My first year of teaching took place in a socio-economically disadvantaged middle school. I was a young, naïve, somewhat privileged middle-class white girl in a diverse school where it was not unheard of to return to your classroom after lunch and open the door only to find that two students were being arrested in your classroom for drug possession. (Yes, this actually happened to me.)
I was entirely unprepared for classroom management in this kind of school environment. Naturally, I asked veteran teachers for their advice. One of the most common things I was told was “not to smile ‘til Christmas” because you’ve got to “mean business.” At the time I thought perhaps this was good advice because I certainly did want to show my students that I “meant business,” however amorphous that phrase seemed. But after years of teaching, I’ve determined that a good teacher must certainly smile before Christmas! She should smile from the moment she lets her students enter the classroom on the very first day of school.
My rejection of this popular teacher adage is not meant to deemphasize the importance of having clear expectations and reinforcing them with consequences for poor decision-making; it is simply meant to add that kindness and grace are also important parts of good classroom management. In fact, classroom management experts state that teachers who manage their classroom best are relaxed and emotionally warm (Jones)*. Smiles are common in these classrooms. Students respect good teachers, but they also like and connect with these teachers.
So go ahead, crack that smile. It might make the classroom a little sunnier as we head toward winter.
*Jones, Fred. Tools for Teaching. Fredric H. Jones and Associates, Inc., 2000.