Back to School AKA Don’t Smile until Christmas…


This quote shown here from Mother Teresa is one which many would agree with wholeheartedly. The only people perhaps who may take exception to it, are us as teachers.

The perennial “Don’t smile until Christmas” mantra. Is it true? Does it work? Are we not going against our very purpose as nurturers and brain developers for children if we stick so rigidly to this idea. Surely, students arriving for the first day in their new class, with potentially a new teacher, want to see a beaming smile awaiting them. Peace, I would argue, can begin with a smile; peace in the sense of a learning environment that will develop students and teachers throughout their learning together.

It’s worth considering though why this mantra is so commonly known throughout the teaching profession.

The difficulty we face from the very beginning, right through our career as teachers is the balance between learning and liking. By that I mean that we must ensure our children are learning, but we (and all of us, even the most rock-hard amongst us)  want our children to like us. To want to be in our class. Every teacher, whether they will admit it or not, wants to be that teacher. That teacher that has a lasting effect on our students. That helps them grow and develop. That makes the difference. It might seem selfish, but after all we got into the job to help and develop amazing young minds. We are allowed to take some satisfaction from that privilege surely.

The mistake though of many a new teacher, and I’m sure still many of the more experienced is to start the year with that goal as the forefront. To be the teacher that the class adores. To make sure you’re awash with Clinton Cards’ ‘Best Teacher Ever’ mugs and teddy bears by the end of term 1. The error there being, that once you set your expectations, it can be very difficult to raise them, or change them. Yes, there will be times you can joke and have fun with the children. However, always at the forefront of our mind as teachers must be that our job is to teach. To impart wisdom. To make sure our students leave our classroom with a better understanding of the things they need to learn than when they entered it. We are there to educate and nurture. Not to win a popularity contest.

Therefore, the “Don’t Smile Until Christmas” mantra is not of course a literal one, but one that reminds us as teachers the importance of expectations. Expectations from day one. It’s no good having a nice, easy first day where you let the little disruptions, or calling out pass. “It’s only the first day, I’ll sort it tomorrow”. No! Expectations are so important from day one. By day two the children would have already gone home with the idea that they can call out, making it more difficult for them to comprehend why you reprimand them for doing it on day 2.

We owe them as their teachers to make our expectations clear from the outset. This does not mean shouting at the first child who calls out. I’ve been teaching for nearly 5 years now and can 100% say that I have never raised my voice above a firm, clear tone. That is because I’ve always made my expectations clear from day one. Talk to any of my students or learning assistants and I know what they’d say:

Mr Steptowe is firm, but fair. We know what he expects of us.

Firm, but fair. Now that surely sounds a nicer mantra than “Don’t Smile Until Christmas”, however the idea behind them is the same. Set your expectations, and most importantly, stick to them! If your school has a behaviour system in place, follow it. Use it correctly and trust me, it will make your life easier for the entire year. Even with the toughest of classes, which I’ve also had, clear and firm expectations do work. You will get the children on side. And most importantly, they will learn.

Then, as the weeks go by, they will learn to appreciate the rules and expectations that you have firmly set in place, and so will appreciate you. You won’t suddenly shock them by snapping at them when their calling out catches you on a tired day. They’ll know what’s expected and it WILL make your life easier thus allowing you to focus on delivering high-quality lessons.

Moreover, the positive reinforcement that you will obviously use alongside your expectations will then have more meaning and significance for your students. You won’t find yourself having to say well done to the one student who’s sitting doing their work independently (as most classes will always have), but instead be able to praise the children who’ve really pushed themselves in their work and have perhaps reached the challenge, or the extension. Something much more meaningful for them to go home and tell their parents or guardians rather than that they were the only one working quietly.

“Don’t Smile Until Christmas” is wrong. Smile when your children come into your class. Show them you are happy to be their teacher, but do not forget that you are their teacher. Be firm, but fair. Make your expectations clear from the moment they line up in the morning. Be prepared to have to be the bad cop sometimes, but do it in the right way, representing the expectations that you have clearly laid out. If it’s clear, the children will learn from it even if they don’t like it. If it’s not, then you’re just making your job harder.

The start of the year is a wonderful time as you meet your new students, but it is also a crucial one as it sets out what type of year you’re going to have. I wish all teachers the best of luck for the year and hope we are all able to impart lots of wonderful wisdom in the fantastic job that we have.

Thanks for reading,

Please subscribe by clicking on contact at the top of the page if you’re interested in seeing more of my posts, or feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s