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Teachers, have you ever cried in front of your students? With your students?

I have not. I have come close a few times. When I stood in front of my class shortly after a campus shooting, I felt the heaviness of the collectively traumatic experience. When I asked my students to join me in prayer for healing when my mother fell into a vegetative state, I was emotionally distraught. When a student sang a beautiful hymn in multiple languages during an in-class presentation, my soul was deeply moved. When I processed anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 pandemic with students, I was grieved inside. But I did not let the tears fall.

Recently, during my times of self-reflection as a teacher, I have become increasingly curious as to why I might be hesitant to show sadness to my students. This internal inquiry is even more pronounced in this season of my life because privately and within my personal networks, tears have flown freely for various reasons. This discrepancy led me to the two questions that I would like to tackle in this blog post: (1) What are the major factors that underlie my unease with showing emotional vulnerability to my students, and (2) what might I (and my students) potentially miss out on if I as the instructor do not integrate a full range of emotions in the classroom? Put more simply – what are the benefits of crying in front of (and with) students?

I can think of three layers or factors that contribute to my hesitation to hold back the tears in the classroom. One factor is cultural norms around emotions. We learn to manage emotions – in psychology, we call this emotion socialization – shaped by our familial and cultural norms. In the Asian American psychological literature, the ability to restrain emotions has been empirically identified as a key cultural emphasis.1 In my Korean culture, there is a popular saying that a man cries three times in his lifetime: when he is born, when a parent dies, and when he loses his country. It’s the Korean version of, “boys don’t cry.” There is a lot to unpack in this statement, including the unhealthy gender expectations embedded in it. For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to simply share it as an example of a cultural “recording” that sometimes plays in my mind as someone who grew up in a traditional Korean context.

Second, I wonder about the socialization process in academia that instills a certain kind of message about acceptable versus unacceptable forms of emotional expression in the classroom. Like many of you who are faculty, I have completed dozens of teaching observations of faculty colleagues as a part of my job. While I cannot recall seeing a faculty colleague cry (or intentionally express sadness) during a teaching observation, I can readily remember colleagues who showed other strong emotions such as justified anger in response to a societal ill, and laughter. Oh, so much laughter. Under the reasonable assumption (based on my own experience of being observed as a teacher) that the teacher is motivated to “put their best foot forward” during these formal observation sessions, I am curious if we faculty tend to internalize a certain hierarchy of emotions that we can permit ourselves to show to our students, and if crying tends to end up at the bottom of such a list.

Third, I think about how much Prosperity theology and its offshoots have rubbed off on me, no matter how much I try to distance myself from them. Specifically, I recognize a distorted view that I have internalized in my Christian upbringing that a healthy community (and a healthy person) is one that is happy, without tears; and if tears are present, then we as a community (or I as a person) must be somehow in misalignment with what God desires. Whenever this cognitive distortion takes over my mindset, that’s when I am prone to be hyper-focused on a certain way of presenting myself to students; ideally happy, at least pleasant, and surely not sad to the point of showing tears.

But what might be gained when I express sadness in the classroom? Crying in front of and with students have the following potential benefits:

1.It models good regulation of feelings, including the healthy outward expression of sadness. Jon Stewart made headlines recently when he cried on The Daily Show after his dog died2 ; many news outlets lauded him for defying masculine gender stereotypes so publicly.3 In this case, a celebrity’s act on TV served as a good example for the rest of us.  Not that we faculty are celebrities in the eyes of our students (thank God for that), but a similar mechanism might be at play when students observe us manage strong emotions. That is, students are watching and soaking it all in. When I was an undergraduate student, I remember when one of my professors broke down in tears shortly after 9/11. I had seen very little emotion from this professor before then. To have my professor openly lament in front of us in this classroom setting was something that strongly impacted my understanding of who a teacher can and should strive to be to their students.

2.Crying is consistent with the Christian calling to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and to participate in the practice of lament when learning about and engaging the pain of others. Psychology professors like me tend to have students who are more comfortable than their non-psychology counterparts in disclosing and processing their personal struggles during classroom conversations (something about the psychology classroom invites such disclosures). When sharing about personal struggles happens (e.g., a distraught student sharing about a past trauma and resulting personal difficulties), my trained response is to move toward setting appropriate boundaries – “this is not a counseling session, it is a class about counseling” is a common refrain in my Counseling Theory and Practice course. While accepting the necessity of such boundaries in the classroom, what if we simultaneously perceived those moments when raw emotions are in full display as opportunities to show radical empathy through our tears?  What if we embraced those moments as a chance to lament the reality that so many facets of our world and relationships are tainted?

3.Related to #2, crying is an act that follows a deep Christian conviction that there is a disconnect between intent and reality. There’s not meant to be pain and suffering in this world, but there is so much of it, near and far. We are meant to be good stewards of resources, but the reality is that we continue to sin against God and one another through our collective shortcomings in taking care of our resources. We are created to live in harmony with one another, but we desecrate the image of God among us through wars, racism, sexism, and other societal illnesses. Crying, then, is an embodied expression of our theology that there is a misalignment between God’s good design and how things actually play out in this hurting world. Nicholas Wolterstorff4 describes weeping in this way: it is the “pained recognition that this is not how God meant things to be” and a response to the fact that “[t]hings have gone awry in God’s world.”

So, next time you find yourself holding back tears in the classroom, try letting them fall instead. Not in a contrived way, but as a genuine act of compassion or lament that can serve as an effective teaching tool in the Christian classroom. For some of you, this type of emotional vulnerability comes easily. But if you are like me and find it difficult to show tears in the presence of students, I hope that this post encourages you to take incremental but meaningful risks as we seek to model healthy behaviors, show compassion for students’ suffering, and lament the fallenness of our world.


  1. Bryan S. K. Kim, Lisa C. Li, and Gladys F. Ng. “The Asian American Values Scale–Multidimensional: Development, Reliability, and Validity,” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 11, no. 3 (2005): 187-201.
  2. Drew Weisholtz, “Jon Stewart Breaks Down in Tears Announcing the Death of His Dog, Dipper, in Emotional ‘Daily Show’ Tribute,” Today, February 27, 2024,
  3. Marianne Garvey, “Guys, It’s Ok to Cry. Jon Stewart’s Tearful Tribute to His Dog Offered a Real Moment of Zen,”, March 1, 2024,
  4. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “You Need Two Eyes,” May, 20, 2006,

Paul Y. Kim

Seattle Pacific University
Paul Youngbin Kim is Professor of Psychology in the School of Psychology, Family, and Community at Seattle Pacific University

One Comment

  • Perry Glanzer says:

    One of my major memories from my undergraduate education at Rice University was seeing my dispassionate history professor Thomas Haskell, cry when describing some killings during the Civil Rights movement. He cried out amid his tears, “But these are fellow human beings!” I’ll never forget it.