Open Thinkering


3 reasons teachers should smile

This is a response to an article in SecEd by Margaret Adams entitled Have You Smiled Yet? I was asked to write a response after expressing disbelief on Twitter that someone would still be advocating the ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’ mantra.

Seven years ago I entered my first teaching job in a deprived area of Nottinghamshire. Two schools, literally next door to one another, merged at the beginning of my NQT year. The department in which I was based was located in the roughest part of the school that was taken over. It would have otherwise been closed after failing to come out of Special Measures.

The pupils in front of me were a mixed bag. I had children who didn’t even register on the CAT scale for literacy with such horrendous homelives that it was a wonder that they owned a uniform and came to school. In a recent episode of SecEd Margaret Adams suggested that the traditional advice ‘not to smile before Christmas’ was defensible. I’d like to argue otherwise. Did I smile before Christmas in that first term as an NQT despite it being the hardest of my life? You bet. Here’s three reasons why whether new to the profession or vastly experienced you should ignore Margaret Adams’ exhortations and smile away.

First, as a teacher you are in loco parentis when with the young people in your classroom. At that moment, in the eyes of the law, you are standing in place of their parents. Can you imagine a parent who withheld smiles for a number of months from their offspring? How would that make them feel? Imagine being an apprehensive 11 year-old Year 7 pupil this term. How would you react to a teacher who refused to show any human warmth or positive emotion? Or one who blanked you when you called out a cheery ‘good morning’? If you’re not aware of the backgrounds of the children in front of you, ask them! You might be surprised at what you find out. Good teaching is all about relationships and bridges to learning.

Second, it’s important to smile for your own mental health. The best advice I ever received in terms of how to act in the classroom was to be an ‘enlarged version of yourself’. Trying to be two different people inside and outside the classroom is not a recipe for long-term stability, happiness or positive learning and teaching situations. Smiling is one of the most natural and spontaneous things we can do. So many unexpected things have made me smile over the past few years in the classroom that I’ve lost count. Teaching can be a long, hard slog – and especially during the Autumn term when Christmas seems a distant prospect. But ‘smile and the world smiles with you’ my dear old Grandma used to say, ‘frown and you frown alone’.

That’s not to say that new teachers should just ‘grin and bear it’, however. Smiling at everyone and everything can be as much an example of not being yourself as refusing to smile. Let your positive and negative emotions and reactions mean something to pupils. Let them know where they stand. If you haven’t read ‘The One Minute Manager’, buy or borrow it. Let other people be able to react to you as a human being, not as a machine implementing policies and spurious ‘wisdom’ from those more experienced in the profession.

Third, and finally, we have a responsibility to others in the workplace. An organisation – a school, a university, a business – is made up of the people it contains. Workplace cultures are not imposed, they are created and shaped by everyone – even those new to the profession. Not only will a well-placed smile cheer up colleagues who might be having a hard time, but they will hear from pupils how much they enjoy learning with you. That makes school a positive place to work and better for you in the long-run.

In conclusion, then, smile! Be positive. Let that be your default position and be an enlarged version of yourself. Find ways to make your classroom a positive, vibrant environment for learning. Use displays of emotion such as smiling to connect with those around you and forge meaningful relationships. Contrary to what Margaret Adams may think, it’s possible to be serious about learning and teaching whilst having fun – and smiling – along the way.

9 thoughts on “3 reasons teachers should smile

  1. That article is pathetic! What editorial processes allowed that to get to the point where this is serious advice?
    One of the biggest single influences on children’s learning is their engagement with their teacher. Who on earth will engage with a grump? A sour faced grinch?
    Teachers who go into role all day every day are almost without exception NOT the successful ones. The best teachers engage with the children in their class at the personal AND professional level. They don’t get ‘too close’, they don’t overstep professional bounds, they simply enjoy the presence of kids and love learning themselves. They model. They fail. They pick them selves up and dust themselves off and try again and again – in front of the kids.
    This advice is rooted in the ‘teacher as expert’, ‘sage on the stage’, ‘guess what I’m thinking?’, brain dump pedagogical model.’ Well out of date!!
    sigh …. rant over ….

  2. heheh
    reminds me of my first teaching experiences
    and in fact all my experiences with kids at a new school
    (which were a lot)

    smiling is definitely not part of the job
    nor should it be
    it is part of the person

    the motto of not smiling till christmas would have served me well in my last job post
    because the kids took advantage of my good nature and were relentless…

    I don’t think it is something that can be written in stone
    just do what feels right
    and for me
    smiling comes easily 🙂
    but it entails a way of teaching
    if the smile is genuine that is…
    the worst are the false professional smiles
    they indicate a dead soul
    and kids should be right in tearing those down…
    but to learn the difference
    ahh there’s the rub

    nice article 🙂

    be well!

  3. It is so difficult to try to be who you are not. Children, like animals sense it so you might as well relaxe & be yourself as you put so well!

  4. Well its interesting to read that teachers all over the globe are thinking about and discussing the same problems

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