In recent years, many teachers suffered different kinds of negative emotions in the context of education reforms. A typical explanation was that the education reforms disempowered teachers in teaching, so teachers were forced to do much non-instructional work. Teachers considered their work meaningless but were powerless to change it, and eventually indulged themselves in negative emotions. However, the present research suggested that this explanation had neglected teacher agency and might be incomplete. Arguing from the perspective of social constructionism, the research showed that teachers in Hong Kong experienced negative emotions in education reforms because, on top of the disempowerment, the reforms structurally displaced teachers’ educational goals with administrative goals. The goal displacement impeded teachers’ evaluation of the instructional values of their work. Thus, teachers perceived their work as inconsistent with their major purpose of teaching (i.e. making a difference) and they felt negative towards work. Copyright © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.