Life of an ESL teacher in China

I currently teach Grade 2s as an international homeroom teacher. I’ll tell you what, it’s not exactly a walk in the park. The days are lengthy and quite taxing Below ill break it down into what a basic day looks like and what are the expectations of an ESL teacher.

What is expected of you as an ESL teacher?

Teach them English DUH!! Well, I hate to break it to you but being an ESL teacher is a lot more than just that. At some schools and kindergartens yes it is just to teach English but for most that is not the reality. You are still a full-time teacher with all the teacher roles.

  • Parent communication
  • Assessments
  • Lesson planning
  • Data tracking
  • Marking books
  • School activity day planning
  • Grade and school meetings
  • Break duties
  • Homeroom class duties
  • Parent meetings
  • Weekly newsletter
  • Report writing
  • Curriculum events
  • Child care
  • Sometimes being the only support a learner has
  • Teacher training
  • Professional development
  • End-of-school walkout ( taking the kids to their parents or the bus)

Honestly, teaching is only one aspect of being an ESL teacher. In essence, it balances a huge number of tasks. When you work as a teacher, you serve as each student’s mentor, therapist, nurse, cheerleader, tutor, friend, and more. The work is quite emotionally taxing. When you work as an ESL instructor, all of these functions are still relevant.

School times 

School days in China start at 8:20 am for the kids and end at 5:00 pm. Then after 17:00 pm the sports happen and extracurricular activities. It is a very long day for the kids and us teachers.

Each lesson at my school is about 40 minutes long with a ten-minute break in between. I think this kind of applies to most schools. Learners at my current school get a 30-minute snack break in the morning and an hour break for lunch/play in the middle of the day.

As a teacher, my work times are 8:10 am to 5:00 pm due to break duties and normal teacher responsibilities I often do not get much of a lunch break which means most days I work 9 hours straight.

School year 

The school year begins in September and goes until July normally. There will be summer break from July to August and winter break around January or February all depending on when the Chinese new year is. For more information on the school year in China check out this page.

Lesson schedule for an ESL teacher

Most schools will have a 25 hours a week teaching time policy. I teach 18 classes a day and then in the periods I am not teaching I will do lesson plans, parent communication, grade meetings, parent meetings, marking books and the list goes on. They may be periods I don’t teach but they are not free periods to just chill.

The different classes

I teach English, which is the standard English you would teach at any school anywhere in the world. Obviously, the level is just different as it is their second language. I also have one lesson a week where we just focus on grammar. There are two-morning reading lessons as well which we focus on reading.

I then teach Science to Grade 2 ( my homeroom) and Grade 3. This is normally two lessons a week where one would be theory-based and the other more of a practical lesson.

I have three phonic lessons a week which I teach to Grade 1’s in smaller groups.

Then there are three guided reading lessons that focus on the skills which come with reading such as comprehension skills and prediction skills.

I have one craft lesson a week in my homeroom as well as one morals lesson a week.

Due to teaching a rather large variety, this means there is a lot of lesson planning. I am lucky that there are five grade 2 teachers so all the lesson planning does get shared among us all.

Admin duties as an ESL teacher

You are responsible for documenting the success of your students as an English teacher, and this frequently entails using numerous data spreadsheets. Due to the long hours of data entry, the beginning and end of a semester can be taxing.

Then there is report season which comes twice a year. For reports, we do grading for English, Science, and Makerspeace and then report comments for English as well as the homeroom teacher.

We have parent one on one meetings which can happen any time a parent wants to meet with you or there has been an issue and you need to talk to parents. We also have compulsory one on one meetings which are twice a year.

I could go on and on about the admin duties because honestly, I do more admin than teaching which is sad but a reality.

Therefore, I would give it a lot of thought before working as an English teacher in China. Not everything is great paychecks and enjoyable holidays. It requires a lot of work and can be extremely emotionally taxing. Selecting the best school for you is another crucial factor.

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  1. Lauren

    It was really interesting to here about your experience. You must have learned so much. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Molly | Transatlantic Notes

    This really does sound like an incredible experience; I used to be a primary school teacher and thought about teaching abroad in the past. This got me interested in looking into doing this online. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Simply Ramona

      Online is a great option. Gives one a lot more freedom

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