Teaching English in Korea: Never Lose Your Cool

Never Lose your Cool Teaching in Korea
Never lose your cool when teaching in Korea

Don’t Lose Face in Korea

In Asia, “Losing Face” is a big no-no and the fastest way to do this is to publicly express your anger in a loud or confrontational kind of way. This causes either you, or the group/person that your anger is directed at to lose face and will cause embarrassment and shame.

It’s Easy to Get Angry Sometimes

Teachers, anywhere in the world are tempted to lose their cool, become angry and start shouting at their students. In Korean Universities, this is even more tempting because we often teach students in required classes who are apathetic, and sometimes just don’t care about our classes. Their highest goal is often not failing and having to take the class again. Of course, there are good students mixed in and even certain majors (fashion/nursing/international business, etc.) that see the value of English to their lives who are a joy to teach so it’s not all grim.

(Even more tips for thriving, instead of just surviving in South Korea: How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats)

DON’T Yell!

When you’re in a class, and students are sleeping, texting, talking to their friends, don’t have books or pencils and generally not paying attention, it can be extremely hard to not get angry. I’ve been there and even done the yelling thing a couple times. It NEVER produces the result that you want. It just sets up this antagonistic kind of relationship where it’s teacher vs. students, instead of the students getting on the same page as the teacher and working together with them to improve their English skills. I also have a theory that teachers who regularly lose their cool in class don’t do that great on evaluations as the ones who are always calm, no matter what.

Change YOUR Attitude

I try to avoid the situation in the first place by shifting my attitude. I get that many of the students don’t really want to be in my class in the first place and don’t take it personally when they don’t seem to care. I try to remember that it’s most often not that they don’t like me, it’s just that they don’t like English.

Make Class Interesting

I have a variety of fun, and interesting activities and games so that the students on the edge of caring/not-caring will be engaged and get on the same page. It’s better than doing the same old activities that they’re not interested in and then getting angry when the students aren’t actively participating.

3 Strikes, You’re Out

If one student is fraying my nerves, I use 3 strikes and you’re out (2 verbal warnings and then on the third I ask them to leave). And I’ll do it all with a smile, and in a very calm way. Thankfully, I haven’t had to use this in years, especially now that I teach English majors. But there are times when one students is just extremely disruptive and you have to take action. Show that you mean business.

Take a Break

If the entire class is getting to me and I feel on the verge of losing my cool, I’ll step out into the hallway for a couple minutes to collect and calm myself. I rarely get to this point but about once every couple of years, it’s necessary. The students can sense my annoyance and stepping out for a minute often has the effect that teachers think yelling will have, but it does so in a way that nobody loses face. The students are also deadly quiet when I return because they can sense that I’m upset but I never have to publicly confront them.


Remind yourself that it’s just a job and not worth sacrificing your mental health over. Of course, with the better classes and the good students it’s often more than a job and there is the potential for actually having a positive impact on student’s lives. But for the poor students and the terrible classes? Don’t stress out about it and know that all semesters eventually come to an end.

My #1 Tip: Treat Students with Respect

Be kind to your students and treat them respectfully. Students will not respect you if you don’t offer it back and they won’t be kind to you if you’re not kind to them. Students won’t follow you and accept your leadership if you’re not a person that they want to be around.


  1. Vincent White

    This is the kind of hippie attitude that has lost teachers all respect in the classroom. I’m not saying losing your cool and yelling is the best thing, but you also can’t be seen to be a push over to students. Especially here in Korea, they are used to teachers yelling and scolding them. I mean only a few years ago they had corporal punishment in school. So losing face when you do something wrong is part and parcel of life.

    It’s us (foriegn teachers) that are trying to use this kindly kindly approach, which works well for some students, generally those who have been bought up well with manners etc.. but you only have to look at the state of our school systems (in England and America) to know it doesn’t work for the majority. Students always try to push your limits, they want to know what they can get away with. The three strikes rule is fair enough but when you send students out chances are they get scolded by the korean teachers anyway. They understand what being yelled at or scolded means. It means they did something wrong. When you smile and speak normally they think nothing of it. Foriegn teachers tend to want to be seen as the friend and the good guy or girl but don’t want to take responsibilty for discipline. That’s not being a teacher.

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