A teacher being swamped by chinese children who want to be in the photo

A Typical Day as An ESL Teacher in China

Ever wondered what an ESL teacher does on an average day? It’s not all about eating street food and experiencing new cultures…

Dress Code

Firstly I am going to calm your nerves by saying you don’t have to wear a shirt and tie to work as a teacher. The picture below was my first day and I was fresh-faced and ready to impress. Soon after you realise all the other guys wear casual clothes all the way to borderline pyjamas to school so jeans will be ok. One teacher wore genuine Mickey Mouse jogging bottoms.

Two tall people with a small chinese teacher
Being the two tall travellers is especially relevant in China!

What Are You Given?

I am lucky as I am a slow 15-minute walk to my school, however, many friends of mine have to commute some distance. The transport networks in Beijing, especially the subway, are very good and very cheap so don’t worry too much if you don’t live nearby.

Read More: Teaching English in China – Complete Guide!

School campuses in Chaoyang district are extremely similar so you can pretty much take a look at some of the pictures and imagine the school you would be working at. I get a desk and a computer at school in the English office, again this is very common.

All the schools we have worked in have spaces like this for the students to work outside.

Lunch is provided at all schools in the Chaoyang district however this is the one thing that can vary considerably. I am very lucky with the variety and quality of the food I get, having seen some of the ‘buffets’ other schools provide. But it is all provided free of charge so complaining would probably make you a huge douche.

I have heard bad stories of the provided lunch but we have always been lucky.

Being a Teacher!

OK, down to the important stuff. School starts from 08:00 to 08:40 depending on if you have first period. Lessons are 40 minutes long across the board in Beijing at public schools. You will be expected to have produced a PPT and lesson plan for the lesson; you can see an example of this in the pictures.

Read More: What It’s Really Like Teaching Abroad

In the lessons, you should have a Chinese teacher who speaks English to help with behaviour and management. I say should have because sometimes they don’t come because they are busy but this is almost never a problem and I speak no Chinese.

The state schools are always very clean and bright places to work.

Between lessons, I have on average 10 minutes to get from one lesson to another and prepare the PC for the lesson, this only takes 2 minutes so then I spend 8 minutes getting swamped by hundreds of kids. Being the only foreign teacher in the school and probably the only foreign person they know, they tend to get quite excited.

There is always a large area for sports including a running track. It is very unlikely there will be grass but one time I had some nice astroturf.

After School

And that’s basically it guys, at 14:45 I go home. That’s my longest day with 6 lessons and I only have two days like that. Tuesday and Thursday I start work at 10:25 and Friday I finish work at 11:05. And to bring those figures home even more, that includes overtime. My contract is 20 lessons and I do 23 and Jade does 26. So with overtime, you’re looking at a very nice schedule.

Book your favourite hotel here

Where will you go?

I personally do some extracurricular stuff for the school without pay, like a choir club, and a debate club. You have no obligation to do these activities or in fact anything they ask you to do apart from lessons. However, the relationship and fun you can have are well worth it and you don’t get home at 15:00 and think to yourself ‘what the hell do I do now?!’

Read More: How To Send Money Home From China

Before I came to China I had so many questions and worries. Ask below if there is anything we can help you with because we have experienced it all. Doing 1 hour speeches to 1000 kids with 4 days to prepare, Halloween parties for the teachers, impromptu lesson cancellations, going to a hospital, sending money home and even adopting 3 week old kittens found in the school shed. So feel free to ask!


  1. Great ready, Kev!

    I’ve always wondered a what life for a ESL teacher is like so I really enjoyed your post. Thanks so much for sharing

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  3. I have worked in the ELS industry for in Sydney for more than a decade and really love working with students who are so keen to learn. I would love to spend a few months working in Asia one day. I imagine it would be a fantastic experience.

    1. I hope you get to experience teaching in Asia, I also hope you find the Asian kids that want to learn English haha. When you do please let us know 🙂

  4. That is great you can walk to work and it’s only 15 minutes. Makes starting and ending your work day so much easier. It sounds like you really enjoy your job and the kids. That is great to hear!

    1. I can’t lie, our working hours are very very nice. The kids were OK most of the time as well.

    1. Haha it was OK when the day finally came, the most difficult part was to get a response out of the children. The head teacher threatens them with something nasty if they play up when they are being videoed so they were all like statues…

  5. I’ve always been curious what the day of an ESL teacher was like! I’ve always wanted to do this just for a year. Do you need a teaching degree? Or what qualifications do you need?

    1. You just need a degree, and a TEFL of some sort. Some places don’t actually require a degree at all. You can definitely do it and we highly recommend it.

  6. Teachers really do have it easy, don’t they !!!!! Its a great chance to immerse yourself and learn more about other cultures and even learn a new language. It must be a novelty too for you if you are the only foreigner around.

    1. Yup the two years we were there was pretty cushty if I’m honest 🙂 Chinese was always to difficult for me to grasp however.

  7. Kev, It seems like a great gig. I’ve never really had much experience or knowledge of how teaching English in China works, only Japan and Korea, which are both amazing as well. It’s such a good way to finance a trip abroad, and you learn so much more when you live in that culture for awhile.

    1. It really was, I’ve heard Japan and Korea differ greatly from China so it might be an idea for us to try one of the two. I couldn’t agree with you more. Did you enjoy teaching?

  8. Mickey Mouse pants sound crazy!! I can’t imagine; no way I could take a teacher seriously in the US if they showed up like that hahah. It was really interesting to hear you have a bilingual Chinese teacher in the classroom as well. I assumed you had to be bilingual to be an ESL teacher, but looks like it’s different for China (or Asia as a whole?), but that’s cool! (and fantastic for you!)

    1. Haha Micky Mouse wasn’t even the worst! Yeah in China they have to supply you with a teacher as an assistant during your class. You should definitely have a go for a year!

  9. Loved reading about your experiences as an English teacher. It must be a fascinating experience, and while teaching the kids, you may get to learn a lot about the Chinese way of life and their culture.

    1. We have finished now after two years and I can say that we certainly have learned so much. I great way to experience a new culture.

  10. I have done my TEFL and have considered teaching but haven’t done it yet. Am not sure China would be for me, with the language barrier though. You make it sound easy though I am sure it can’t be, am sure there are hard times. Hopefully one day in the future I will get to see 🙂

    1. The language barrier you get over very quickly, I really recommend going to Beijing. the pollution can get to you but if you only go for a year or two it really isn’t a problem

  11. How interesting– I considered doing this at the beginning of my trip. I was looking at S Korea. It’s interesting to see what it’s really like.

    1. Are you still looking to go? Wages have just gone up a little as they have just kicked out all non native English teachers. Obviously I don’t agree with that but you could get more money if you’re native.

  12. Thank you for sharing, I’ve been considering it. Im worried i’ll get homesick or find a fake agent, the list goes on. What agent did you use.

    1. We used a company called HYZD, they are very good and i know they are currently looking for new teachers so give them an email or call. http://www.hyzdedu.com/

  13. Hey. I’m actually just waiting to receive a contract from a school in Zhengzhou and then do all the paperwork for the visa. Was it easy to fill the lesson time and find something different to do each lesson? Planning the lessons is rather worrying.

    1. Exciting! Lessons are usually 40-45 mins so it’s usually easy to fill that time. Is it a public school you’ll be working at? You’ll probably be given textbooks to work from but if not, there are so many resources online to help. Play games on the whiteboard, practical games, get them talking A LOT – to you and to each other. If you plan a lesson but it turns out that you have extra time at the end, have some ideas handy like playing hangman or teach them some songs or rhymes they can practice whenever there’s a spare few minutes!

  14. Hello and thank you so much for providing all this information for new comers. I do have a question regarding pets. You stated that you adopted kittens.

    So my question is regarding having pets in your apartment. Did you know if your landlord allowed pets before hand? Did you have to pay any additional fees? How would we know if our apartment allows pets.

    I have a pet that I want to bring over with me after i am settled in my school. I have the transportation part worked out but I want to make sure that I am squared away in country before I bring her home.

    1. It will be in the contract that you sign whether you’re allowed pets or not. However, when we moved to a second apartment with the cats, the contract actually said no pets but it was obviously a deal breaker for us because we already had pets so they actually changed it for us. Just let the agency know that you will have a pet and then they can work around it because some landlords don’t mind. Also be prepared to pay for any damage that your pet does! Good luck!

  15. I want to start teaching in China. Shenyang, Liaoning Province but worried about ongoing lesson planning. Will the schools help or will you be on your own?

    1. Hi Stephen. It does all depend on the school but in public schools you’re given a textbook to base your classes from. It’s not unheard of to be given full free reign but usually there is some sort of direction. There are also plenty of WeChat groups full of teachers sharing ideas and resources so definitely join those when you arrive (I can give you the details when you’re here if you want). There is also SO much on the internet so you should always be able to find something to help you or get you started!

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