From the time I was a young teacher until I was nearing retirement I would put on a tie before going to school. And I hated ties. I never tied them well. They turned into Dilbert ties every time I turned around. But I wore them practically every day… except when we wore school uniforms and none of the official teacher shirts were made for wearing a tie. So, why the heck did I spend so much of my career wearing ties I hated?
Well, it matters how you appear at the door at the start of each and every class. What happens at the classroom door can make or break the entire teacher’s day.
“Good morning, Jose! Are you ready to make an A today?”
“Good morning, Rita. Your hair looks beautiful today. Did you color it?”
“No, Mr. B. It’s the same color it’s always been.”
“You mean it wasn’t purple yesterday?”
“I have never had purple hair.”
“Oh, well, then, it must’ve been that beautiful smile today that made me notice.”
You have to welcome them in if you want them to sit down and listen to all the wonderful boring things you have to teach them. I was known for a while as the “teacher who makes us laugh”. And that can be dangerous. Principals tend to prefer the silent filling out of worksheets as far as classroom management goes. But kids got better grades on State tests and wrote better essays for school when we could talk and laugh and entertain playfully creative ideas just as openly as we did the boring old facts and practice.
And, truthfully, if you don’t establish that classroom air at the front door, it never has enough oxygen in it to grow once life in the classroom gets started.
I suspect that the afterlife in the real world, once students get there after their school years are over, would profit greatly from bosses who knew how to do the grin and greet at the front door every day. I also suspect that real world bosses almost universally don’t know this particular teacher trick.
You gotta smile and say hello. You gotta make them feel like they belong. You gotta shake that hand if they offer it, even though you know the only boys who have washed that hand in the last week are the ones who go into the restroom just to comb their hair, and then wash their hands immediately after. And most of them never comb their hair either. (Oh, please, don’t let me think about the millions of microbes finding their way onto desks and pens and pencils… even the pencils they chew.) And if you can tell a joke that makes them feel good and laugh, then the victory in the classroom war against ignorance is already on its way to being won.