When I first started my teaching career, I remember receiving the classic instructions from “seasoned” educators of “don’t smile before Christmas.” Later, I came to find out that all new educators heard this little piece of bad advice. If we wanted to be taken seriously, by our students, we had to look “serious.” Sadly, many educators become so accustomed to looking serious that the resting prick face has become their routine and daily look. They feel this persona is making them effective in the classroom and helping them manage their classes with an “iron fist.” However, it is working against them and pushing them further away from their students. If negative words can trigger anxiety in the brain, imagine what tense facial expressions and body language do the minds of our students.
The face that we wear daily says a lot to our students. It communicates to them how we feel about them and how we feel about our jobs. If your face says loud and clear that you despise what you are doing (at least until Christmas), then it sends a message that you dislike the students that you should be serving. If we want to be realistic, every day is not a happy day for us–teachers are human too. However, I think it is better to allow our students to see us as adults process real emotions by turning frowns into smile. We have to model healthy ways of dealing with our emotions without taking it out on others. The faces that we wear are essential to our students because it is our first line of communication with them. When students are trying to feel our vibe, the first thing they look at is our face, and from there, they make an initial assessment of if we are indeed an authentic person or not. We all have the “game face” that we wear when we are ready to get down to business. However, your face should welcome students to an exciting game, not one that is intimidating and impersonal; a game that can’t be played to win.
Take a moment to think back to that teacher who made a difference in your life. Your initial liking and connection with them probably had nothing to do with the content that they taught but the face that they choose to wear. I say “choose to wear” because the difference between smiling and frowning is a simple choice. It might be a hard choice for some of us, but it is a choice. Despite the trials that we face in our personal or professional lives, we must make a choice to get up every morning and put on our smiles. That educator who influenced you first had to inspire you. To inspire you, they had to make a conscious decision, daily, that despite what was happening in their lives, they were going to smile. Their smiles were going to radiate in the room and excite those who were in it. From that smile, empowerment came, and whatever the task was for the day, their smiles communicated to you that everything was going to be alright. When students enter our spaces, we must be mindful that some of them may feel as if there is no reason to smile. The burdens that they carry are so heavy that it has crippled their ability to find joy. The last thing they need to encounter are adults crippled by the difficulties of life, and their burdened face became their classroom face.
Every day, she greeted us at the door with her excitement and her smile. Her smile set the tone for the room. In a way, it was her classroom management.
To this day, I still remember the face of my high school math teacher Ms. Hyde. From her light-skinned complexion that was adorned with freckles down to her pearly white teeth that complimented her hair as it hung down to her face. Every day, she greeted us at the door with her excitement and her smile. Her smile set the tone for the room. In a way, it was her classroom management. Now, don’t get me wrong, she did get frustrated at times, but she followed her frustration with a smile. Seeing her smile made it feel as if the California sun was shining a little bit brighter in her room. The game face she chose to wear daily was one that pushed me to learn math and supported me when I failed at it. Her game face even moved me to continuously enroll in any class she was teaching because she calmed my anxieties about math and many other issues I carried to school with me. Ms. Hyde was consistent in who she was and the faces that she wore daily. To myself and many of my peers, that’s what made her likable, relatable, and real. She held no punches when it came down to getting the job done and teaching math, but no matter how hard she pushed and pricked, we knew it was from a place of love because her face told us so. She smiled before, during, and after Christmas and was still able to create a learning environment that was structured yet fun. Math was happening in Ms. Hyde’s room, and everyone wanted to be there. She got us in the game, and how she wore her “game face” inspired us to play the game, and we did it well if I do say so myself.
Be like Ms. Hyde and smile. It’s okay to smile. Actually, it’s inspirational to smile. Your students will have a better chance of winning the game of life when you SMILE.