Last month, before the new academic year commenced, our school conducted various subject-based workshops so that we could attune ourselves to the new concepts introduced in the books and also enrich our teaching by getting acquainted with more interactive and fun methodologies. My mind keeps going back to a query by a trainer: Why do I see faces with no smiles? Why do teachers smile so little? Are you aware of how unwelcoming and unsmiling some of your faces are? No one has ever touched on this subject. Assuming we are unsmiling, what kind of bearing does it have on our students?
After the first day of school, has your child ever come back home and said, “I don’t like my teacher. She is not nice. She doesn’t smile at all!”? The teacher may have come smartly dressed, well equipped to teach and control, but if she/he does not appear friendly, students are intimidated and wonder what they have done to receive the stony and unfriendly look. The unsmiling face of a teacher creates a negative impact on all students – whether they are in pre-primary or in college.
It’s unfortunate that most teachers either find it difficult to smile or just don’t care to smile because they have been told that teachers who smile are never able to control the class since the students feel she/he is very friendly and they can be taken for a royal ride. Contrary to this conviction, even some unsmiling and stern teachers find it difficult to maintain discipline in class. On the other hand, a smiling teacher creates the kind of trust and rapport that is necessary to make classroom teaching productive and, most importantly, is able to put students at ease, which is the first step to knowledge acquisition.
What is so important about a smile? A smile universally communicates one message: I am happy and I am here to make you happy. It sends out a positive vibration. Students are magnetically attracted towards teachers who warm them with a smile or a laugh. In the strange school world, a smile is what most young children yearn for. It has the ability to help the fears of the child fade away so that the child is able to confidently express doubts or raise questions. Many students quake in their shoes to ask their teachers doubts or even have them repeat a statement that they have either not heard clearly or not understood.
Students hesitate to hand in their notebooks for correction because the teacher is constantly frowning or not disposed to smile. Concepts that are not understood are left hanging in the air because they shy away from asking for fear that the unsmiling face signals anger or disinterest towards the student and this may result in their intelligence being ridiculed. In short, there is very little urge on the part of the students to explore the subject, and instead they long for the day when the teacher is going to be replaced or when they go on to another class, where they will be lucky enough to have a teacher with a sunny smile and a friendly disposition.
Students who still have a vivid memory of their horrifying first day experience in school distinctly remember the absence of a smiling adult. The teacher was busy getting together her act and her class. There was no smile of welcome but only confusing instructions and even more bewildering directions. Many parents say that meeting the principal is also an equally formidable experience because the person does not wear a smile. Instead, there is either a frown or an irritated expression. Most parents do not share their problems with the teacher or the principal because they feel unwelcome and therefore are unable to communicate freely. In fact, a parent recently complained that not only is the teacher unsmiling, but because she feels that there is no need to make eye contact, she is constantly walking even while listening to the parent’s concerns about the child. The parent said that she felt she was not being listened to, and that when she as an adult felt this way, it is very reasonable for the child to come home complaining every single day.
Conversely, teachers also complain that the class is boring because the students are expressionless. Sometimes we have to wonder whether the students are mirroring our expressions and our body language. If we smile, the students too will automatically return the smile, and this will make the atmosphere in the class more conducive to productive and happy learning. It is the responsibility of the teacher to talk about the effect their expressionless faces have on him/her.
It is unfortunate that most of the teacher training institutes do not make it compulsory for a teacher to study his/her body language and facial expressions. Making lesson plans, acquiring subject knowledge and the ability to control the class are important skills for a teacher to learn and cultivate, but even with all these skills, it is impossible to win over a student or get a student interested in the subject without reaching out in the form of a smile. The most exasperating thing is that some teachers think they are smiling, but they are really not! So should we place huge mirrors in the training sessions so that teachers understand what their body language is really like? Remember, that the teacher and the parent are responsible for making students become a part of the social structure, a structure that is both friendly and welcoming.
Start your class with a smile. Better still, start your class with a joke and you will notice the immediate change in yourself and your students: both of you will be ready to dive into the subject with the utmost enthusiasm.
Dale Carnegie has said: “The expression one wears on one’s face is far more important than the clothes one wears on one’s back.” Isn’t this saying it all? Shall we wear our smile like we wear our clothes?
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.