I was a fourth year uni student when I first heard the advice (from a classmate) ‘don’t smile ’till Easter’. While this may not make sense to readers from the Northern Hemisphere, here in Australia our school year begins late January/early February, and we finish up in time for Easter. Thus, ‘don’t smile ’till Easter’ translates as ‘don’t soften up with your students until Term Two’. Luckily, I recognised this for the nonsense it is, even then. Here’s my top three reasons for throwing out this advice.
Finely tuned bullshit meters
Some of teaching is being able to put on an act. You have to stand, day after day, hour after hour, in front of some of the world’s most unforgiving critics and keep them engaged. But if you push that act too far, they can tell, and they will call you out on it. If you truly are a gruff, slow-to-warm-up, no nonsense disciplinarian then not smiling until Easter probably won’t be any hardship to you. Hell, you can probably keep it up all year. But if you’re not (and I’m certainly not) then sooner or later the cracks will show, and those kids you were trying to keep under the thumb will see that weakness, and go right for it.
Fear does not equal respect
I have taught with teachers who did not know this. Teachers who thought that making hormonal 13 year old boys cry was an accomplishment. Teachers who wondered why they hadn’t known there was a bullying problem in the school. Fear creates subservience, but it doesn’t create rapport, or collaboration, or trust. While coming down like a tonne of bricks on every infraction may keep your students quiet, it doesn’t keep them engaged and learning, which is why they (and you) are there.
The damage is done
For me, this is the most significant reason to ignore this advice.
Imagine that you have to walk your neighbours dog three days a week, for twelve weeks. Every time you go to put the dog on his lead, he snaps at your hand. How would that make you feel about the dog? How would that make you feel about interacting with that dog?
After twelve weeks the dog stops snapping at your hand. How long would it take you to trust that he wouldn’t do it again? What if you were a really sensitive person? Or what if you’d had a bad experience with a dog in the past, and the dog’s prior behaviour had just confirmed what you’d already suspected about dogs?
How long would it take for the damage to your relationship with the dog to be undone?
For a student or students in your class it could take another 12 weeks for them to trust you. If they’re already distrusting of teachers, or adults in general, it could take longer. Is it worth it?
Maybe there was a time when the ‘don’t smile ’till Easter’ mantra worked. But now, when teaching and learning is more collaborative than ever, it doesn’t make sense either for you, or your students.