Average Day of an ESL English Teacher in China
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Average Day of an ESL English Teacher in China

Alright, it is 10am on a friday, we’re in Changzhou and Dhiten is just waking up. Dhiten is a 30 year old ESL English teacher from Leicester, England and this is his average day. He starts his morning with a hot shower before making his usual breakfast of porridge oats with milk and honey. Dhiten’s apartment costs him 2500RMB per month and its located in the city centre of Changzhou, a 2nd tier city in southern Jiangsu. Because it’s a weekday, he doesn’t start work until 11am however, on weekends he would normally start at 8:30 am. Dhiten first arrived in China in 2018 where he worked as an English teacher for a year and a half in the city of Jining, Shandong province. It’s 10:40am and time to go to work. Dhiten works between two branches of his school and this morning he is starting at the school furthest from him, so he is taking a DiDi. DiDi is the leading ride-hailing app in China and features a full English interface tailor-made for expats and English-speaking users. In just minutes his car arrives and we’re off. ESL stands for English as a second language and in China this is mostly taught at private language centers teaching students outside of public-school hours. These schools eagerly compete for tuition fees to teach English to Children and Adults of all ages. But their quality can vary greatly. ESL centers range in size from multinational corporations such as Education First, to sketchy companies renting out a room in a run down shopping mall. However, Dhiten works for a language center called Saint George Education, which is run by a British Expat and his Chinese wife who are locally known for their quality and transparency. They even have a degree wall on display listing all of the relevant information of their teachers. Alright? Hey mate, you alright? Yeah not too bad, thank you. Get stuck in with the work. To start his day, Dhiten will finish working on some lesson plans. He actually won’t start teaching until later in the day. A lesson plan is something you can refer to. It’s got notes about the games you’re going to use. So we’re going to start with possibly a warm up game and then we’re going to do a song. After the song we’re going to do another game to drill in the vocabulary. And… Soon after that, we’ll probably have and extra game, a break and then do a bit of grammar. ESL teachers usually work around 35 hour a week and have up to 18 teaching hours with the rest being office hours for lesson planning. It’s 12pm and time for a quick staff meeting for everyone to catch up before the busy weekend ahead. At present the TEFL industry is worth over $4 Billion USD per year and is still expanding with an estimated 300 million English language students in China. As the market has matured Teachers are now more strictly vetted with a 3 stage notarization process that includes criminal records, medical checks and fingerprints. Five years ago, the average salary for a foreign English teacher in China was around 8000RMB a month. Today that average has now doubled to 16,000. Of course this can vary depending on the tier of the city or if the salary comes with free accommodation. It’s lunchtime, so Dhiten and his colleague head out to eat. They will be teaching at a different location this evening so they take their bags and belongings with them. Today Dhiten will only teach two classes which is fairly normal for a weekday. Today’s lunch takes place at an average Chinese fast food restaurant, also known as Kuàicān. Thank you. Got here some fried chicken with some pepper. And then these strips of potato. Potato is usually a staple dish in China. These potatos, with long stripes. With the rest of the afternoon free, Dhiten and his colleague go for a stroll in Hongmei Park. As a British Indian, Dhiten is often met with some confusion when it comes to his nationality. A lot of people think I’m actually from Pakistan. Mainly because, any type of brown person that you see here are generally from Pakistan. But soon they find out I’m actually Indian. But not only that, I’m British Indian. Parks in China are a popular spot for recreation and socializing, especially between the elderly. It’s very common to come across groups of people singing, dancing or in this case jamming on harmonicas. Can’t get an experience better than that in China. Probably the penultimate. It’s 3pm and time for Dhiten to head across town to resume work and to do so he’s using DiDi. One of the must-have apps for foreigners living in China. While we wait for his DiDi to arrive, let’s ask him how he first started teaching in China. I got here via an agency. And… They ran me through the whole process. All the ins and outs of the visa. Once you get through the long winded visa process, everything is easier later on. I happened to search for a really good recruitment agency, it was called Noon Elite Recruitment. They were the ones who helped me out. Essentially I fell in love with the China lifestyle. The fact that I can save a lot of money. But also at the same time I can learn new skills. Skills in teaching that can be beneficial in the future. In case I wanted to become something like a science teacher, or something like that, you know? Because before this I was just working in the NHS (National Health Service). In the microbiology labs. Many schools in China outsource recruiting to agencies. With an average of 100,000 teachers recruited per year, these agencies generally work in two different ways, they either work for a one off agency fee or they take a cut each month from the teachers salary. There are many horror stories about agencies online, from sending a teacher to a town in the middle of nowhere after promising them a school in a city such as Shanghai, to garnishing up to 60% of a teacher’s monthly salary. So it is worth doing your research before choosing which agency to go with. In this case, Noon Elite Recruitment is the agency Dhiten has used and seems very happy with. Let’s ask Dhiten what plans he has for the future. I’m thinking about… maybe carrying on teaching, but only for the short term. So for the next two years, let’s say. In terms of the future, I’m maybe thinking of possibly going back home. Because that’s where all my friends and family are. Eventually getting a job there. I mean with such a varied skill set right now, I can definitely move into the teaching field Or I can move into something related to China. It’s now 3:28pm and we are back in Dhiten’s neighborhood and headed to another branch of his school. After signing in Dhiten heads to his desk in the teachers area to finish planning his classes. I heard about it. The documentary, did you hear about it? Mm. Do you like Mamahuhu? No. You don’t like them? No, no, no. Have you seen them? Yes. What ones have you seen? Have you seen… He showed them to me. I could not finish the comedy skits. Oh no Dhiten, which ones did you show her? I showed her the Chinglish one. Aw man, she thinks you’re going to take the mick out of her. And Laowai Park. Laowai Park’s a good one though, it’s a good starter. You should have shown her the documentaries. Where did the guy go? They’re a bit longer and not as funny as the short things. Well… I guess you can’t please everyone. Anyway, it’s finally time for Dhiten to set up his first class. Here it is. His first class, titled Super Safari Class, is part of an early learning english course for 4 to 6 year olds. How’s going, Marius? I am busy preparing for my classes. I am in a hurry. I can definitely tell. Because you’re very fast when you talk. And my movements, yeah. Gotta get everything prepared! Yes, exactly. Right, so… I’m going to go to the store-room and get the rope for the game. It’s 4:30pm and the students have arrived. I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P… Chinese culture places huge emphasis on their children’s education. The heavy academic pressure means a high percentage of mainland Children don’t even get enough sleep due to homework and extracurricular programs such as learning English. Okay everybody, let’s get the bags on the table! Each class taught is an hour and a half long with a 10 minute break in between. Mum is the Queen, Dad’s the King We’re a royal family! This is my Dad, Hi! My names Dad! While ESL schools were first established to teach English to adults, in the last decade the demand has shifted to parents who are willing to spend up to half of their household income on language classes for their children. This! Is! My! Sandwich! Very good, thanks! 10 minute break. Toilet break. Okay! Okay, shhh! Teacher sit! Okay! We’re going to draw yourself, okay? You want to draw the eyes? As the class winds down let’s check in with Dhiten… Yeah, it’s going alright so far. Very energetic with the song then afterwards they’ve just calmed down with this. It’s just a matter of getting them to do it the right way. It’s 6pm and Dhiten’s first class over. Now it’s time to clear the materials from his class and begin setting up for the next one. These are their project papers. This on one side. This is their test paper. This is their question sheet. These are the sheets I’m going to give them for their test. Guess what is the title of Dhiten’s second class, which focuses on grammar and storytelling. The children of this class are aged between 7 to 9. For each Guess What class, Dhiten individually tests each student on their grammar. Do you like motorbikes? No. Say, no I… No I have. No I don’t. No I don’t. Okay. What’s this? Pl.. plane. Its… Its a plane. Okay. It’s 8pm and the school is wrapping up for the day. Goodbye. Alright, bye bye Gerry, Bye! Tomorrow being the weekend, Dhiten can expect to teach up to 5 classes and will start work at 8:30am but finish at 6. Last one to leave for the day. Bye bye, Olivia. To unwind and wrap up the evening, Dhiten and his colleague are headed to a local expat bar. Every Chinese city with a substantial expat population tends to have at least one bar catering to foreigners with import alcohol and western food. For Changzhou that safe haven is called Koala Cafe and Lounge. This place is a foreign owned bar. Australian themed bar. It’s where most of the foreigners actually hang out. So it’s got a lot of people I know, familiar faces. It’s my usual haunt. It’s got all the good brand beers on tap, so… that’s really nice. You got the Chinese menu. Their Chinese menu. There’s a western one. Steak and mushroom with… fries. While teaching ESL abroad can be a rewarding and exciting experience, it’s not uncommon to become burnt out or feel trapped in the profession if you stay too long. This is something Dhiten’s colleague Marius is currently experiencing as someone teaching in their 7th year. So I came to China with a goal in mind to spend two years and then head back to the Stateside. My whole background is in health and wellness, fitness and kinesiology. I’ve got 7 years working with kids. So I’ve got a lot of experience on that. Adults and children. You know, you teach the word “apple” enough times and enough classes and as much as you love kids I… you start… some part of you starts dying inside. And I don’t mean that in a bad way because I go to class every day and he’ll tell you, he’s seen my classes. People will tell you I always give 100%. And I always give the children my energy. He does. That’s what I’m here for. I’m here to make whatever company I’m working for money. Enough to turn a profit and keep business alive. But at the end of the day my job is I’m a teacher for these kids. So while I’m doing it I want to make sure I still give 100%. Even though I’m dead tired of doing that job. You could easily just say alright, this year I’m done. But I’m married in China, my wife is Chinese. I can’t afford to not have a job or an income, you know? I can’t be like I’m going to go Stateside and pick up a job. I can’t just up and leave. You only really have three options as a foreigner in China. You’re either a teacher, and engineer or you start your own business. Pretty much, yeah. Cheers. Shortly after this, Marius will leave his job and move to Shanghai. It’s 10pm and with an early start tomorrow Dhiten heads home to bed. Goodnight, dude. Alright mate, take care. And that’s it. We hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the life of an ESL teacher in China. Have you taught English abroad? Did your experience vary? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re interested in teaching English in China, China Tefler and Noon Elite Recruitment come highly recommended as trustworthy resources. You can find links to them in the description below. Lastly, if you’re looking for a comfortable way to get around town, be sure to use DiDi. Wither your destinations in Chinese or English, DiDi English Version has you covered. Goodnight!

About James Carlton

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62 thoughts on “Average Day of an ESL English Teacher in China

  1. Okay this is so helpful, I leave in August 2020 to teach English for 6 months in Beijing and honestly I'm terrified. But this makes it seem not so scary. Thank you guys 😀

  2. Tell Dhiten to lock his doors when going out. If you just close your door like that it can be opened with a plastic card (bank card, library card etc.)

  3. Dhiten, (in case you are reading this comment) as a former ESL teacher who has worked in China until recently I am suggesting you to challenge your students more. Do not hesitate to do it. They are way past the age at which they should learn about body parts. I used to have a Pre-K class that was extremely advanced and the students were able to make some sophisticated expressions (for 6-year-olds) like "I've been to Suzhou, Nanjing, etc. My hobbies are dancing, playing the piano, etc." and they actually used them properly. It was not something they learned by heart. You will be amazed at how much the Chinese kids can do if you just give them some competition and challenges. Good luck and drink more hot water! 😀

  4. How can the industry be worth only 4 billions $ a year if there is an estimated 300 millions customers, that's only that's 14$ per student, per year. Either its worth much more or the number of students is dramaticaly smaller. Maybe they meant 300 millions potential students, or 300 millions students in the public school system, either way it wasn't clear.

  5. IMO, the best TEFL jobs in China are at universities. I taught English in China for a year in my early thirties because I wanted to experience life there and learn about the country firsthand. I've since returned to my prior career in finance. I recommend not making a career out of TEFL in China. A lot of alcoholic expats there will tell you the same. But definitely think about teaching English for a year or two if you have an interest in China. Download HSK flashcard decks on Quizlet, learn basic Mandarin phrases, and practice the language with Chinese people on HelloTalk. You should try to at least get to HSK 3. I met foreigners who lived in China for over a decade without learning any of the language. That is extremely lazy and stupid. China is a frustrating country in many ways, yet it's also a place that can help you grow a lot as a person. I don't regret my time living in China, though I wouldn't live there again. It's a fascinating place, that is, despite its many flaws. I'll definitely go back for short term business trips and as a tourist. I crave Chinese food every day of my life and you will too.

  6. I personally wouldn't commit to a relationship until I feel ready with my own career in hand. The other thing is, I would also think that doing an engineer related job would be more interesting than teaching, but that's just my personal preference.

  7. I don't like children and working with them would be torture, there isn't enough Milfy Sheng Nu Vagaygay in China to make up for working that sort of job.

  8. I've been teaching for about 3 years now, and for the past 2 years at least my experience has been fairly similar to Dhiten's. My school's structure is a bit different to his (we don't have to work until 3pm on weekdays) but overall the experience is largely the same.

  9. I let myself be wrangled into illegal teaching in Shandong. It was fun the first time, and the excitement stopped there. I was eventually let go because the boss was watching on the cameras, and said I didn't have enough facial expressions. I was replaced by my uni classmate. Another school told me I needed to be more "crazy" but the last straw was when my uni scholarship "never arrived" and the uni dean had me teach classes for her coworker who started his own ESL business, to pay off my tuition. He was an art professor who liked discussing his erectile dysfunction and some magical African tree bark,with his wife present. In the uni café. Eventually he took off with my wages to Australia to finish his PhD. I grew out my hair and nobody assumed I spoke English anymore. The end?

  10. Those kids are adorable! I cracked up at the girl pulling the skirt over her face, I've seen my students do that kind of stuff. Also the test had me laughing, "No I have" "Say 'No. I don't' " man I know that feeling all too well lmao
    Somehow comforting to see Chinese students are the same everywhere to an extent.

    Seems like a decent school, but man office hours seem like such a drag, I'm really glad my school doesn't have mandatory office hours.
    I usually get all my class prep done within 2 hours just once a week, which we get paid for at my school as well of course, then I just have 2-4 hours of class Tues-Sat. Sunday is the only super busy day for me. As for the classrooms whats the deal with the TV PC thing? No digital whiteboard and desktop PC for him to teach the class with? Seems like such a big school should have that standard.

    Also sucks his school doesn't pay for the rent(?), most decent schools providing housing or a housing stipend. My wife and I live in a super nice 2 bedroom 2 bath and my school pays for 2/3rds of the rent, which in our small town (about 1 mill population) in China is already insanely low to begin with. As soon as you guys said that place is 2k+ I winced, big Chinese cities are so overpriced. My apartment costs about the same for twice the space plus as I said I don't even pay the full rent.

    Not humble bragging here, just trying to give other potential expats some comparison. I highly recommend a smaller town, just make sure the school is good.

  11. Wow so depressing there working as an ESL teacher. I'm glad I've left China after working there for about a year as an engineer.

  12. I teach teenagers in Shanghai, so its less ABCs and more discussing the moral responsibilities of letting your friend date the local bad boy, and the girl defending her argument by quoting Catcher in the Rye.

  13. You can also go directly through a school to get hired, but not many schools want to do that. 100% of your money is nice though lol.

  14. What's the point of moving to another country if all you do in your free time is hang around other English teachers in Western bars and restaurants?! I bet he hasn't even tried to learn Chinese, and hasn't even explored much of China.

  15. Wait! No parents observing the class!? Damn I wish my school was like this one 😂 we have all the parents looking throught the window, in Shanghai

  16. If my life ever becomes teaching my mother tongue to kids I’d be pretty depressed and definitely am terrified of being trapped like that.

  17. Mamahuhu, thank you for all your hard work! This is where I come when Korean Life videos aren't quite cutting it (the moment in the "Reverse Culture Shock" vid where the man doesn't know which trash can to use so throws garbage into the river? Iconic. I felt that. Have almost done that here in Seoul). Like Dhiten I also left the science/medical industry in my later twenties to teach in Asia. And has Marius considered opening his own fitness facility in Shanghai? Seems to combine his experience in teaching with knowledge of health/wellness. I'm considering a move to China after Korea so these types of videos, along with your documentaries and skits give me a much better understanding of what I might be getting into. Cheers and happy Monday~

  18. Thanks for the flashback 😊 My biggest problem with China, well any country where foreigners standout, is always being an outsider and living in a bubble. You meet wonderful people, but so often have to say goodbye forever when their contracts end. I'd still recommend the experience. Just do reseach!!!!

  19. I have taught in China for 2 years so far. Great experience, but don't wanna do that more thab few more years, u gotta move on in life

  20. I envy Dhiten. I teach Indonesian language in Guangxi and I had to wake up at 6.00 am in the morning every weekdays coz my class starts at 7.50 am. Btw me and Dhiten share the alarm sound LOL.

  21. no offense, but his career ideas are a joke. Teaching English in China and then thinking about "doing something with China" when he goes back does not really work that well. Also teaching after returning isn't really an option unless he wants to work for a low salary in a private company or actually get the appropriate qualifications (considering that he worked for the NHS before it is probably safe to assume he doesn't have the required background). Also – unlike so many expat English teachers think – teaching English in China does not make you a China expert.
    Many people go into those teaching jobs thinking they will help them further their career prospects back home – they don't.
    Unless you want to make a career out of teaching English, this might be a nice gap year experience, but nothing more

  22. If you haven't already found it, there is a bar in Changzhou named Ellen's. If you're a foreigner, they just give away free drinks.

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