Students can smile too

I know I put up quite a front about how teachers are the important ones in the classroom, but I should pay homage to the reason we’re here: The students. Whether you say the word with joy or derision, the fact remains that they’re there, and simply aren’t going anywhere.

So, I want to talk about what we can do to make these darling little people happy…and therefore put them in a better position to make us happy. (See what I did there…it is about us after all!)

I really find that it’s best to stay on the good side of my students. Think about it: Students really do have a lot of power these days. A quick conversation with the wrong person (say, a helicopter parent, for example) can land us in the principal’s office discussing a particularly nasty phone call. Teachers simply are not looked at as infallible as we once were (don’t worry, even I laughed as I wrote that). The point is this: We need to watch our backs and keep the kiddos happy whenever possible.

How? These are little bundles of angst, hormones, illicit substances, and worst of all…feelings. We can’t just smile at them and expect them to smile back. So, we need to hit them hard. And often. Wow. No, don’t hit them. I mean hit them with kindness. And the following strategies.


Strategy #1: Make them feel special

I know this will come as a shock, so brace yourself: Students love to feel special. They love to feel like you are paying attention to only them. They want to feel like they have a relationship with you that only the two of you understand.

One very simple thing you can do is to, every so often, write special notes to them on papers or tests. I often write ‘LOL’ next to a particularly funny test response. Or, I stick a smiley face next to something that is well thought-out. If they write something particularly noteworthy, I write them a note. It’s noteworthy, after all! I have a coworker that sometimes will add to a drawing that a student has doodled onto their assignment. Once she came across a whale drawn on a paper and added…a top hat! Simple, yet effective. I would bet a bajillion dollars that student smiled when they got their paper back. And thought they were special.

Strategy #2: Treat them like adults

This one may be difficult for those of you that have kiddos that are FAR from being adults (wait…that’s all of us). I really do want to stress the point, though, that students respond well to being treated with respect and dignity. Treat them like you would a coworker. (Unless you’re the teacher that yells at others for smiling. You can walk away from me.)

The way to do this is pretty simple. First, try not to look at or talk to your students like they’re stupid. We know they’re stupid. That’s why they’re in school! So, act as if all of their questions are at least respectable. Respond to their queries frankly. Try not to beat around the bush and therefore make them feel childish. When a student asks to use the restroom I generally respond with, “Of course.” Although the fact remains that I’m the final word of whether or not they leave the room, they at least know that I’m treating them as an equal when it comes to their bladder. (Although, come to think of it, we are actually treating them better than we treat ourselves in this situation! We don’t get to go to the bathroom, damn it! Oh well, I’ll save that whole clustercuss for another post.)

Another way to make any student feel all grown up is to maintain inside jokes with them. Just be silly sometimes with them and this will happen naturally. If a kiddo calls you mom or dad, go with it. Call them son or daughter a few times a month. Hilarious. Never gets old. If somebody breaks something on accident, make a big deal about not letting them touch anything in the room (but make sure they’re not self conscious about it…feelings, remember?). When students think they share a special kind of humor with you, they are more willing to work with you in the learning process.

Don’t get me wrong: This will take some time to master. Don’t go into the room tomorrow and just start goofing off with your students. That’s dumb. Let it happen organically and just see where it goes. All I suggest is that you open yourself to the possibility of your kiddos responding well to being treated as equals. Who knows…I might be on to something.

Strategy #3: Listen to the radio

This one may take some patience on your part, but it’s so worth it. Find the Top 40 station in your area, and save it to your presets. Better yet, get Sirius/XM radio and head over to channel 2. (I don’t work for Sirius/XM…just freakin’ love it.)

It’s not about listening to the music your kids are listening to, though. It’s about using it to make them happy. No, don’t play it in class. I challenge you to find even one song that’s appropriate anymore. What I’m saying you do is use the lyrics in their music to engage them. Whenever possible, work a lyric into conversation. A good, recent example is when a female student was taking a long time to take her notes out I quoted One Direction by saying, “Hey girl, I’m waiting on you. I’m waiting on you.” Comedic gold. And it made her hurry and made her smile. My other option would be to say something mean to her. Not cool.

Strategy #4: Use technology as much as possible

Let’s just face it here people: These kids are hopelessly addicted to technology. They can’t pry their blistered thumbs away from their iPhones long enough to read the directions, so forget about completing an entire worksheet! So, why not use that very same technology to engage them and build a relationship with them? I use YouTube for my notes (I’ll talk about that in detail in a future post), a website to communicate all my assignments and dates, and Twitter to communicate with them outside of school. This allows them to complete a lot of their work for my class without reverting back to, as they see it, ancient methods. Staying as abreast of technology as possible is important…they’ll think you’re old-fashioned otherwise.

Let’s talk about Twitter for a minute. (I was gonna say, “Let’s talk turkey,” playing off the fact that the turkey is a bird, and twitter is what a bird does…but I decided that was a bit of a stretch.) Twitter is the new…well, there’s never really been anything like it, so there’s nothing to compare it to. It’s a lot like texting, because the kiddos can send messages to their friends. But, for the most part, those messages go out to all of their friends. And they love that! I don’t quite get it, but if it works for them, I say have at it. But, you better believe I’m going to use it to worm my way into their private time to do some schoolwork!

I use Twitter to communicate reminders to my students, but it’s not just an announcement tool. It can be two way. My students often tweet at me asking questions and getting clarification on classroom expectations. I can then tweet back answering their question, and that answer is broadcast to the rest of my students automatically. Way cool! I love the fact that they can use the communication method they are used to to get ahold of their teacher. Remember: As a general rule, if they have to put effort into contacting you, they just won’t. Ever.


Teaching goes so much more smoothly if your students are happy with you. I can’t stress that enough. You may think I’m a fool (and I can’t necessarily defend myself on that point), but you wouldn’t be foolish to try at least a few of these strategies. If nothing else a student or two will smile at you. And that will make it all worthwhile.


I have a unique perspective on teaching. As a young guy, I still have that “world is my oyster” perspective on life, so I am more than willing to try new things in the pursuit of happiness. I have always been a naturally happy person and don’t shy away from trying to make others see that it’s easy to be happy! Thus, the blog you’re reading. The main impetus for actually putting all the work in to getting this blog up and running? A coworker stopped me in the hall one day and actually reprimanded me for being so smiley all the time. They actually said that I shouldn’t be so happy as a teacher! My response? Screw that! I SHOULD be happy. I now smile at that coworker EVERY time I see them…and usually say something like, “Isn’t this such great day to be a teacher?!” They don’t usually smile back… Don’t be like them.

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