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.

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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.

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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.

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?!’


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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!