum that worked for both the Boys’ and Girls’ Schools, but she took it upon herself to change her job description to include things like ‘enforcing staff dress codes’ and ‘mandating weekend workshops.’ She literally rewrote the memo the Vice Principle emailed to all staff members with a list of changes, without anyone’s permission, then hit reply all. Needless to say she didn’t get off to a good start.

I'd rather be here than near Latifah's charming attitude.

She has a habit of saying offensive things to the western teachers, especially any men that happen to find themselves inside the Girls’ School, and regularly condemns those of us that aren’t practicing Muslims (she’s a recent convert). There are several South American teachers who have multiple advanced degrees from prestigious universities across the U.S. and Canada, but she refuses to hear their opinions or have meetings with them because they aren’t 'actually Westerners.' As alienating as she is to the Western staff, it’s nothing compared to how she treats the local hires. These staff members are Indian, Pakistani, or non-Saudi Arabs, and she treats them like dirt. She regularly belittles them about not being a ‘Real Saudi’ like herself, and asks them to do anything she deems beneath her regal position as Academic Coordinator, such as making tea, throwing things away, or opening doors. She’s the most blatantly racist person I’ve met here in Saudi.

The good news about her coming was that the sheer volume of problems the school faces in establishing itself was brought to a much greater light, and the Vice President is now starting to see just how far in over his head he might be. After several meetings with the Principle on the Girls’ School, it was basically left to Latifah to sort these situations out, but she quickly made it known that her biggest concerns were small issues like using a very specific type of lesson plan template. She thoroughly alienated the majority of the staff, and in a weirdly unionistic (and very non-Saudi) way all the female teachers approached myself and the Brit to help deal with the problem. It took a few days of strategizing, but after I drafted a well written email signed by all the teachers politely asking Latifah to attend to some concerns, and several phone calls with the Vice President to help him make sense of the letter (it was far too long for his attention span), things got sorted out. Everyone is quite happy with the outcome, except of course Latifah. She replied with a ranting response, loaded with misspelled words, personal attacks, and incoherent tangents, then replied again later with the exact same reply, only this time she gave it a quick spellcheck. Her subsequent phone calls to the VP and the Principle were nothing more than screaming fits. Unsurprisingly, Latifah’s role has been redefined as an observer, and her contract will not be renewed past this year.

It remains to be seen how many more problems this may have created, but for now things are flowing fairly smoothly. I’ve learned quite a few things over the past several weeks, most notably that people are usually content to put up with a fair amount of crap, but only so long as you respect them for it. 

Such is life in Saudi.