This article reports on a collective case study of four Hong Kong secondary school teachers' experiences of constraints on teacher autonomy in English language teaching, and their implications for teacher education. Findings suggested that the constraints were systemic and mainly organized around 'Schemes of Work' and school-based supervision and surveillance mechanisms. Nevertheless, the four teachers were able to create spaces for teacher autonomy, but the nature of these spaces and what they were used for varied, partly according to the school context and partly according to the identities developed through previous experiences of the education system as learners and teachers. The study concludes that the impact of teacher education courses that depend on experimentation with new ideas in the classroom is liable to be limited in many state school systems. It also concludes that language teacher education may benefit from a greater sensitivity to the affordances in teachers' working conditions for teacher autonomy and experimentation.