"Don't smile at Christmas" - does it actually work?

Jasmin Choudhury

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

"Don’t smile before Christmas!” Anyone who is a teacher in this country will have heard of that old adage. It is confusing - right! Especially if you are new to the country or new to teaching, you are wondering why on earth would people use a phrase like that!
We joined teaching to have a fabulous time, create wonderful relationships, inspire generations of eager children while remaining calm, bright and breezy at all times! Not smile you say – ridiculous!

What they don’t tell you at teaching college, (well they didn’t tell me in my time there), is that while teaching is immensely rewarding, it is extremely hard and exhausting work! Trying to master an audience of 30 young children or people is a lesson in itself. The phrase “Don’t smile before Christmas” is a survival technique in getting children to listen to you and earn the respect that you deserve by the end of the first term. While not scientific in its approach, it actually works!

Many a teacher or trainee can start the term by being overly friendly and far too easy going. More importantly, they haven’t picked up on behaviour that may be deemed as “silly”. Without dealing with the small things, poor behaviour can spiral.

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Children are like clay and are shaped by how you behave. They are watchful of everything you do.


While there is a need to be positive, being firm but fair and picking up on the smallest of behaviour in the Autumn or the first term is crucial. It will stand you in good stead for the rest of the academic year and if sustained, for years to come.

That’s when you create the reputation of: “Don’t mess with the master” -where even a “stare” is enough to get the unruliest of children to settle down and focus on their learning. That is in conjunction with positive praise when students do the right thing and are actually learning!

“Of course you can smile”- I remember saying to one of my trainees when I was explaining the saying. However, all children need to know who is the boss and more importantly, they need to know that they don’t mess around with you!

You can be the best teacher in the world with the most amazing lessons, but when children don’t respect and listen to you, they don’t learn and it becomes harder to teach.


Even the best behaved of pupils can react in a manner that is not entirely appropriate. They are humans just like us. You only need to see a group of 4-year-olds in Reception wreaking havoc and laughing when the teacher does not have strong control of his or her class.

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In that first term, the Autumn term or whenever you start, (especially if you are a supply teacher), you are developing your reputation as a teacher. By October and certainly by November or if you have started midway – then a few weeks into the term, all pupils will test you. They need to know that you mean what you say and you say what you mean and above all, you will follow things through.

Always ask of your pupils’ things that are reasonable and if you do need to give out sanctions, ensure they are fair and achievable and explain the “why”. All children are capable of being intelligent and with persistence, they can choose to get the message that you are conveying to them.

Students also need to be aware that you will chase up for that work or homework rigorously. They should realize that you plan effective lessons rather than “winging it” and that your learning environment is focused on their needs. Furthermore, that all-important feedback will be given promptly and readily with an expectation to act upon it immediately. All those aspects create those very positive relationships where they listen and engage with you – just because of who you are!

Believe it or not, pupils know what a good teacher is and are the most discerning critics in the world. As time goes on and nearer to the end of the term, with your boundaries clearly established, you can relax and have a laugh and joke with your pupils. They will know, even by the first few weeks, that you are measured, consistent, fair and at all times, an integrity led professional. Children and young people really do discuss and know who they can mess around with and who they can’t.

As an educator, you hold- possibly the most important job in the world – teaching and shaping the minds of the young and the dream maker.

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Even Laurie Lee in his book, Cider with Rosie, recalls his teachers and, in particular, remembers Miss Wardley, from Birmingham, as having “a strong hold on loose reins”.

With all the groundwork done, you certainly can start “smiling” and loosen the reins. You will actually be able to get on with the job of inspiring and teaching generations of young people who you have the power to influence, hopefully for the better and who care what you think of them.

Soon your reputation will precede you and pupils will be wanting to engage with you and come to you for guidance. They will even be willing to come to those dreaded mornings and after-school interventions and clubs because “you are you!”. Furthermore, they will act on your feedback as they will want to earn your respect and know that it is of value and moreover, know where they stand. They certainly will know not to play games and “mess around with the master”.

That’s when you know that despite your pupils driving you crazy at times, the long hours, the incessant paperwork and daily marking and drudgery, it is all worth it! You really are the master of the future!

“The dream begins, most of the time, with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you on to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.” -Dan Rather – American journalist. 

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About our Community Expert

01_JASMIN

Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK. She is passionate about improving the lives of young people and their families. 

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