A Week in the Life of an English Teacher Abroad

No matter which country you teach English abroad in, or which time zone you visit, or the varied types of students you have, a teacher’s week can go in only one direction…

Here is a typical day in the life of an English teacher abroad:

teach english in china
An English teacher abroad in China

It’s Monday and even though your bed is comfy, it feels great to stretch out and admire the sun as beams fight to light up your room. You’re well-rested and excited about all the plans you have for the week ahead. The tests have been written, homework has been spaced out just in time for Friday’s deadline, and all that’s left to do is photocopy this week’s vocabulary. While in the shower it occurs to you that payday is this Friday, and so you make sure to swing by the cafe on the way to work for a skim latte. The outfit you picked out the night before looks just as you envisioned it, the salad you prepared for lunch looks delicious, and as you remember to put your phone charger in your bag, you smile. You’re ready for the day.

It’s Tuesday. Yesterday the photocopier didn’t work—either it was out of ink or it now hates ink. Either way, not a big deal. You get out of bed when your alarm rings and contemplate a shower. You pass, so now you have enough time to make a hearty breakfast. You come into work with the usual, “how are you,” and “I’m fine, thanks” with your coworkers knowing you’ve got to be productive this morning to stay on schedule. As you sit at your desk to edit the test you’re giving Friday, a student walks up saying she forgot her book. “That’s fine, you can share with Michelle.” She skips away and another student approaches. He didn’t do his homework. “That’s fine, Michael, you have ten minutes before class starts.” Between forgotten pencils, broken erasers, and questions about your accent you realize you haven’t made a dent in your task. No worries–you’ll do it tomorrow.

It’s Wednesday and, after hitting snooze three times, breakfast is out of the question. Thankfully there are still some clean clothes that match hanging in your closet, and your phone charger is still in your desk. But your second period class somehow collectively did the wrong page for homework, and fifth period did the right page from the wrong book. Since the photocopier machine still rejects paper no matter how many times you hit it, you’ve spent the day writing all twenty-four words down for five different classes and your hands are sore and covered in black marker. At least you still have a pre-prepared salad from home to decompress with during your lunch break–except you have to edit the test while students don’t know where you are hiding.

teach english in china
Our teachers at work in China

On Thursday it’s raining. No one will notice if you wear the same outfit from Tuesday, right? Leftover pizza for breakfast and you’re out the door. There’s a lot of catching up that has to happen today, but your students are the best. They can do it, you convince yourself. Except now the entire fourth period class forgot their journals at home, Michael hasn’t done his homework again, and a least ten students couldn’t read their own handwriting and therefore didn’t study the vocabulary “corektly”. You assign all the homework from the entire week so that everyone is ready for the test tomorrow. And while they go home to study (they’ll spend all night studying, right?), you deserve a drink or two. Your charger is at home and your phone is dead anyway.

On Friday you don’t even hear the alarm, you just know as you jolt awake that you’re running late. Coffee. You’ll figure out lunch later. Just because clothes are on the floor doesn’t mean they’re dirty, right? You grab extra pencils because you know that your students always forget pencils on test day. Thank goodness the photocopier is working…but there are no staples. So you hand-write the page numbers on each test. And as you go around the room, hoping and praying that the students have at least looked over the material once or twice you notice they’re not doing half-bad. Your phone is at 3% and won’t last the day, but the time it indicates promises that you’ve got ten more minutes until the end of the work week.

As an English teacher abroad, the bags under your eyes prove the difficulty the week has given you. But as your students hand in their tests and file out of the room, Carlos hands in the last test of the day. “Thank you teacher! I like learning!” he says.

You can’t help but smile. It might not have felt like it, but you did something right. And it was all completely worth it. 

english teacher abroad


Words by Brianna Stimpson.