Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Do smile til Christmas

This will be my third year of teaching, and next week will see my third attempt at 'setting the right tone' for the year with the kids. While my fellow trainees and I were cowering around before taking on our first classes, we were all given the same supposed gem of advice.

Don't smile til Christmas.

Whether taken literally (some did) or metaphorically (I did), it remains a very problematic piece of advice. It is deeply logical, and as soon as you get into a school, you can see those teachers who are free-wheeling through October as a result of having set a firm tone through September. In fact, one of the abiding memories I carry with me of my first year is the view of my kids in amongst the rest of the phase during an assembly. Every other class was able to sit calmly and sensibly. Mine were shuffling to such an extent they appeared to be vibrating. The idea of 'Don't Smile til Christmas' is the idea that by being firm early on, and by not smiling along with them, you build in a distance between you and the children which controls their behaviour; then, later in the year, you can loosen the boundaries.

I am a believer that those people we see as successful are just much better at concealing their inadequacies. It suits my mentality to perceive that everyone is deeply flawed in most respects, and it also opens up the revolutionary potential that by focusing solely on those things you are good at, you can attain excellence.

I'm not very good at not making the children laugh - I need that feedback cycle. I'm not very good at telling children that their work is not good enough. I'm not very good at building an airtight consistent behaviour routine.

In some ways, and on some occasions, I wish I was good at these things. But generally, I'm nonplussed, because I've got other things that I am good at. I'm good at keeping the children on task by winning them over with enthusiasm and structured silliness. I'm good at working one-to-one with kids who do misbehave. I'm good at acting mortified when a child snaps one of my rulers.

Essentially, I am reactionary and pragmatic. I am good at dealing with the fallout of my own inconsistency, but this allows me and my children to enjoy a lively, exploratory and - at times - unpredictable classroom life. My kids do as well as others in more 'Don'tSTC' classrooms in terms of attainment, but they get there a different way which - to the outsider - might appear a little patchy.

Hamlet's Polonius famously said
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

Hear me world, I'm taking a stand. This year, I'm not going to punish myself by trying to maintain sternness in the face of amusing misbehaviours by my children. I'm not going to feel guilt for not having my books marked ten minutes after the work is complete. I'm going to accept that my style works better, for me, and I'm going to mark with a glass of Vino and a Mars Bar after nightfall. That's how I roll.

For those who want and can maintain a firm, deeply-structured classroom, do it. For those who'd rather not, like me, DO smile til Christmas, and the kids will be smiling with you.

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