2013. Vol.4, No.11, 870-877
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.411125
Chinese Teachers’ Emotion Regulation Goals and Strategies
Shaoying Gong1,2, Xiaoyun Chai2,3, Ting Duan2, Liu Zhong2, Yongqing Jiao2
1Key Laboratory of Adolescen t C yberpsychology an d Be havi or (CCNU), Ministry of Education, Wuhan, China
2Key Laboratory of Human Development and Mental Health of Hubei Pr ov in ce , School of Psychology,
Central China Normal University, Wuhan, China
3Center for Mental H ealth Education, Hubei Univers i ty of Automotive Technolo gy, Shiyan, China
Received August 16th, 2013; revised September 14th, 2013; accepted October 16th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Shaoying Gong et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This study aimed to explore Chinese teachers’ emotion regulation goals and strategies used before, in, and
after classroom teaching. Thirty-four teachers from elementary, middle and high schools were inter-
viewed with semi-structure questionnaire. Chinese teachers’ goals for regulating emotions included achiev-
ing instructional goals, decreasing the negative impact of emotions on student learning, confirming the
professional and ethical norms, maintaining teachers’ and students’ mental health, keeping positive emo-
tional images, and nurturing good teacher-student relationships. Teachers used various antecedent-fo-
cused and response-focused strategies to control their emotions before, in, and after class. In general,
Chinese teachers used response-modulation most frequently, followed by cognitive changes in and after
classroom teaching. These findings have implications for productive delivery of education service, tea-
cher training and policy-making.
Keywords: Emotion; Emotion Regulation; Emotion Expression; Teacher
Teaching is an occupation of care, and emotion is its core
(Hargreaves, 1998). Teachers’ emotional life is very rich. In
school, teacher s experience positive emotions such as happiness,
joy, pride, and enthusiasm; and negative emotions, including
anxiety, anger, frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, and
shame (Bullough, 2009; Coates & Thoresen, 1976; Hargreaves,
1998, 2000, 2005; Hosotani, 2011; Sutton, 2007; Sutton &
Wheatley, 2003; Van Veen, Sleegers, & Van de Ven, 2005).
These emotions result from various factors, including students’
performance and progress, teachers’ teaching, relationship with
principal, colleagues, students and parents, or education reform,
and so on. Teachers’ emotions play an essential role in teach-
ers’ instructional behavior and students’ learning and emotion
(Frenzel, Goetz, Stephens, & Jacob, 2009; Kunter et al., 2008;
Skinner & Belmont, 1993), and thus influence the attainment of
educational goals. It is necessary for teachers to regulate their
emotions, especially negative emotions, to achieve their in-
structional goals. Sometimes they suppress or cover their anxi-
ety, anger, and frustration (Sutton, 2004); sometimes they may
pretend to be happy. So, teaching is an emotional practice, which
needs not only emotional understanding but also includes emo-
tional “labor” (Hargreaves, 1998).
Research has found that Chinese teachers used emotion la-
bor strategies in work situation, but they used deep acting more
frequently than surface acting (Yang & Li, 2009; Liu, 2007;
Tian, Zhou, & Chen, 2009), which suggests that teachers regu-
late their emotions frequently. However, few studies directly
explore teachers, especially Chinese teachers’ emotion regula-
tion. This study aims to investigate which strategies Chinese
teachers use during teaching and why they regulate their emo-
tions, to provide new information about teachers’ emotion re-
gulation in Chinese culture.
Emotion Regulation Strategies
Teaching is an intentional and interactive activity. It’s time
for a teacher to regulate his/her emotion when his/her emotion
is inconsistent with the expected goals. Emotion regulation
means the processes by which individuals influence which emo-
tions they have, and when and how to experience and express
those emotions (Gross, 1998, 2002; Richards & Gross, 2000).
Emotions are multi-component processes, involving behavioral,
experiential, and physiological domains. Accordingly, emotion
regulation involves changes in intensity, latency, duration, ini-
tiation time and offset of response in these componential pro-
cesses (Gross, 1998).
Based on the process of emotion generation, Gross (1998)
proposed emotion regulation theory in which emotion regula-
tion was considered as a process correspondent to the process
of emotion generation, one can regulate his emotion at every
stage of emotion generation. Gross (1998) classified regulation
strategies as antecedent-focused strategies which are used be-
fore appraisals give rise to emotional response tendencies and
response-focused strategies which were used after emotions
have been generated. Antecedent-focused strategies include si-
tuation selection, situation modification, attention deployment
and cognitive change. Situation selection means one approaches
or avoids certain people or situations on the basis of their likely
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
emotional impact; situation modification refers that one modi-
fies an environment so as to alter its emotional impa ct; attention
deployment suggests that one turns attention toward or away
from something in order to influence one’s emotions; and cog-
nitive change is one reevaluates either the situation one is in or
one’s capacity to manage the situation so as to alter one’s emo-
tions. If one uses strategies to regulate emotions which have
been generated, these strategies are response-focused strategies
which are also called response modulation strategies (Gross,
2002), including strategies that intensify, diminish, prolong or
curtail ongoing emotional experience, expression, or physio-
logical responding (Gross, 1998). People use antecedent-fo-
cused strategies to avoid emotions or change the value, inten-
sity and duration of emotions. For example, an angry teacher
stops teaching and lets the students do class work quietly to
avoid his/her brewing anger. He/she can also diminish his anger
by using response modulation, such as suppression.
One core feature of an emotion is that its generation is
closely associated with one’s goals (Gross & Thompson, 2007).
When an individual pays attention to a situation, and thinks it is
relevant to his/her goals, emotions are generated. In this way
the attainment of planned goals can be the goal of emotion re-
gulation. In Sutton’s study (2004), most America teachers con-
sidered emotion regulation as helpful for them to achieve the
instruction goals, consistent with their beliefs and goals to con-
struct good teacher-student relationships and their ideal emo-
tion-image for a skilled teacher. Hosotani and his colleagues
found (2011) besides shaping ideal teacher images, evoking
children’ emotions and conveying approval to children, getting
children ready to listen or not wanting children to know tea-
cher’s emotions are high-quality Japanese elementary teachers’
goals to express and regulate emotions in front of children. In
the two studies, teachers came from different cultures and edu-
cation systems, it is not clear whether culture and education
systems have impacts on teachers’ goals of emotion regulation.
Our first question is what are the emotion regulation goals of
Culture, Profession and Emotion Regulation
Emotion expression and regulation is influenced by culture.
The expression-rules for people from different countries are
distinct (Matsumoto, Yoo, & Nakagawa, 2008). For example,
Western cultures encourage the expression of abundant positive
emotions, while Oriental cultures (such as China) encourage
expression of mild emotions, but never “high arousal emotions”
(Mesquita & Albert, 2007; Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006).
These differences in emotion display rules can lead to differ-
ences in emotion regulation. In one study, Butler, Lee and
Gross (2007) found that college students from Asian culture
suppressed negative emotions more frequently than their Ame-
rican counterpart. Moreover, the suppression had less detrimen-
tal impact on Asian individuals than on American individuals.
Cultures clearly can play a moderation role between suppres-
sion and its outcomes.
Professional rules and conventions also play a part in emo-
tion expression and regulation. For example, professions which
need employees to interact with people may ask their employ-
ees to express positive emotions and display a smiling disposi-
tion (Hochschild, 1983). It is true for Chinese employees to
express emotions in accordance with the organization’s display
rules when interacting with clients (Hu & Yang, 2009; Ma &
Wang, 2011). Teaching also has its display-rules which teachers
must follow in school (Zhang & Zhu, 2008; Yin & Lee, 2012).
In school context, teachers may use general strategies as well as
occupation-related strategies to regulate their emotions. Sutton
(2004) reported that American middle school teachers used
many preventive strategies, such as letting the entire class doing
class work quietly, thinking of positive things, diverting atten-
tion, self-talk, and responsive strategies (e.g., pausing the class,
taking a deep breath, controlling their facial expression and
practicing reflecting) to help them regulate their emotions espe-
cially as a means to decrease negative emotions.
Chinese teachers express their emotions according the dis-
play rules by using natural expression and deep acting more
than surface acting (Yang & Li, 2009; Liu, 2007; Tian, Zhou, &
Chen, 2009). Using deep acting requires one changes his cogni-
tion, is related to cognition change strategy of emotion regula-
tion. However, one need only modulate his expression to meet
the organization’s display rules, needn’t change his emotion ex-
perience and cognition while using surface acting. Surface act-
ing is associated with response modulation. To date, few stud-
ies directly explored strategies of emotion regulation in Chinese
teachers. So, our second question is which strategies do teach-
ers use to regulate their emotions in the Chinese cultural con-
text and education system?
Participants were 34 teachers primarily from Hubei, three
teachers were from Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Hunan Province,
People’s Republic of China. Three were elementary school tea-
chers, 11 were middle school teachers and 20 were high school
teachers. The subject domains they taught included Chinese lan-
guage, mathematics, English language, physics, biology, chem-
istry, and physical education. Fifteen were male. The mean
years of teaching experience was 9.82, ranging from a half year
to 26 years. Twenty two teachers got their bachelor degree, five
got master degree, and seven teachers were enrolled in an Edu-
cation Master’s degree course in Central China Normal Univer-
sity in Wuhan.
All the participants were interviewed with semi-structure
questionnaire adapted from Sutton (2004), which included three
main questions: 1) Which emotions do you experience in class-
room teaching? Participants thought about and then talked by
themselves and then selected names for the emotions from a list
(happiness, satisfaction, surprise, relief, love, anxiety, anger,
frustration, fear, disgust, disappointment, sadness). These are
the emotions most often experienced by teachers (Coates &
Thoresen, 1976; Frenzel et al., 2009; Hargreaves, 1998; Sutton,
2007; Sutton & Wheatley, 2003). 2) Do you ever try to regu-
late/control/pretend your emotions? 3) Why do you regulate
Four postgraduates interviewed all teachers and recorded
their conversation with their consent in a quiet room in the uni-
versity or in the participant’s school. The interview lasted about
from 20 minutes to 60 minutes. Then the records were tran-
Open Access 871
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
scribed into scripts word-by-word. The four postgraduates and
the first author encoded the scripts based on Gross’s classifi-
cation of emotion regulation strategies which was classified as
situation selection, situation modification, attention deployment,
cognitive change, and response modulation (Gross, 1998).
The Emotion Regulation Goals
Why do Chinese teachers regulate their emotions? What is
the most important goal to regulate emotions? Teachers’ an-
swers to these two questions are diverse.
Achieving Instructional Goals
All the teachers interviewed thought the most important goal
of regulation emotions was to accomplish instruction tasks
optimally and to enhance instructional effects. A fifteen-year
experienced teacher said: ‘One of the most important goals was
to make the teaching continue smoothly, to help me finish the
tasks successf ul ly and to achieve the pr esent instructional goal.’
Many teachers said that the natural style was to express posi-
tive emotions which in turn were transmitted to students and
which made their learning more effective. This phenomenon is
emotional transmission (Frenzel, Goetz, L’dtke, Pekrun, &
Sutton, 2009). A teacher with five years experience said: “I ex-
press my positive emotions very naturally. When I am very
happy and joyful, I will share it with my students. I let my posi-
tive emotions influence them.” A recent study has provided evi-
dence for emotional transmission between teachers and students.
Frenzel and colleagues (2009) found that teachers’ joy could be
transmitted to students, and predicted students’ joy. However,
teachers could also transmit their negative emotions to students.
One female teacher with twelve years teaching experience re-
ported: “If I am in negative emotion, my students will feel it.”
However, some teachers reported expression of negative
emotions was helpful to their instruction too. Two teachers up-
regulated their negative emotions so as to attract students’ at-
tention on their own inappropriate behaviors. Nine teachers
thought that the expression of negative emotions was itself
useful and appropriate for carrying out instructional tasks effec-
tively. A first year teacher stated: “If I don’t express when I am
angry, students will not feel my anger and think that as the
teacher I tacitly approve of their disruptive behavior.” These
teachers made use of the positive effect of negative emotions to
manage the classroom in order to continue the teaching.
Decreasing the Negative Impact of Emotion on Student
Nine teachers reported they control emotion to avoid influ-
encing students learning negatively. Four of them said they
shouldn’t affect the whole class because of their bad emotion.
Seven teachers thought bad emotion would result in students’
lower motivation and achievement, reduce learning effective-
ness, frustrate students’ participation in class activities. For
example, a beginning teacher said: “If you lose your temper,
students will be inactive in answering questions or thinking.”
This reason is relevant to the goal of achieving instructional goals
and teachers’ roles of transmitter of knowledge. Achieving in-
structional goal doesn’t only mean the teachers give class
smoothly and finish all the instructional tasks, but also mean
that students master the subject matter teachers impart and gen-
erate positive attitude toward the subject. At the same time, Chi-
nese teachers shoulder fundamental responsibility to ensure that
all students progress (Hu, 2002). Controlling their emotions is
helpful for teachers to achieve the goal—promoting students’
learning and well-being.
Following the Professional and Ethical Norms of Teaching
Eight teachers said that regulating emotion was the require-
ment of professional and ethical norms. A third year teacher
said: “The class is the class, and teachers have their rules and
norms.” A teacher with eight years of experience said: ‘A tea-
cher is a rational human being, someone who can’t afford to
transmit negative emotions to students.’ This is consistent with
Yin and Lee’s (2012) finding that controlling negative emotions
is one of the professional requirements of teachers’ work in
Following the professional and ethical norms as a goal of
emotion regulation of Chinese as well as western teachers em-
bodied the view that a teacher should be a moral model of good
conduct (Zhang & Zhu, 2008). The society think a teacher
should set a good example with his/her own conduct. They
should lead students to live moral life. The double roles of tea-
chers are embodied in the emotion regulation goals of teachers
interviewed in this study. The first two regulation goals, achiev-
ing instructional goals and decreasing the negative impact of
emotion on students learning, are the embodiment of teachers’
role of transmitters of knowledge. And confirming the profes-
sional and ethical norms is related to teachers’ role of moral
Maintaining Students’ Mental Health
Eight teachers mentioned that to regulate negative emotions
is helpful to keep or promote students’ mental health. Teachers
thought that they would defeat students’ esteem and make stu-
dents become overly sensitive if as teachers they could not well
manage their own negative emotions. A teacher with 5-years
experience said: “If a teacher doesn’t regulate his/her emotions
well it will have a bad impact on students’ minds.” Another tea-
cher worried that a teacher showing negative emotions without
control would harm students. Teachers’ beliefs about the harm-
ful effect of their expression of negative emotions on students
were supported by previous studies, which found that teachers’
yelling made elementary school students feel small, guilty, em-
barrassed and hurt their feeling (Sutton, 2004; Thomas & Mont-
This result is relevant to the current emphasis on students’
mental health within the education system of China. The Min-
istry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (2002) has
determined that students’ mental health is a primary goal of
education and created policies to urge the promotion of a men-
tal health educational curriculum. Many teachers have received
training in mental health education intervention or have studied
psychology courses; these regulatory policies and training
could help the implementation of the relatively new mental
health curriculum. Thus, to main tain and improve students’ men-
tal well-being has become an important goal of instruction and
emotion regulation of Chinese teachers.
Eight teachers thought that control emotion could keep good
image in front of students. Three teachers reported teachers
should be cool-headed. A female teacher with 16 years experi-
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
ence said: “If I lose it, my image will be negatively influenced.
As a teacher, you simply can’t afford to lose it.” Teachers are
important models of socialization of emotion for students. That
a teacher display positive emotion image will help the adoles-
cents’ socialization of emotion. Furthermore, saving face is a
characteristic of Chinese culture where people control their bad
or strong emotions to maintain the interpersonal harmonious
(Gao, 2008). For example, one teacher said if he loses himself,
he will lose his face in front of students.
Nurturing and Maintaining Good Teacher-Student
Four teachers reported that one of the important reasons for
regulating emotions was to nurture good teacher-student rela-
tionships, thus improving the instruction. An experienced tea-
cher said: “Of course, to regulate emotions is helpful for con-
tinuing instruction and establishing better teacher-student rela-
tionship.” A ten year experienced teacher stated: “I want to be-
come a popular teacher in students. I am in a middle school. If I
am popular, my students can learn more, which in turn will be
beneficial to them.”
Teachers reckoned good teacher-student relationships as an
important factor which influences students’ learning. Corneilus-
White (2007) completed a meta-analysis study on the relation-
ship between teacher-student relationships and student learning,
and found that supportive teacher-student relationships that the
student perceived as positive correlated with improved student
performance and social outcomes. However, students’ percep-
tion of a damaged teacher-student relationship had disadvanta-
geous effect on students’ motivation and adaptation. Nurturing
good teacher-student relationships is not only a goal of emotion
regulation, but also a means of achieving the instruction goals.
Teachers’ Em otion Regul a ti o n Strategies
We encoded the data based on Gross’ (2002) process model
of emotion regulation and classified all the regulation strategies
into five categories: Situation selection, situation modification,
attention deployment, cognitive change, and response modula-
tion. Ninety-seven percent of teachers used two or more strate-
gies to regulate their emotions. The following were the strate-
gies teachers used before, in, and after class. All the strategies
teachers reported were listed in Table 1.
When the cues leading to negative emotions emerged, one
teacher selected a different situation to avoid the emotion be-
fore class, such as trading their class time with another teacher.
In class, one teacher used the following strategy to regulate ne-
gative emotions: “I will walk to another group, and continue
Before class, only one teacher reported that he would design
some questions for the class when he was in a bad mood. In
class, 18 teachers avoided the forthcoming negative emotions
by modifying the situation, including adjusting the teaching
tempo, pausing for a while and re-building a good atmosphere,
telling a joke, or letting the class do class work quietly. A fifth
year teacher said: “When I feel awkward, I will say a joke to
build a good atmosphere, let everybody feel a little more com-
fortable. Change a way to continue the class. For example, I
don’t teach, I let students do class work.”
Fourteen teachers reported diverting their attention to other
things to avoid negative emotions before class. They stated that
they would read the textbook, think of the instruction process,
do things they liked, or think of happy things. One fifteen-year
teacher said: “When things influence my mood before class, I
will read the textbook, think of the teaching process. When I
divert my attention, the influence will disappear.”
In class, ten teachers used this strategy to avoid or decrease
their negative emotions, such as changing a topic, ignoring the
current event. A teacher with fifteen years of experience re-
ported: “One way is to shift the attention and not to pay atten-
tion to the event. Think of the whole class. When you pay your
attention on classroom instruction, the emotion will become
After class, five teachers modulated their negative emotions
by shifting their attention. They may do something they were
interested in, think of happy things, or comment on and correct
Four teachers changed their appraisal of things or students to
avoid the negative effect of bad emotion on class before class.
These strategies included thinking of the positive side of things,
thinking of their students as “just children”, or thinking that
emotions before class should not influence the class. A six-
teen-year teacher said: “I regulate the (bad) emotion well, I
don’t bring it to the class. The alternative way is to think of
happy or good things. Think of the good side of everything.”
Before the emotion generated, nearly two thirds of teachers
changed their cognition or reframed the meaning of things to
avoid or decrease unpleasant emotions during class. Most of
them changed their opinions on students or events. Some tea-
chers walked in the classroom and engaged in self-talk or
thought of students’ advantages. For example, one teacher said:
“One or two days is not enough for changing a student, foster-
ing one’s habit, or changing one’s thought. You should gradu-
ally change them.” Another eleven-year teacher said: “I think
students are only young kids. To change them is a long-term
education program. Then, sometimes when I know about the
bad performers in the class, I think every student has advan-
After class, more than one thirds of teachers regulated their
emotions generated in class. Reflecting on the instruction and
finding solutions, changing their opinions on student learning,
communicating with and learning from colleagues to identify a
possible solution, and writing in a diary were some ways teach-
ers used. One teacher with 16 years teaching experience said:
“(about) very bad emotion, I will think whether or not I am
being successful overall. I reflect on why I didn’t get good re-
turn on my effort. I reflect on and want to change my teaching
Before class, more than two fifths of teachers modulated
their response to control emotions. Some teachers suppressed or
vented negative emotions temporarily, by breathing deeply or
exercising after the emotion was generated. Many teachers re-
orted that they found a way to express positive emotions p
Open Access 873
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
Chinese teachers’ emotion regulation strategies before, in and after classroom (N = 34).
Strategies When Number Example
Before class 14 Hide in mind, br eathe deeply, relax for a while, jump several times
In class 29 Control and suppress do wn, sigh, breathe deeply, vent, pretend to be very sad,
conceal, hide, pause for a while, be calm for a second, clench fist
After class 19 Pour out trou bl e to family members, friends and collea g ues, compla i n,
be quiet for a while, vent by playing computer games
Before class 1 Change the class schedule
Situation selection In class 1 Walk to another group and co ntinue the class
Before cla ss 1 Design some questions for the class
Situation modification In class 18 Modulate the tempo, pause for a while and recreate a good atmosphere, tell a joke
Before class 14 Read textbooks, think of the teaching process, talk with colleagues, do something I like
In class 10 Change to another topic, neglect the thing, let students do simple tasks Attention deployment
After class 5 Do something e ls e, don’t thin k of the thing, re ad books
Before class 4 Think of the positive side of a thing
In class 21 Walk around and think, think that you can’t change
kids in one or two days, express ideas
Cognitive c h anges
After class 13 Reflect on , think over b y myself, change the opinion on
student learni ng, ask advic e from others
naturally and routinely. One fifth-year teacher said:
I expose my positive emotions naturally. When I am very
happy or joyful, I will share them with my students, and
hope my students are influenced by my positive emotions.
I will not conceal my positive emotions. I will even ex-
press them exaggeratedly.
Some teachers would control positive emotions if the emo-
tions were “too hot.” Fifteen teachers down-regulated their po-
sitive emotions. One teacher even said he deliberately walked
into the classroom peacefully or seriously so that students could
not read his emotions.
In class, more than four fifths of teachers modulated their
emotions, especially negative emotions. Most of them decreas-
ed negative emotions. The strategies they used included holding
back, constraining, maintaining patience, covering up, conceal-
ing, keeping silent, venting as well as deeply breathing, sighing,
calming, pausing, yelling, raising their voice, scolding, and grip-
ping fists. For example, one seven-year teacher said: “Then
when I was very angry, I had a deep breath to regulate. Some-
times when I was very, very angry, I turned to the blackboard,
didn’t look at them, and calmed myself.” Three teachers in-
creased their positive emotions at times, another two upregu-
lated their negative emotions particularly for sadness and anger.
One teacher with 13-years experience said:
I seldom feel sad. If I am, I am pretending. In fact, I don’t
feel sad at all. This is a means of mobilizing the children.
For me, anger is a “pretend emotion.” It is not necessary
to be angry. But, I intend to create an angry situation to
give students a lesson.
The number of teachers who used responsive modulation af-
ter class to control their emotions comprised the largest group.
More than half of teachers modulated their emotions after their
emotions were generated; talking to colleagues, families, and
friends was the most often used strategy, followed by exercis-
ing, taking a walk, shopping, or playing computer games. One
fifth-year teacher said: “After I went home, I talked with my
family about the things which happened at school. It became
OK after I talked, complained or grumbled. I would like to
communicate with my colleagues, and they would only console
The present study explored emotion regulation goals and
strategies of Chinese teachers. In short, Chinese teachers’ goals
of emotion regulation include 1) achieving instructional goals;
2) decreasing negative impacts of emotion on student learning;
3) confirming professional and ethic norms; 4) maintaining
students’ mental health; 5) keeping good emotional images; and
6) fostering good teacher-student relationship. Chinese teachers
always or sometimes regulate their emotions, many teachers
usually or always well-regulated their emotions. They adopted
various strategies including every-day life and school-based
strategies to control emotions before, in and after class. Re-
sponse modulation was the most often used strategies in Chi-
nese teachers, then cognitive changes.
Chinese teachers’ goals of regulating emotions had some
similarities to American teachers’ in Sutton’s study (2004). For
example, achieving instructional goals, keeping positive emo-
tion image and foster good teacher-student relationship are the
common goals of emotion regulation of teachers in two coun-
tries. However, Chinese teachers had some different regulation
goals including confirming the professional and ethical norms,
decreasing the negative impact s of emotion on students learning,
maintaining teachers’ and students’ mental health. These dif-
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
ferences are related to Chinese culture and education system. In
Chinese culture, teachers are considered as transmitters of
knowledge and models of morality. They are asked to teach
students learning as well as how to become a moral person, and
to be responsible for students’ learning, performance and con-
duct. The expectation of the society on teachers is internalized
into teachers’ professional norms which influence teachers’
emotion expression and control. Furthermore, findings from the
present study and previous studies (Sutton, 2004; Hosotani &
Imai-Matsumura, 2011) support the notion that teaching re-
quires much emotional labor (Hargreaves, 1998, 2000). When
modulating emotion response, a teacher usually needs to change
only the expression, but not his emotion experience. While us-
ing cognition change strategies, a teacher’s expression is con-
sistent with the emotional experiences. Combining findings
from different studies, it is obvious to find that there are simila-
rities and differences in the goals of emotion regulation of tea-
chers from different countries and grade level. Teachers from
different countries and grade levels were similar in the goals of
achieving instructional goals and keep ideal emotional images.
But the difference in the goals of emotion regulation depends
on the culture and grade level of teaching of teachers. Integrat-
ing the results from this and previous studies (Sutton, 2004;
Hosotani & Imai-Matsumura, 2011), we might conclude that
teachers’ emotion regulation goals were multifaceted. More-
over, achieving instructional goals were the most important
forces at work for these teachers. Future research should con-
sider how teachers’ emotion regulation goals influence teach-
ers’ emotion regulation strategies, instructional behaviors and
Chinese teachers used similar strategies to control their emo-
tions before, in and after class with American teachers (Sutton,
2004). However, Chinese teachers were different from Ameri-
can teachers in emotion expression and the use of response
modulation. In one study, 80% teachers always tried to increase
their positive emotions including the expression of happiness;
65% always tried to decrease negative emotions such as anger
or frustration (Sutton & Harper, 2009). In the present study,
fewer teachers (65%) expressed positive emotions, and more
teachers (74%) down-regulated negative emotions. These tea-
chers thought that the expression of negative emotions made
them less effective. In another study, Hosotani and colleagues’
(2001) found only 25% Japanese high quality elementary school
teachers expressed joy naturally. According to these studies,
teachers in America express positive emotions more frequently
while teachers from oriental cultures decrease negative emo-
tions more often. The differences in emotion expression may
reflect the essential difference in the overt display of classroom
rules in different cultures. Collectivistic culture (such as Chi-
nese and Japanese) stresses on harmony in groups, discourages
expression of negative emotions and intense positive emotions
(Matsumoto, 1989). However, Western cultures encourage indi-
viduals to access and express their positive emotions (Tsai et al.,
2006). That some teachers decreased their positive emotions in
this study provides new evidence for this basic conclusion. But,
more quantitative evidence is needed to demonstrate whether or
not there is a significant difference in emotion expression and
regulation between teachers from Chinese culture and Western
Chinese teachers in this study used response modulation
most often in class, then cognitive changes. The frequency of
response modulation and cognitive changes was 85% and 62%
respectively, which was much higher than that of American
teachers (50% and 20% respectively; Sutton, 2004). Chinese
teachers had similar features with in-class emotions when re-
gulating their after-class emotions. Fifty-six percent of teach-
ers used response modulation and 38% of them changed their
appraisal of stimuli. While 80% of American teachers in Sut-
ton’s study (2004) changed their cognition and appraisal of
events to control their emotions after class, fewer teachers (37%)
modulated their responses. After combining the results of tea-
cher emotion regulation during and following class, it is obvi-
ous that Chinese teachers use response modulation more often
than those in the USA. This finding is consistent with that in
Butler and colleagues’ study (2007), who found that college
students in collectivistic cultures (such as Asian) suppressed
their negative emotions more often than those in individualistic
cultures (e.g., USA). However, it is not entirely clear whether it
is cultural context that influences teachers’ emotion regulation
strategies; therefore, it is crucial to examine the effect of cul-
tural context on teachers’ emotion regulation (Sutton & Harper,
Distinct regulation strategies demonstrably have a different
impact on individuals’ interpersonal relationships. As already
noted, nurturing a good teacher-student relationship is one of
goals of emotion regulation. Some teachers decrease their nega-
tive emotions for this reason. However, shielding negative emo-
tions from display may have deleterious social consequences.
In one study, female college students’ suppression had a nega-
tive impact on their own social interaction and dramatically re-
duced rapport and inhibited relationship formation (Butler, et
al., 2003). However, culture may be a moderating factor be-
tween suppression and its negative consequences (Butler, Lee,
& Gross, 2007). In Chinese culture context, if teachers suppress
their negative emotions, can they foster positive teacher-student
relationships? Or do teachers who often repress their negative
emotions have less healthy and more negative relationships
than those who reappraise emotion stimulus? Which teachers
are those who are more likely to suppress emotions? It is very
necessary to explore the relationship between teachers’ emotion,
emotion regulation strategies in the future.
Conclusion and Implications
Teachers in the present study regulated their emotions for
multifaceted goals. The most important goal was to achieve the
planned instructional goals, then decreasing negative impacts of
emotions on student learning and confirming professional and
ethic norms. The last three goals were maintaining students’
mental health, keeping good emotional images and fostering
good teacher-student relationship. Future studies might explore
the effect of culture on teachers’ goals of regulation.
Before, during and after teaching, Chinese teachers used many
strategies to regulate their emotions, and to modulate emotion
response more frequently than to reframe cognition on students
and events. Compared to American teachers, Chinese teachers
suppressed their negative emotions more often and expressed
positive emotions less. However, the difference in strategies of
expressing and regulating emotion between Chinese and Ame-
rican teachers needs future research to provide clear quantita-
The findings from this study have some implications for in-
fluencing the efficiency and productive delivery of education
services, teacher training and policy-making. First, Chinese
Open Access 875
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
teachers are usually well-trained in subject knowledge and tea-
ching pedagogy, but they seldom receive formal training in ef-
fective emotion management/regulation. Teachers’ emotion re-
gulation is largely unexplored and has seldom been considered
as important content in teacher education pedagogic training.
But relevant training seems necessary to enhance teachers’
awareness and strategies of emotion regulation and to ensure
teachers’ adoption of appropriate emotion strategies to facilitate
teaching and learning. If teacher-preparation education courses
consider emotion regulation as serious contenders in the content
of the training programs, pre-service teachers and novice tea-
chers will have a better chance to know more about how to re-
gulate their emotions, and to be able to identify which are the
factors that best influence emotion regulation strategies in class-
room. Secondly, for new teachers entering teaching, how to im-
prove their emotion regulation skills is very important for their
teaching and classroom management. Teachers’ emotion regu-
lation strategies could influence their efficacy. In one study,
Sutton and Knight (2006) found that reappraisal strategy was
correlated with K-8 teachers’ engagement and management ef-
ficacy. If new teachers have more understanding of and mas-
ter effective regulation strategies, they may have higher teacher
efficacy to teach, manage classroom and motivate students
learning. Thirdly, Principal and other administrators supervise
teachers’ emotion and regulation that will be hel pful for teachers
to improve effective instruction and student learning. Many tea-
chers interviewed in this study reported supports from prin-
cipal and colleagues will help them decrease and regulate their
negative emotions. Administrators creating a supp ortive work en-
vironment and atmosphere will be beneficial for teachers’ in-
struction and emotion regulation. Finally, policy-makers need
to consider the features of teaching, and make policies to main-
tain and improve teachers’ emotion health and well-being. Some
teachers interviewed in this study also said the education sys-
tem (such as emphasis on exam and grades) is one of factors
influencing their emotions and regulation. Previous studies re-
ported that teachers’ emotions and regulation strategies had im-
portant impact on teachers’ emotion exhaustion (Chang, 2009;
Tsouloupas et al., 2010). However, little attention was focused
on teachers’ emotion and regulation in educational policies and
the definitions of teacher standards in China. Policy-makers
should pay more attention to teachers’ emotion and regulation
and make policies more beneficial to teachers’ emotional well-
being, which is critical for teachers’ whole wellbeing.
The present study has some limitations. The sample size is
small, and the teachers are primarily from Central China and
secondary schools. As mentioned, teachers’ emotion and regu-
lation strategies could be influenced by the grade level. Thus, it
must be cautious in generalizing the present findings based on
this small sample to the larger population of Chinese teachers.
The results need to be replicated with larger samples and in-
cluding teachers from different grade levels and areas and with
different teaching experiences. The longitudinal studies are
needed to explore the changes of teachers’ strategies of emotion
regulation with the teaching experience increasing. Secondly,
although some findings seemed to associate with teachers’ tea-
ching experiences, the present study couldn’t conclude the dif-
ference in emotion regulation among teachers with different
teaching experience because of the small sample. Future explo-
ration on the differences of regulation strategies among teachers
with different experience is necessary.
It should be noted that the data presented here are qualitative,
and thus the interpretations are descriptive. Although we adop-
ted similar question in the semi-interview to Sutton’ study
(2004), there may be difference in interview process and en-
coding. The differences in goals and strategies between teach-
ers in the two studies need more evidence. Furthermore, it is
not clear which factors influence teachers’ emotion regulation
and what’s the consequence of emotion regulation on teachers’
behavior and students’ learning. It is crucial to explore these
questions in the future.
The research reported here was supported by a grant from the
Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities Fund of the Ministry of
Education (13YJA19000 5) and the Fundamental Research Fund s
for the Central Universities (120002040498).
The authors would like to thank Professor Caven S. Mc
Loughlin of Kent State University for his review of the first
draft, Panpan Zhang, Jiawei Li and Kuoteng Zhang for their as-
sistance during interviewing teachers.
Bullough, R. V. (2009). Seeking eudaimonia: The emotions in learning
to teach and to mentor. In P. A. Schutz, & M. S. Zembylas (Eds.),
Advances in teacher emotion research (pp. 33-53). Dordrecht: Sprin-
Butler, E. A., Eglof f, B., Wlhelm, F. H., Smith, N. C ., Erickson, E. A.,
& Gross, J. J. (2003). The social consequences of expressive sup-
pression. Emotion, 3, 48-67.
Butler, E. A., Lee, T. L., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Emotion regulation and
culture: Are the social consequences of emotion suppression culture-
specific? Emotion, 7, 30-48.
Chang, M. L. (2009). Teacher Emotional Management in the Class-
room: Appraisals, regulation, and coping with emotions. San Diego,
CA: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Edu-
cational Research Association.
Coates, T. J., & Thoresen, C. E. (1976). Teacher anxiety: A review with
recommendations. Review of Educational Research, 46 , 159-184.
Cornelius-White, J. (2007). Learner-centered teacher-student relation-
ships are effective: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research,
77, 113-143. http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/003465430298563
Frenzel, A. C., Goetz, T., L’dtke, O. , Pekrun, R., & Sutton, R. E. (2009).
Emotional transmission in the classroom: Exploring the relationship
between teacher and student enjoyment. Journal of Educational Psy-
chology, 101, 705-726. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0014695
Frenzel, A. C., Goetz, T., Stephens, E. J., & Jacob, B. (2009). Antece-
dents and effects of teachers’ emotional experiences: An integrated
perspective and empirical test. In P. A. Schutz and M.s Zembylas
(Eds.), Advances in teacher emotion research (pp. 129-151). Dord-
Gao, X. (2008). Teachers’ professional vulnerability and cultural tra-
dition: A Chinese paradox. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24,
Gross, J. J. (1998). Antecedent-and response-focused emotion regula-
tion: Divergent consequences for experience, expression, and physio-
logy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 224-237.
Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social
consequences. Psychophysiology, 39, 281-291.
Gross, J. J., & Thompson, R. A. (2007). Emotion regulation: Concep-
tual foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of Emotion Regu-
lation (pp. 3-24). New York: Guilford Press.
S. Y. GONG ET AL.
Open Access 877
Hargreaves, A. (1998). The emotional practice of teaching. Teaching
and Teacher Education, 14, 835-854.
Hargreaves, A. (2000). Mixed emotions: Teachers’ perceptions of their
interactions with students. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16,
Hargreaves, A. (2005). Educational change takes ages: Life, career and
generational factors in teachers’ emotional responses to educational
change. Teaching and Teacher Education, 21, 967-983.
Hochschild, A. R. (1983). The managed heart. Berkeley, CA: Univer-
sity of California Press.
Hosotani, R., & Imai-Matsumura, K. (2011). Emotional experience, ex-
pression, and regulation of high-quality Japanese elementary school
teachers. Teaching and Teacher E ducat ion, 27, 1039-1048.
Hu, J., & Yang, L. (2009). Emotional labor requirement and emotional
exhaustion: A mediator analysis of emotional strategy (in Chinese).
Psychological Sciences, 32 , 423-426.
Hu, G. (2002). Potential cultural resistance to pedagogical imports: The
case of communicative language teaching in China. Language, Cul-
ture and Curriculum, 15, 93-105.
Kunter, M., Tsai, Y. M., Klusmann, U., Brunner, M., Krauss, S., &
Baumert, J. (2008). Students’ and mathematics teachers’ perceptions
of teacher enthusiasm and instruction. Learning and Instruction, 18,
Liu, Y. (2007). Research on teacher’s emotion work in elementary and
middle school (in Chinese). Doctoral Dissertation in South West
Ma, Y., & Wang, T. (2011). Is emotional labor the same to all em-
ployees in the service industry? The moderating effect of negative
affectivity and social skill (in Chinese). Economic Management, 33,
Matsumoto, D. (1989). Cultural inﬂuences on the perception of emotion.
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 20, 92-105.
Matsumoto, D., Yoo, S. H., & Nakagawa, S. (2008). Culture, emotion
regulation, and adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psy-
chology, 94, 925-937. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2065
Mesquita, B., & Albert, D. (2007). The cultural regulation of emotions.
In J. J. Gross (Ed.). Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 486-503).
New York: Guilford Press.
Ministry of Education of China (2002). The Program of Action for
Mental Health Education in Elementary and Middle School.
Richards, J. M., & Gross, J. J. (2000). Emotion regulation and memory:
The cognitive costs of keeping one’s cool. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 79, 410-424.
Skinner, E. A., & Belmont, M. J. (1993). Motivation in the classroom:
Reciprocal effects of teacher behavior and student engagement across
the school year. Journal of Educat ional Psychology, 85, 571-581.
Sutton, R. E. (2004). Emotional regulation goals and strategies of tea-
chers. Social Psychology of Education, 7, 379-398.
Sutton, R. (2007). Teachers’ anger, frustration, and self-regulation. In P.
A. Schutz, & R. Pekrun (Eds.), Emotion in education (pp. 259-274).
San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Sutton, R. E., & Harper, E. (2009). Teachers’ emotion regulation. In L.
J. Saha, & A. G. Dworkin (Eds.), International handbook of research
on teachers and teaching (pp. 389-401). New York: Springer.
Sutton, R. E., & Knight, C. C. (2006). Teachers’ emotion regulation. In
A. V. Mitel (Ed.), Trends in Educational Psychology (pp. 107-136).
Hauppauge, NY: Nova Publishers.
Sutton, R. E., & Wheatley, K. F. (2003). Teachers’ emotions and tea-
ching: A review of the literature and directions for future research.
Educational Psychology Review, 15, 327-358.
Thomas, J. A., & Montomery, P. (1998). On becoming a good teacher:
Reflective practice with regard to children’s voices. Journal of Tea-
cher Education, 49, 372-380.
Tian, X., Zhou, H., & Chen, D. (2009). A survey on emotional labor of
special education teachers (in Chinese). Chinese Journal of Special
Education, 8, 50-56.
Tsouloupas, C. N., Carson, R. L., Matthews, R., Grawitch, M. J., &
Barber, L. K. (2010). Exploring the association between teachers’
perceived student misbehaviour and emotional exhaustion: The im-
portance of teacher efficacy beliefs and emotion regulation. Edu-
cational Psychology, 30, 173-189.
Tsai, J. L., Levenson, R. W., & McCoy, K. (2006). Cultural and tem-
peramental variation in emotional response. Emotion, 6, 484-497.
Van Veen, K., Sleegers, P., & Van de Ven, P. H. (2005). One teacher’s
identity, emotions, and commitment to change: A case study into the
cognitive-affective processes of a secondary school teacher in the
context of reform s. T eaching and teacher education, 21, 917- 93 4.
Yang, L., & Li, M. (2009). The relationship among emotion work stra-
tegies, characters and job satisfaction in primary and middle school
teachers (in Chinese). Psychological Development and Education, 3,
Yin, H.-B., & Lee, J. (2012). Be passionate, but be rational as well:
Emotional rules for Chinese teachers’ work. Teaching and Teacher
Education, 28, 56-65. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2011.08.005
Zhang, Q., & Zhu, W. (2008). Exploring emotion in teaching: Emo-
tional labor, burnout, and satisfaction in Chinese higher education.
Communication Education, 57, 105-122.