Smile Before Christmas – And Do It Often

Christmas Scene with tree and presentsIt’s almost time for Halloween. Christmas is a good two and a half months away. Given the traditional advice about classroom management there must be a lot of frowning teachers. I’m talking, of course, about the advice given to so many young educators: “never smile before Christmas.”

I first heard this alleged wisdom when I was a new teacher back in 2006. Thinking I received some sage advice, I proceeded to tell it to another colleague at the lunch table. He just laughed and said, “that’s horrible advice!” As I grew and matured as a teacher, I realized my colleague was correct.

The “never smile before Christmas” axiom expresses the classroom discipline model that a teacher needs to come down hard for the first few months and then only let up once the students are properly trained (and scared).

The reason this phrase (and general model of discipline) fails, I believe, is because it doesn’t account for the situation of young people today. The vast majority of students come from troubled environments. With divorce common, at least half of the children come from broken families. Even those families still together are struggling economically with unemployment, reduced wages, and underwater mortgages. Many other kids know the pain of abuse, whether sexual, physical, or otherwise.

When I taught, I had many students who, although they came from higher socio-economic backgrounds and functional families, had little emotional contact with their parents. They were busy working long hours to provide for their children who largely saw friends, nannies, and babysitters more than parents.

So, for many children, a teacher may be the only adult who gives them genuine attention on a daily basis. For the teacher to go out of his or her way to be negative and scary is extremely counter-productive. Lots of kids know scary beyond what many teachers can even imagine.

Such an approach is also lazy. There’s no reason why a teacher can’t be both firm and loving. It’s possible to smile and be upbeat and still enforce classroom discipline. In fact, I was able to tell the truth to my students about their behavior because I actually had a relationship with them. They knew that even if I was angry with their actions, I still loved them as people.

So, if you are a teacher trying to stifle those smiles for another few months, give it a rest at last! Smile, be happy, and get to know your students. They get enough negativity. Be a positive, joyful (but firm) influence in their lives and they’ll love you for life! Seriously. I still hear from students I haven’t seen for years, telling me how much my teaching meant to them. And, I smiled the first minute they saw me.

About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is an administrator, author, and speaker with a background in teaching. His articles receive over a million hits per year and have appeared in a variety of publications. He is co-owner of the small business Theta Hill, and he also writes for The Popular Teen, The Popular Man and other sites.