If you’ve ever been schooled by a veteran teacher, you may have heard the advice, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” The idea being that you should convey your firm control of the classroom via a steely and unwavering glare. Or something.
I am here to liberate you from this idea.
First of all, you are presumably volunteering to Teach Children because you Enjoy Teaching Children. Right? I mean, there are always going to be those occasional behavior challenges, but I’m going to say that if you don’t like your students, you should probably volunteer to laminate stuff or some equally helpful aspect of religious education. It’s okay, then, to smile at The Children. This doesn’t automatically make you the pushover teacher.
You integrate smiling at the children into an effective classroom management strategy. This strategy has other parts:
1. Have a Clue
2. Have a Plan
3. Don’t put up with nonsense
In essence – if you’ve got a good structure for your class and you’ve made your expectations clear, you can be friendly, too. Smiling is not a lesson plan; neither is Random Sharing. Perhaps spend some time practicing with an audience – your own children, the cat, your reflection in the mirror. There’s the assertive, not-born-yesterday smile. The you-just-said-something-genuinely-funny smile. The sit-yourself-down-in-your-chair-this-minute smile. Have a good wardrobe of smiles handy.
In particular, I think that the closer you are in age to your students, the harder of a time you will have pretending to never be amused by their wisecracks or glad to see them. I spent a good portion of my first year of teaching trying hard to frown importantly, with the result that my students competed to see who could get me to crack up in the middle of an important lecture. They enjoyed many victories, which then left me with my hands on my hips, saying things like, “You guys! You really need to stop talking! I mean it!” Better to just be yourself, relaxed but still in charge.
Some of us are naturally stern, and others of us just look kind of ridiculous. It’s okay to be ridiculous. I have blazed a trail for you.
(edited because I forgot to do the Recommended Resource, being overtired)
Recommended Resource: Two books of questions-and-answers from Matthew Pinto: Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons? and Did Jesus Have a Last Name?, the second written with Jason Evert. Each book is divided by topic into 12 chapters, with 200 questions from teenagers the authors have encountered in their work as super-catechist types. Cross-referenced with the Bible and the Catechism, they are great to browse through for your own edification and to help you prepare for the questions your students may
throw at you politely ask after thanking you for your time and energy.
Catechist Chat will be an ongoing series of posts for teachers in religious education programs. It is based on my personal experience and not on any statistical evidence of the effectiveness of my advice. Suscribe to my feed to follow along, and Caveat lector, which is Latin for “your mileage may vary.”
Click here to read other entries in the series, and be sure to follow Catechist Chat on Facebook! You can also sign up for my email list, and I’ll send you resources, including non-PDF versions of the activities I post (which means you can edit them in Microsoft Word to customize them for your own students).