What holds my students back from giving English class their best? What prevents me from being the best I can be in my work and in my life?

Today I typed the word “fear” into a Google search prompt. Once I sifted through the scary memes and haunting images, I found some interesting things.


Here are some of the articles and images that came up, along with the links that hosted them:

This links to 53 quotes about fear, which are worth a read. The “Reality of Fear” introduction really spoke to me. It reads:

  • You’re not scared of the dark. You’re scared of what’s in it.
  • You’re not afraid of heights. You’re afraid of falling.
  • You’re not afraid of the people around you. You’re just afraid of rejection.
  • You’re not afraid to love. You’re just afraid of not being loved back.

What is fear? Perhaps more importantly, what am I really afraid of? And if I can’t figure out what I’m afraid of, how can I move forward?

This wise woman had the same idea as me: here she collects posters and sayings on fear. My favorite: “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”

This quote on fear comes from Frank Herbert’s book Duneand always seems to come to mind when fear threatens to overwhelm. I am greater than my fears. Here’s the whole quote:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

This is an incredible blog about overcoming fears. It goes through identifying fear, the consequences of fear, types of fear, evolution of fear, and onwards to conquering fears and “developing a mindset of courage.” The comprehensive post is a must-read for everyone.

There’s a verse about fear and love in the Bible as well. And “scooby dooby doo!” – my fear role model. Scooby runs away, sure, but he always gets back in the Mystery Machine for the next adventure. It’s okay to be afraid, but fear should not drive your life.


I pulled this one up for the poster, but actually the whole blog is good. “Fear has stopped me from moving. From growing. It gave me the feeling that being stuck to where I was the safest thing to do.”

Language students come to us with so many fears. 

What if I am wrong

What if I look stupid

What if my pronunciation is bad

What if no one understands me

What if all the other students are better than me

What if everyone laughs at me

What if I forget the vocabulary word

What if I make a mistake

What if I fail

What if I use the wrong word and say something terrible

What if I can’t pass the test

What if I succeed and then forget my mother tongue

What if…

Anyone who has tried to learn a language has had similar fears. Even as adults, we have trouble putting our fears aside to do the things we need to do. Yet somehow we must ask our students to do the same. 

How do we reduce the level of fear students feel around learning English? I think this is part of a teacher’s job – making the unknown known.

Provide opportunities for practice

Provide a safe classroom environment

Provide that gentle push (Or strong shove. Off a cliff. Into the ocean.) that encourages (forces) students to try new things and explore the language

Teach learning skills as well as content

Raise awareness of cultural differences and expectations

Encourage curiosity

Show that the rewards are worth the effort

Exposure Exposure Exposure

I learned a lot about fear today. I have lived in Korea for nearly ten years. I don’t speak Korean. I read it, write it, and am quite good at listening to it, but I don’t speak it. I have had many teachers who have given me that gentle push and given up when I’ve pushed back. I’m a difficult student. But my own learning challenges have helped to make me aware of the fears and anxieties my students face and come up with strategies that might help them overcome. The way to success is through the fear, which cannot be blocked out forever.

And personally? Like many people, I fear the unknown. I fear change and as a result, I embrace my fears as dear friends, fearing who I will be without them.

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