Published on:
March 28, 2018

by: Guest

Typical Day in the Life of a Public School Teacher, Zeena in Hangzhou

Now that the Spring Festival holiday is over and both myself and my students are settled back into school life, my time in China has returned to a relatively routine state. This is not to say that my job or day-to-day life here a simple clock in, clock out nine to five lifestyle. However, when you teach five days a week, seeing the same students, working at the same desk it’s hard not to develop a routine.

So, what is a day in the life of Zeena, the Middle School teacher in Hangzhou, like?

Breakfast, and a Ride on My Scooter


Normally it starts with a cup of coffee and a baozi or two. I am fortunate enough to start work no earlier than 10, so I try and wake up, get some energy, and go in early to review my lesson plans. Convenience stores here, a.k. 7/11, FamilyMart, or C-Stores, are one of the things I will miss the most about China. I stop by my local one on the way to work, say hello the morning staff, and see what warm food they have on offer. There’s baozi, egg tarts, scallion pancakes, noodles, the lot. Something as simple as having a breakfast convenience store has made me feel more part of my local community, and since the snacks are so cheap, I stop by nearly every day.

Upon arriving at work, normally I run into a few students doing their morning exercises. Even after months of teaching, there are always students who seem shocked to see my ride up on my electric scooter. I got it very soon after moving thanks to a thriving second hand community among expats in Hangzhou, and it’s made my morning commute an absolute breeze! An easy police registration and hangover of the keys and voila, it’s my ticket around the city. Still, students always gawk when I drive by, perhaps because I start later than the other teachers. Most local teachers will only have two or three classes assigned to them who they look after for the entire day, so they have longer office hours. Since I teach every single class from grade 7 and 8, 18 total, I have longer teaching hours but shorter days – thus is the life of a public school oral English teacher!

Lesson Planning & Office Time


Going into school earlier makes me feel like more of an active participant in the school life, but also gives me time to review my lessons and strengthen them for the next day. I have two official lesson plans a week, one for each grade. Sometimes, my classes on Monday will turn disastrous – depending on the student’s moods, the preparation, or even if the equipment in class is working, things always turn out different than you plan. It always helps me to learn from each class I teach and make tweaks. Often, my lessons on Monday appear very different to Friday because I am constantly improving them. Since it is my first year teaching, it’s often a learning curve, but one that helps me learn a lot about my job, myself, and how to handle middle school!

One of my favorite parts about work is having an office space. I am based the eighth grade English office with four of my colleagues. We each have our own desk and computer, and every teacher has customized their space to make it more homey. I really enjoy working in the office; I can chat with my co-workers and ask their advice, meet with students, and generally fit into the school community better. Although it is only a small part of my working environment, it is one I have learned to cherish.

Teaching Time


Of course, being a teacher I also have to teach. I average four classes a day, normally a mix between the two grades. Each class is different, and I have learned how to adapt my lessons to suit the attitudes of different classrooms. Unlike my schools growing up, students here do not move from room to room. Rather, they stay in one room for the entire day and teachers go to them. This can be intimidating at first – the students are like essentially a pack, they all know each other very well and spend their entire days in one space. Walking in during my first week was terrifying, I felt like I was infringing upon their territory. This does change the power dynamics of student-teacher relations slightly, but you learn to adapt to it. Having structure to your lessons and small consistencies between classes, like writing the date or simple instructions at the start of every class, helps set the tone from being an outsider stepping into someones home to a teacher starting a class.

Teaching itself can be difficult, especially in middle school. I teach every class once a week, so initially it was difficult to build strong relationships with them all. Plus, they are middle schoolers – tweens going through all sorts of life changes that they can barely manage themselves. It is easier to lose control of a class than to keep them calm, and it is undoubtably challenging for me. However, because the students are more adept at English and are developing distinct personalities, it also makes teaching incredibly rewarding. In every class I have built some great repertoires with a handful of students, who never fail to make me laugh or surprise me with their knowledge of English. For every soul-crushing experience I have, like being called offensive names or having students draw cruel photos of me, I have a fantastic one to counteract. Students will come to class with extra work, showing off their English, telling me stories about their weekends. We develop running jokes that appear in every class, and the whole class plays along. When the students make you laugh, get something right, and show progress, it is a feeling unlike any other.

After Work, Relaxing & Exploring Hangzhou


After my classes and breaks, I tend to stick around for a little longer in the office. I’ll answer emails, practice my Chinese, plan for the weeks ahead, and chat to any students who stop by. Although I am not contracted to have office hours, it is better to have some presence in the school than to be the teaching ghost. Even if I am having the worst day at work, it is better to assess what is happening and try and improve it than run away. If not for my own sake, then for the students – they know when my heart is not in it, and can read stress like it is written on my face. Being a part of the school community and going the extra mile makes me feel more accomplished, and makes my job much more enjoyable.

After work? Well, that’s where my routine ends. One of the joys of living in a city like Hangzhou is that it was so much to offer. Sometimes I will take my bike to a hill and go for a hike. Sometimes I will see a movie or go to a museum. Often I find myself going to the river and walking, clearing my head and enjoying everything around me. After four hours of talking non stop, it is nice to get some peace and quiet, and I am so grateful Hangzhou can offer that in its abundant nature areas. Sometimes, I just return home, read a book, or call my friends and tell them the funny things that happened during the day. Teaching young teenagers can be exhausting, but it always gives me something to talk about.

Of course, no two days are ever the same. When you teach new classes every week and work with children who are growing up before your eyes, things are always new and different. The weather is changing and the landscape around you constantly shifts, the barren trees are now covered in cherry blossoms and even the sites I have seen seem new. I would not have it any other way. Never am I stuck wondering what to do, never am I bored at work. No matter the positives or negatives associated with my life here, at least it’s always changing.

Zeena is a Middle School teacher in Hangzhou, a graduate of Exeter University, and part of the 2017 Teach China Graduate Program.


Comments are closed.