At a time when relations between the U.S. and Middle Eastern countries are strained at best, one Bluffton woman has been working quietly as an ambassador of good will.
Annemarie Neubecker is an educational consultant who spent time recently in Qatar, helping the government there set up a training program for new teachers. The Moss Creek resident and member of the Rotary Club of Okatie shared teaching practices that are current in the U.S. but were new to teachers in Qatar.
“The teachers who I trained just completed their school year,” Neubecker said.
From October 2014 to October 2015, she worked for Novus International Consultants to bring training to 1,200 teachers in Qatar. From 2006-2010, Neubecker and her husband, Dr. Gary Moore, lived in the United Arab Emirates, where they both worked as educational consultants.
Because most citizens of oil-rich Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are wealthy, they usually don’t work as teachers. The teachers Neubecker trained in Qatar were from Egypt, Jordan and other Arabic-speaking countries. They taught a variety of levels and subjects.
Human translators and technology helped Neubecker communicate in Arabic with the educators who had recently arrived in Qatar and the more experienced teachers and administrators who worked with them as mentors.
In Qatar, public schools are called “national schools,” and only children of citizens are allowed to attend. The many foreign workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Yemen either pay to send their children to private schools, or leave their families at home and send money to support them.
The teachers Neubecker worked with “mostly left their families at home,” she said. High unemployment in their home countries motivated the teachers to come and work in Qatar.
“We talked a lot about what these teachers were feeling,” she said. “I knew they were hurting.”
In contrast, the teachers Neubecker worked with in the United Arab Emirates were from the U.S., England and Canada, and her work was in English. But religious and political pressures have since caused the UAE government to de-emphasize education in English, in favor of Arabic.
In Qatar, Neubecker planned and delivered six days of induction training in a classroom environment, where she and her staff modeled every technique as if the teachers being trained were students.
“Before, in their home countries, they were using traditional methods, meaning lecture,” Neubecker said.
The best practices she and her team demonstrated included cooperative learning; peer support and modeling; active listening; and effective lesson creation and delivery, among others.
The training took place in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which Neubecker described as “conservative.” While she didn’t cover her face or hair, modest dress was expected.
Qatari children are separated by gender in school beginning in the fifth grade, and each gender has a teacher of the same sex. But Neubecker said the men she worked with in the Middle East treated her “very well.”
“I was there to help prepare their children for the future, which is something we all want,” she said. “We are more the same than we are different.”
Carol Weir of Bluffton is a career journalist and teacher.