Abstract The results of a survey of 1281 Chinese school teachers support a second-order factor structure of emotional intelligence. It is found that teachers' emotional intelligence has a significant impact on teaching satisfaction and their use of two emotional labor strategies, i.e., deep acting and expression of naturally felt emotions, but it is not a significant predictor of surface acting. Among the three emotional labor strategies, only expression of naturally felt emotion significantly influences teaching satisfaction. These findings could be explained by differences in the nature of various emotional labor strategies. Implications for teaching and teacher education are put forward.