Thursday, October 1, 2009

Do Not Smile or Scowl Until Christmas

Going through the School of Ed I was told, "Don't smile before Christmas."
Going through the School of Ed I was also told, "You know that line 'Don't smile before Christmas?- that's nonsense! Of course you should smile and show your students you care from day one!"

I'd like to endorse the former. When people say not to smile before Christmas they don't mean to literally not smile. They mean don't lighten up. After my student teaching I came to the city ready to work alongside students, ask them about their ideas and put my trust in them as students who, regardless of their issues, wanted to learn on some fundamental level. Trying that straight away was a terrible idea. My students thought I was "nice," which to them meant "this guy'll be easy to play." While most of them didn't try to tear me apart, those who tried certainly succeeded.

My smiling early soon dissolved into a scowl that was affixed to my forehead for the better part of the year. Not only did my students think I was a push-over, they thought that I had a terrible temper. The students actually trying in my class hated this and those who were causing the problems thought it was funny, so they pushed and pushed. It was a lose-lose-lose situation. If the students see you get angry and yell with any regularity, you can yell until you're purple and it won't help. Scowling and walking around pissed off really just sends them the message that you're angry with them. Would you be interested in working for a boss that was angry at you most of the time?

By the end of the year I was better able to control my reactions, as the students actions weren't surprising at all whatsoever, but I was still really angry about the whole situation. At the beginning of this year, however, I'd somehow gained the ability to simply not react to the funny things students have done or the more regrettable things they've done. I've certainly smiled, but not in reaction to anything inappropriate or during class when something has happened that is disruptive.

My advice to the First Years in the city is "don't smile and don't scowl until Christmas." Kids are hilarious and infuriating. Showing the students a human side is also important, however. The balance is difficult to achieve. When you're in front of the class you have to show them you're running the show. If you react by getting angry or playing along with students whose actions are disruptive, it may show them a weakness they can exploit. If you don't want them to push your buttons, don't show them where they can push.

When I was student teaching and substitute teaching I really, really wanted to get to the human side of teaching, show the students I was a real person and show them things they needed to know to be successful. Gaining their respect and trust that you can handle a class is much more important than trying to show them that you're human. In the city the students are going to test you and what they want to know is if you're cool under fire. You can get to the progressive education later. First gain the students respect. Without it you won't gain much else. To do that you have to stay in control of yourself and the class. While they'll show you in the most backward way, that's what they crave, need and demand and if you can't give it to them they won't give you what you ask of them.

Today's Wine: Indaba Shiraz. I picked this up at Trader Joe's for $7 and was incredibly pleased with it. The label says black cherry, pepper, etc. I wasn't really paying much attention past the fact that I really enjoyed it, however.

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