Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
Mike Cairnduff

ESL teachers in China

For the most part, ESL teachers in China are a good bunch. There are, however, some things that many of them do that are just plain annoying.

Here’s the top seven that I find the most irksome.

1. They eat Western junk food

Eating the occasional McDonald’s or KFC meal in China is fine. But when it’s all the time, you’ve got to wonder whether the ESL teacher should have left their own country at all.

Unless they’re earning big money in China (most teachers aren’t), they should avoid the foreign fast-food chains. Why? In local terms, the food’s expensive and generally regarded as a luxury.

An ESL teacher in China should try to live like a Chinese person as much as they can. This means eating Chinese food and only going to Western restaurants now and again.

The benefit? A more authentic experience and extra money in the back pocket.

If you really have to go to McDonald’s, try the one in Yangshuo, a small city in southern China’s Guangxi province. Nestled between a stunning mountain range and mirror-like lake, it’s regarded as one of the world’s most picturesque fast-food outlets.

Eating Western junk food is one of the annoying things that ESL teachers do in China.

Avoid eating lots of Western junk food in China. Eat Chinese food instead!

2. They expect the same conditions they’re used to

The conditions that a foreign teacher will experience in China may be quite different to what they’re used to.

For example, in a public school there could be up to 45 students in each class. Multimedia will be limited, the internet connection may be unreliable, and the trusty chalkboard could be your new best friend.

A smart, motivated teacher will see this as an opportunity to fine-tune their classroom management skills rather than a blight on the Chinese education system.

And, while foreign teacher accommodation is comfortable, it’s certainly not on par with Hilton Hotel standards. A foreign teacher should never expect to sleep on a mattress that’s as soft as a cloud, particularly in China.

3. They play movies in their classes

Teaching oral English means exactly that – teaching oral English.

Lazy ESL teachers are known to play movie after movie in each of their classes. This means they can slack off, tune out, and even mark papers while students are forced to have a one-way interaction with a television screen.

While it’s ok to play movies now and again, don’t rely on them to make up the bulk of your lessons.

If you do play one, make sure you regularly pause it to check for student understanding. You could also break it up with fun games, facilitate interesting discussions around the themes of the movie, and give students relevant homework which you could go through in the next class.

4. They complain a lot

Some foreign teachers complain about everything. Really, everything.

If you find yourself constantly complaining about the city you’re in, your school, your classes, your colleagues, Chinese culture – the list goes on – perhaps China isn’t for you.

Nothing’s ever as good as back home? Go back and read point number 2.

If you’re totally unhappy and you don’t think there’s anything that will change that, leave China once you’ve completed your contract. Just don’t bore us with your constant whining in the meantime!

Complaining is one of the annoying things that ESL teachers do in China.

With postcard views like this in China, how could you possibly complain?

5. They refuse to speak any Mandarin

Foreign teachers in China don’t need to know any Mandarin to do their job. In fact, schools prefer they don’t know any Mandarin because it effectively forces students to converse with you in English.

However, you should try learning a few basic words and expressions once you’ve settled in. It’ll really help in everyday situations, like catching a taxi, buying food at the market and finding your way around.

Fortunately, many schools offer free weekly Mandarin lessons as part of the contract.

Some ESL teachers think they’re above everyone else and refuse to learn even the basics. They expect Chinese people to understand what they’re saying in English (most don’t) and they only socialise with other foreign teachers. Now that’s annoying!

When you’re in China, or any other foreign country for that matter, try to learn at least a few words in the native language. It’ll help you tremendously.

6. They break the golden rule of Chinese classrooms

Some ESL teachers disregard the golden rule of Chinese classrooms.

That is, they talk about sex, religion or politics (or worse – all three!) with their students. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do while teaching in China, this is it.

China is a socialist country and in many ways is quite conservative. So respect the country you’re in and avoid talking about these topics in class.

Sex is a taboo subject and people don’t talk about it openly. Don’t try and change that.

As for religion and politics, these are sensitive subjects in China and highly controlled by state-run media. It’s not your place to enter this murky space. Save these conversations for when you return to your home country.

It’s quite likely that astute, older students may ask you what you think of their president, or what politics is like in your own country. Don’t get involved in these kinds of conversations; it’s just not worth it.

Talking about inappropriate things is one of the annoying thing that ESL teachers do in China.

Don’t talk about inappropriate things while teaching in China.

7. They choose a job based on salary alone

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Unfortunately, there are some ESL teachers who annoyingly choose a job purely for the money.

We all know that money alone isn’t going to keep us happy and motivated in our jobs. So why would it be any different teaching English in China?

Choosing a teaching job based on salary alone could be one of the biggest mistakes you’ll make.

Some jobs may seem enticing with a salary of double what’s on offer at another school. However, the schools that offer the highest salaries generally expect you to work up to 40 hours per week. This may include working on the weekend.

In addition to the salary, benefits like location, accommodation, working conditions and class size should definitely be considered as part of your decision to teach in China.

So there you have it – seven annoying things that ESL teachers do in China. Which one are you guilty of?


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