Guest Post: Don’t Smile Until Christmas

Author: Kathy Eaton

Don’t smile until Christmas…

I am not sure where this piece of advice originated from but ask any teacher about it and they will probably laugh and say they have heard it. For a girl who grew up being able to locate her mom in a room by listening for her infectious laugh, not smiling in the classroom was an impossible option. I found that consistency and compassion are the greatest tools in my toolbox. Many students have complicated lives in and out of school that impact how they interact with their peers and teachers. Teaching that “perfect” lesson plan rarely goes as expected and the greater your connection is with your students, the smoother your ride is over the bumps.

Connecting with students is why you will see teachers helping out with after school activities, sporting events, field trips, and many other adventures. They see it as an opportunity to learn more about their students and see them outside the classroom. A teacher’s day is not over when the classroom door closes, and if you have ever sat at the dinner table with a teacher you will have evidence to support this. There is no way out, just listen!

Something that has always been special to me during my career in education are the stories that shape educators teaching philosophies. Each story is unique and I wanted to share part of mine:

While working on my Masters in Education a member of my cohort, Sarah, gave us a unique opportunity to hear Dr. Maya Angelou speak to Jackson Public School teachers at the local high school in Jackson, Michigan. Her message that evening was to inspire teachers to reach out and connect with their students. She talked about how different the life of a student could be with even just one advocate on their side. There was a point in the night where I experienced a sense of tunnel vision, her melodic voice seemed to be speaking only to me and validating why connections are so important in teaching. Dr. Angelou spoke about the challenges of educating students, many of whom had struggles at home that inhibited them from being fully present in the classroom. She said in order to be effective teachers need to find ways to connect to their students and asked each member in the audience to “be the rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” I had read that quote from her before but hearing her speak it to an audience of educators with so much heart and compassion was inspirational. To this day, her message is a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy.

Teachers open their classroom door to a number of students each and every day. They can see who is having a rough day, who may need extra help, and what lesson may not be going as well as planned and needs to be adjusted in the moment! We have an education system that puts a lot of emphasis on test scores even though teaching is so much more. So, next time you see a news story about test scores, remember that is just one number on one day of a student’s life; the whole story happens on the other 179, or more, of the school year.

Now you know the whole story behind why the “don’t smile until Christmas” advice was not an option for me…I was following the inspirational message from Dr. Angelou to “be the rainbow in someone else’s cloud.” Be kind, hug a teacher (ask permission first!)

“Great teachers empathize with kids, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon.” Ann Lieberman

“When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” Dalai Lama


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