Stay your lane

I’m not sure if  the meaning of the title of this post will be familiar to most readers. Our friends at the Urban Dictionary (in definition #2) explain it to mean, “Stop talking about things you don’t understand or know. Let experts do the talking. Don’t talk out of your ass.” That’s usually how I hear it used or imagine it to be used.


I expect this to be a very short post but it’s something I have been thinking about for quite a long time. The idea for the post came to me when I saw what was (at least in my view and most of the ELT nerds I spoke with at the time) a terrible presentation a while back. In order to  protect the guilty, I don’t want to go into much detail about this presentation but I will share a few memories (and, yeah, emotions). The presenter showed what I’d consider to be contempt for and a complete lack of knowledge of the field of English Language Teaching. That is probably fine but he’d been working in the field and sucking off the teat of the “English Language Teaching Industrial Complex” for a number of years. There he was presenting at a TESOL meeting happily announcing and broadcasting his lack of knowledge and apathy towards a field he proudly knew nothing about. You see, he was (is) an academic in a completely different field and just taught English at certain times. I thought his contempt for haberdashers of pronouns was palpable and his view on those who prostituted themselves by selling language skills on the market was full of disdain. He is entitled to his opinion.

In the presentation, the good doctor made some interesting points about how fucked up the EFL industry in Korea is. He continually referred to it as ESL but we can let that slide, I believe. He offered a different perspective and I don’t for a moment begrudge those who invited him to speak. I think sharing and hearing various perspectives is a good thing and I applaud this endeavor even if I didn’t enjoy the presentation.

Rather than go on and on about this on individual and his presentation (and as you probably can guess, I could) I’d like to write about a certain attitude (I think) I’ve seen in South Korea. The attitude (usually from foreign men but that is sort of besides the point) is something like “Teachers shouldn’t talk about Korea unless they know enough about it” and “Those who can’t speak Korean or haven’t lived here for long can’t have perspectives about Korean politics or society.”

stay your lane

It seems like the threshold for having the right to express an opinion shifts and stays in line (and remains just below) the level of knowledge of and experience in Korea these “Stay your lane” folks have. That means they are always allowed to have an opinion but those less experienced Korea hands probably should just go ahead and stay quiet. I have heard (and given) some exceptionally terrible takes in pubs and other public settings so on some level I can appreciate the “Stay your lane” Brigade’s stance.

I guess what sort of gets my goat here is the hypocrisy of the Stay your Laners feeling no guilt to jump in and share thoughts on teaching (even when they admittedly don’t care or know much about it). It seems like the “Stay Your Lane” crew are the among most likely to opine on all matters teaching and learning even if they’ve chosen to eschew both formal and informal learning in the field. Maybe this is part of the issues that plague the field since anyone (particularly “native speakers” in a place like South Korea?) can feel just as expert as those who have put in the time and effort. For the record, I’m not saying people shouldn’t have opinions. I am simply saying that maybe those who would eagerly say “Stay your lane” to foreign English teachers in Korea talking  about Korea-related topics could slow their roll before chucking stones around. This is especially true when their houses are clearly (but metaphorically) made of glass and this is something they could see if they’d crawl out of their own asses for a few minutes.

Besides jumbling a whole bunch of metaphors together what am I saying here? I’m not entirely sure but I feel better after writing. I’m not even sure if this a phenomenon only found in Korea or even only in my imagination.

Again, I don’t want to say that teachers (from all ranges of expertise) shouldn’t have and express opinions about all manner of things. I just want to say that those who earn their living in a particular field might acknowledge there is a whole field out there. There are books and journals and everything.

In other news, I aim to stray from my lanes a bit in the near future.


  1. ketaninkorea

    This is a great read, and an interesting think-piece article. As someone who’s been teaching and living in S. Korea for nine years now, I definitely have encountered the type of people you’ve mentioned. They bug me to no end. I do get annoyed and angry with the people who come [here] and treat teaching EFL as a “paid vacation”. They should take their jobs seriously, as that’s what they’re paid to do! It reflects poorly on the EFL industry as a whole, in my opinion.

    That aside, people have the right to their own opinion on teaching/living abroad and matters in Korean life and society. It’s better if they’ve been here for at least a few years, but that’s their choice.

    • mikecorea

      Thank you for reading and commenting! I appreciate it. I wasn’t sure exactly if this post would capture the tone I was looking for. Mostly I

      Your point about certain folks “reflecting poorly on the industry as whole” got me thinking. I might have to blog about it soon. 🙂
      Thank you again for the comments!

      • ketaninkorea

        No problem! I always like reading posts from other teachers here in Korea. Everybody has a story to tell and some people share some interesting experiences.

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