Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 15, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Teaching in rural China

In this blog, Dan McElroy shares his story about teaching English in rural China.

Dan worked in Jiaxian, Henan province, for one school year. This is a frank and honest account of his time there.

How did you find the whole ‘China experience’?

Overall, China was an extremely rewarding experience.

My girlfriend, Jess, and I were in rural China for two years and it proved to be more challenging than we thought it would be.

I had traveled around the world before and thought I would adapt to Chinese culture easily.

Living in China, however, required a constant amount of effort for me to continually try to accept differences and assimilate.

Jess and I were two hours away from a major train station. This was tough.

Trains in China are nothing short of exceptional, but we were just too far detached from other cities. This factored into our overall experience.

Although there were obvious struggles of adapting to a different culture than what we were used to, being away from the major cities allowed us to see the ‘real’ China.

We experienced delicious local food and met some really nice people. We also learned a lot about Chinese culture and history along the way!

What was teaching English in rural China like?

We taught at a private school located in one of the nicest parts of the city. As a result, we ended up with great classrooms, good curriculums and lots of multimedia tools.

The biggest difference between working in rural China compared to working in big cities, was our experience outside the classroom. We ate ‘rustic’ food, visited farms on the weekend, and even saw kids defecating on the street.

Overall, though, I think the fundamental differences in culture are seen by teachers everywhere in China.

Teaching in rural China can be serene

Canoes in rural China.

The biggest downside to being in a rural area was the lack of a major train station. It made traveling more difficult, which was the biggest reason we moved to China.

In the end though, everything worked out and we found plenty of opportunities to travel. We traveled all over southeast Asia and saw a ton of China during Spring Festival.


Did you find teaching kids enjoyable?

Kids are the same everywhere. Jess and I loved teaching them – it was our favorite part about living in China.

Teaching in rural China (at least from the classroom perspective) was probably not much different than teaching in a bigger city.

We still taught full-time schedules and had big classes. We each had 12 classes twice per week, with up to 50 students in each class.

The students really were the greatest part of the job and it was impossible not to fall in love with them!

How did you keep your students engaged?

Games! Lots and lots of fun, educational games.

The younger they are, the more important this becomes.

Even with 50 students you can find games that involve everyone. Simply get students in front of the class and get them talking to each other.

For example, every student should be able to answer the question “How are you?” fairly early on in their English education.

Dan teaching English in rural China.

Dan teaching kids in rural China.

However, rather than you asking that question to each student, ask one student and have them ask another student. That student then asks another student, and so on.

It’s a fast and easy way to get many kids talking and thinking in English. I think it’s a great exercise to start a lesson.

What was your process for creating or sourcing lesson plans?

The school gave us a one-page write-up that included some sentence structures, phonics, a story, a song and vocabulary.

We were responsible to teach everything on the page over a two-week period (i.e. four lessons).

I would rely heavily on my slideshows. I used PowerPoint slides on a TV that was in front of the class.


I liked to gradually introduce the new material throughout the first three lessons and then have a fun review day for the fourth lesson.

For example, if there were 15 new vocab words, I would try to introduce 5 of them in each class and play games to reinforce them.

I also liked to put all the new vocab and sentence structures on the board in the beginning and leave them up for two weeks.

Could you live comfortably on your salary?

Absolutely! It’s crazy how little we spent on day-to-day life.

Jess and I never even considered money when it came to buying food or traveling because we weren’t even close to running out.

Our school provided housing, utilities, and meals if we wanted, so we had very few expenses. We each saved US$10,000 in just 10 months.

Living in rural China was extremely cheap. It made saving money easy!


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