Surely the smile cannot be that important. You are a teacher, jobs are more complex and more sophisticated than just the raising of the edges at the corner of the mouth. But, sometimes it is easy when you are delivering the periodic table for the first time to Year 7 as a chemistry teacher to think that this is a serious business. The students should take it very seriously – a smile has no place.
There is actually an archaic mantra – probably still shared by ageing colleagues – that says “don’t smile until Christmas”. So, don’t in anyway appear welcoming or friendly for the first term – else the blighters will have you back into a corner for the trimmings have come down.
Yet, imagine the life of your little people. Imagine you are a primary school teacher, job number one, you are trying your hardest not to smile but Harry has just picked up Jenny from the floor after she tripped. You are trying not to smile but Joe turned up sad this morning and needs your reassurance that someone cares about him – because there was no one at home when he woke up today.
Even as a secondary school teacher you become aware of the clouds that shroud the faces of some of your most vulnerable people. They queue up outside your room and they look distant and are kicking at stones on the path. As they pass, you smile and ask about footy last night. The cloud lifts and life returns to the child’s face. This is not because the team won last night – it is because you thought to smile and ask about something small that you know about that child. You have helped them to feel like they belong in your room.
At no other point would it be acceptable to advise a person to be less friendly for three months with the clients they serve. Yet, the one place we think that being distant, aloof and unfriendly is with young children. It makes no sense, does it.
I delivered an assembly, my first as an English teacher in my first school. I delivered an assembly on the importance of a smile in helping people feel like have been noticed, that they belong and that someone spotted they looked a little lonely today. It was an assembly that was aimed at counter bullying. It resulted in me receiving a large number of ghoulish smiles from students for a few weeks. But, I hope the teachers in the room – more often than not the actual audience of the assembly – heard the importance of a smile in their working day.