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Why I Should Grow a Beard If I Am Teaching English in China

Updated on December 14, 2016

About Four Months of Growth

Before I Came to China

When I took my TESOL certification course in the summer of 2010 one of the things they told our class is that we would need to attach a photo to our resume. They also said that if we had beards, goatees or mustaches we might think about shaving. They strongly suggested shaving in fact because, in the words of our instructor, “in many countries people with facial hair are looked down upon and it might make it more difficult for you to get a job.”

Okay, I thought, fair enough. At the time I had a small well-trimmed goatee. I have had a goatee off and on for many years. I've always liked the way it looks but occasionally I become bored and decide to change things up by shaving. So for me, it was no problem to shave before taking my photo to add to my resume.

The Growth of the Beard

I continued to remain clean shaven till about halfway through my first year teaching in China. Then I reverted to my old patterns of growing and keeping a goatee for two or three months at a time. The surprising thing is that no one seemed to care.

Well that isn't exactly right. People did care. They were interested but no one complained. No one said that it was a problem for me to have a beard. No one got mad about it. People asked questions out of curiosity but nothing more.

November or December of last year I stopped shaving. This was mostly out of laziness. I just didn't feel like shaving. For a couple of months I continued to trim it but I kept a full beard. At some point I stopped trimming and just let the beard grow. Currently my beard is about an inch or two long and I'm still letting it grow. What began as laziness morphed into my own curiosity with the fact that I've never in the past had a full beard. This curiosity eventually evolved into a mild rebelliousness and even a useful tool.

One of the things that I have loathed since I started teaching is English Corner. In my school there are three sessions of English Corner scheduled each day. One of these is meant to be a free-for-all situation where anyone can say anything they want. They other two are meant to be split between students who lower intermediate and below during the first hour and people who are upper intermediate and above during the second hour. Sometimes there is a chosen topic that we have to follow for English corner, or at least pretend to follow. Sometimes there is no topic other than what the teachers and student together decide. English corners for me have changed in no small part because of growing a beard.

10 Reasons a Foreign English Teacher Should Grow a Beard in China

  1. Students react to the beard. They ask about the beard. They ask you what to call it. They ask you about other forms of facial hair. Most importantly they are asking questions. If you've ever held an English Corner you know that if no one is taking your English corner is dead and will be very long and painful. But if there is something interesting to talk about the students will talk on their own without you having to prompt them.

  2. Different people will have different opinions and all of them will express them. Some students have told me they think that I should shave. Others have told me that they think that I should keep the beard. Some think that it looks strange. Others think that it looks cool. The end result here is that they are talking. See point number one...

  3. Even when you have a lively conversation going in an English corner there are sometimes lulls in the conversation. These lulls came result in the death of the rest of the English corner if something is not done. There are a handful of things that can help to prevent this but among them is the use of the beard. Sometimes it happens on it's own with no action from me. As a conversation lulls an otherwise quiet student (who might not understand the current topic anyway) will sometimes ask a question about the beard. At other times if I stroke the beard it will illicit comments or questions about it. I noticed this happen the first few times accidentally but now will do it on purpose.

  4. Most Chinese people are an only child. And most of my students come from families that have a better than average income. Like in America, these individuals who grew up as an only child give off the distinct impression that they've not heard the word “no” very much in their lives. It gives me a deep sense of satisfaction when a little twenty-five-year-old princess who isn't used to the word “no” tells me that she thinks I should shave my beard; to respond to her that this is my decision and that I don't believe that I will any time soon.

  5. Some of them are jealous. Most Chinese men seem to be unable to grow an adequate amount of facial hair. I've seen many students here with feeble attempts at mustaches. I've seen others with patches of hair on their face. The vast majority, however, shave every day whether they are able to grow facial hair or not. With many of them, there seems to be a look in their eyes that says, I'd like to do that too... if only I could.

  6. The subject of the beard often naturally leads into other subjects. The conversation in English corner might drift from the beard to differences in culture. Today the subject of the beard shifted to the subject of cleanliness as one student asked me if it was difficult to eat. For some reason students often think that having a beard makes you a messy eater and the beard will get in the way if you are trying to eat with chopsticks, if you are eating rice or if you are eating soup. The subject then naturally shifted again to the subject of food. On occasion people will even talk about Christmas. Students who used to tell me that I should shave now tell me that I should keep the beard through next Christmas so that I can play Santa Claus. Again all of the students were talking at some point about something.

  7. It actually feels good. At first, it was a little itchy but after a while, the itching stops. I find that I enjoy stroking the beard and that I sometimes do it unconsciously.

  8. I've grown to like the way that it looks. Having never had a beard this long before I've never seen myself look like this. I like changing the way that I look and because of this, I will eventually shave. At the moment I'm enjoying the beard because I look different from how I used to. At some point, I'm going to want to look different again and that is probably when I will shave.

  9. It is something that I can control. There is so much in Wuhan and in China as a whole that is completely out of my hands. Ordering food in a restaurant is often challenging because my skills in Chinese are limited. This means that often I can not even control something as simple as what I have for lunch. I can't control simple interactions that back home I wouldn't have even thought about. My face though is my property. It belongs to me as much as anything in this world ever will. This face and what is on it are probably the one thing that I can dictate exclusively. Growing a beard and keeping that beard gives me something that I can almost completely control. Or at least it gives me that sense of being in control of something.

  10. There is something about China in general and Wuhan specifically that makes me feel lazy. I don't know if it is the dust in the air, the construction everywhere or the sloppiness of the way people here dress. But there is simply some quality to the social atmosphere here that makes me feel like letting go enough to not do little things like shave but instead grow a full, long, shaggy beard.

Should Teachers Have Beards?

Is it ok to have a beard if you teach?

Since I originally posted this hub I have actually shaved. A few weeks ago I had a class on job interviews. I was asked to dress nicely for this class. The morning of this class I put on a white button down shirt and a nice pair of dark slacks. When I looked in the mirror I was astonished. I looked like a strange combination between an Amish person, a homeless derelict and a kool-aid pushing cult leader. I tried to trim the beard at first but ended up making things look worse. The only logical recourse I decided was to simply shave. I currently have a neatly trimmed goatee. Though I will probably have a goatee for a while I will not likely ever grow a full beard again. Unless of course I do decide to move off into the woods and become a hermit or a cult leader. But those are very unlikely scenarios.

Thinking about appearances naturally leads to the question; "should teachers have beards?" Personally I think this largely depends on the context of the situation and the individuals involved. For someone like myself who teaches in China the answer may well be different than for someone who teaches in public school in America. I believe that the real question isn't whether teachers should be allowed to grow beards but rather should they pay attention to their how they look and maintain professional appearances...? To this question I would say yes. I actually let my beard grow too long. It was unkempt and unprofessional looking and I am half surprised that no one said anything to me about it. I believe that teachers with beards are fine but they should keep their beards well trimmed and they should strive to maintain a professional image.

By the way, shaving a beard causes just as much excitement among ESL students as growing one.

© 2012 Wesley Meacham

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    • profile image

      Autumn 11 days ago

      Do you teach English at one of the universities in Wuhan? That city has a special place in my heart.

    • Ben noon profile image

      Ben noon 5 months ago

      Haha beards always appear to me like you are making yourself older before your time. They do seem to make sense in the case of being a young teacher. Especially as asian men struggle to grow them. Reminds me of some of the blogs on https://www.chinatefler.com

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 3 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Hi, almorr.

      Thanks for commenting. You're right, I've seen very few Chinese men with beards. On very rare occasions I've seen a man here with a full beard but mostly no. Like you've said there are some with pencil thin goatees. Most of the time I see guys with some minor peach fuzz on their lip or the bottom of their chin.

      Genetics do have a lot to do with it, yes. I think there are other factors too though. One biological factor outside of genetics might be diet. I've recently read several articles that show that there is are chemicals in tofu that mimic estrogen in the body. It is possible that ingesting these chemicals over a long period of time could have effects on how a person develops physically. These effects are probably minor. I know some people who have sworn off tofu after reading about this because they're afraid of what it might do to them. I personally think it doesn't matter. I doubt that it would have any deleterious effects to a person's health. But fluctuations in hormones do have an effect on hair growth.

      Another cause would be cultural. Many Chinese people have told me that facial hair is widely perceived as being "dirty." Some have told me that they associate facial hair with beggars or criminals. There are likely many Chinese men who have no problem growing facial hair but who shave regularly for this reason.

    • profile image

      almorr 3 years ago

      Good post from you Wesley, I could grow a good beard, I have tried it and within 2 weeks it came on great BUT I felt really uncomfortable and shaved it all off, it took 4 razor blades, however, I have let some of it regrow, for example the part down level with my ears, thick sideburns, my beard stretches to just under my eye, so I have left that part unshaved as well, the bit under my neck was the most uncomfortable so I shave that part and the main part of my face 2 times a week, I used to have to shave 2 times a DAY to keep my face smooth and my wife happy.

      I do notice that there are very few Chinese men with beards, if they do have one its the 'goatee' type, also Chinese men don't tend to have hair on chest, arms and only a few have hairy legs, its just genetics that make people from the far east like that.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 4 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Cardisa,

      Hi thanks for commenting. This is so very true. I've seen one or two Chinese men out of maybe a hundred who had a beard. And I can think of only one person on whom I thought it looked good. What I see the most at thin little peach fuzz mustaches. And to be fair... most of these I see on women. I'm sorry but it's something that I've been noticing a lot here lately. I'll think a girl is cute from a distance and when I walk up to talk to her all I can see is this wispy little mustache and I go from thinking she is cute to thinking that she looks like a catfish. Not very nice of me to say I know but it's definitely true, at least here in Wuhan.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 4 years ago from Jamaica

      Contrary to many of the movies we watch where the Master has this long white beard, Chinese don't really grow facial hair well. So it would be a very interesting topic in China. I can understand why men would be jealous of it because many are trying very hard to grow theirs and are coming up with zilch.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      @Greg thanks for commenting.

      @Island Tropical

      I can't help you there. I don't take any vitamins. It would probably be a good idea but I'm not sure if it would affect facial hair growth.

    • Island Tropical profile image

      Island Tropical 5 years ago

      I can grow moderate facial hair but not as much as you do, by the way can you recommend any method we can grow more facial hair? What type of vitamins we need to take to grow more hair?

    • Greg Horlacher profile image

      Greg Horlacher 5 years ago from Grand Prairie, TX

      Epic Beard Teacher! Bearded teachers unite, bro!

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Mommiegee, Thank you. I was also aiming to be a bit absurd/funny. So far this has been my most popular hub.

      My supervisor even stumbled upon it and told me the other day that he enjoyed reading it.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      eslinsider, thank you for your comments.

    • Mommiegee profile image

      Mommiegee 5 years ago from Alabama

      I applaud you for being unique! Great observation and I love the way you titled your article. It made me very curious and I read all the way through! Now that's an educator for you! It was also very well written. Vote up!

    • profile image

      eslinsider 5 years ago

      If you're looking to make your classes more entertaining or rather "edutaining" here's a page with how-to videos of loads of ESL games and activities: http://eslinsider.com/how-to-teach-english-videos

      If you're in China I think you'll need a proxy or vpn to see the videos.

    • profile image

      eslinsider 5 years ago

      Interesting. Where I have taught in Korea, China and Taiwan no one seemed to care too much about my appearance. I have had a scruff and some kids called it a beard yet it didn't compare to yours in the above picture.

      Taiwan was pretty chill for me, I usually wore flip-flops to school.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Hi Ms Zilla. It isn't really necessarily to grow one. And actually I shaved mine two days ago. I'm back to having a very neatly trimmed goatee. I've gotten as many comments on not having a full beard as I got on having one.

      In my opinion women usually make the best teachers. And depending on where you go, what kind of school you decide to teach at and what level you're interested in teaching you may not be teaching so much as entertaining.

      In all honesty I don't really think of myself as a teacher. I think of myself as about 50% entertainment and 50% opportunity for people to practice with.

    • Ms Zilla profile image

      Ms Zilla 5 years ago from New England

      Ha, funny hub. I am looking to teach English abroad, and I am among those who cannot grow a beard... but it opens the mind to other creative conversation starters!

    • quickbooker profile image

      quickbooker 5 years ago from Gurgaon, India

      When I seen your hub topic, it seems to me unusual and interesting. I found the writing style to be unique and like sense of analysis and observation directions. Good Hub.

      Vote up - Your hub!

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Thank you. I'm reading your homepage now.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Thank you.

    • Wesley Meacham profile image
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      Wesley Meacham 5 years ago from Wuhan, China

      Tattoos don't seem to be a major problem. I had a friend last year from Canada who had a tattoo on his wrist. I guess he could have covered it but he never did. He worked at a Primary school here. I recall him telling me that his students would ask questions about what it was or whether it would come off. I've been told by others that the restrictions in Thailand are greater than they are in most of China. The same has been mentioned to me about South Korea. At the present moment though I've not been to either country. It would also probably depend on the city you're in. From what I've been told the major cities like Beijing and Shanghai are much more competitive and would probably also have greater restrictions.

    • Paul Kuehn profile image

      Paul Richard Kuehn 5 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

      As an EFL teacher in Thailand, beards aren't allowed in most schools. If a beard is kept clean and trimmed, I have no problem with teachers having them as long as school administration approves. Yes, I can see how having a beard can be a good conversation starter. The same might apply to tattoes. Are teachers in China allowed to expose tattoes in the classroom? They can't in Thailand. This is a good, interesting hub.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Very unique and unusual hub. I really enjoyed your point of view on this matter.

      Voted up - welcome to HP

      John

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Interesting and amusing and some unexpected commentary of facial hair. Very interesting observations about how the beard helped the students open up and converse more. I like your writing style easy to read. Welcome to HP. Check out my home page when you have time I am a teacher as well. :) SHARING WITH MY FOLLOWERS.