Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 04, 2019
By Mike Cairnduff

Annoying things that ESL teachers do in China

For the most part, ESL teachers in China are a good bunch of people.

There are, however, some things that many of them do that are just plain annoying.

Here are seven things that I find the most irksome.

1. They eat Western junk food

When you're teaching in China, 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 you're earning big money in China (most teachers aren’t), you should avoid the foreign fast-food chains.

Why? In local terms, the food’s expensive and generally regarded as a luxury.

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.

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 your back pocket.

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

The conditions you'll experience as a TEFL teacher in China may be quite different to what you'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.

Some ESL teachers in China expect the same conditions they're used to

Public class sizes in China are large.

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 housing in China is comfortable, it’s certainly not on par with Hilton Hotel standards.

Chinese mattresses are pretty hard!

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 in your Chinese classroom 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 or interesting discussions around the themes of the movie.

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. Simple.

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

As a foreign teacher in China, you don’t need to know any Mandarin to do the job.

In fact, schools prefer you don’t know any Mandarin because it effectively forces students to converse with you in English.

However, you should try learning a few basic Chinese 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 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 TEFL teachers disregard the golden rule of Chinese classrooms.

That is, they talk about sex, religion or politics (or worse – all three!) with their students.

While teacher taboos in the ESL classroom are never cool, these three things in particular are the ones you really want to avoid.

China is a socialist country and in many ways is quite conservative.

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.

So, 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?


Commercial relationship disclosure: Hello Teacher! has commercial arrangements with organizations that may appear on this page, such as affiliate links. See our terms for more info.


Have your say