Don’t Smile Until the New Year

Trina had completed a well written 5 paragraph essay including an intro, 3 supporting body paragraphs, and a solid conclusion. However, all I could do was laugh at her efforts. In her expository writing, she explained why “Mr. Bacchus is the Worse Teacher Ever”.  She reinforced her claim by arguing I was mean, never smiled, and always too serious. I laughed because her description of me as a first year 6th grade English and History teacher at Lindsay Middle School in Hampton, Virginia was 100 percent accurate. I was trying my hardest to follow the old adage that teachers shouldn’t smile until the New Year and consequently was everything she had written about.

The timeless advice of hiding your pearly whites until the New Year has been shared with new teachers for generations. The rationale is that a teacher who is friendly, kind, and nice at the beginning of the year will be taken advantage of and lose control of their class by the end of the year.  So a teacher should be straight faced and stern until the New Year and ease up after the Holidays. This concept seemed logical to me and I decided that my first year approach would be “no smiles until the New Year”. There was just one tiny issue.

“God Damnit Bacchus why are you always smiling” still echoes in my memory.   I didn’t have a great answer for my high school defensive coordinator, Dan Thompson, and proceeded to continue smiling as we went through drills. But that was me! The majority of the time I am smiling. Maybe it’s the fact that my mom paid so much money for my braces or maybe I am just a happy person but I tend to smile a lot. My close friends and family during my student teaching often shared how they couldn’t imagine me being mean or strict with students. They knew that smiling, laughing, and joking were major parts of who I am and that it would be hard to try and go against that. Despite my disposition to smile, I believed not smiling until the New Year would offer me the most success.

So I fought my want to smile and my first year students fought against me. It was such an effort not to smile that I was never comfortable and a grouch most of the year. I forced myself to stay serious at things that I thought were hilarious. I was hiding who I was in an attempt to be who I thought I needed to be. I can look back now and understand why Trina thought I was the “Worse Teacher Ever” or why Amy threw a pencil at the non-smiling Mr. Bacchus. I was miserable trying to be someone else and my students had to deal with that misery. The following year I gave up this methodology and started smiling, joking, and laughing with my students on the first day of school. I immediately noticed a difference in my interactions with my students and the sense of comfort I had in front of my class. My students are now meeting the smiling Mr. Bacchus on the first day of school and not the Mr. Bacchus I tried to create.

Trina helped me realize that trying to be something you are not meant to be is the worse.   I have become a better teacher by being who I am instead of trying to be who I was advised to be. This has not only been applicable to my teaching but crosses over into my life. There have been times when I have tried to be what other people, parents, society, etc. have recommended I be although it may go against the person God has created me to be. We are all made differently and not embracing the Good, Bad, Weird, Ugly, and in my case the Smiling will only rob you of your peace and limit you from reaching your full potential. Once I started smiling with my students I stopped getting essays about how I was the “Worse Teacher Ever” and started receiving awards for being one of the best.

*All students names have been changed to protect former student’s identity


2 thoughts on “Don’t Smile Until the New Year

  1. Strange, no one told me the “no smile thing” in all my years; but, then again, I’m a perpetual smiler and I’ve long since noted that men experience teaching differently than women do. The one day I didn’t smile while in my last period of the new semester, a new student told his mother that he wasn’t liked by me & so he “didn’t really like the class,” Lol.
    Your last paragraph put it in writing, as I’d been thinking this for a while [as I’ve been reading your blog]: You’re a pleaser & you’re probably more prone to ask how to be, and follow that narrative so much that you’re thrown when the next brick doesn’t appear before you set foot out for it. You learned quickly, though. From one blazing smiler to another: Yes, to the awards!

    1. Great to hear another teacher letting their smile shine through. You hit the nail on the head with the pleaser label. One of the things I recognized when I started asking myself “Why am I doing this”. Have a great school year!!

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