Grin and Bear It… or Just Smile

Today, an office aide (a student I didn’t know personally) came into my 1st period class with a note for a student. It was shortly after 8 AM and my kids were doing “study stations,” which meant a chaotic, noisy, but productive lesson. I had applied 90% of my brain to the immediate requirements of herding cats freshmen and being “alive, awake, alert, enthusiastic,” and so the office aide got Mrs. Baker on autopilot: a welcoming smile as I reached for the note.

She grinned back. “I love delivering stuff to your room,” she said. “You always smile at me.”

She flitted away, but my mind had slipped out of gear. What a little thing, to have made an impact on this girl — something I didn’t even think about.

The constant interruptions of the office aides with their call slips to this administrator or that counselor, with fine cards and compliance letters, is an infamous aggravation; some teachers even put signs on their doors instructing aides to place the slips under the door rather than interrupt class. I can only imagine the facial expressions on some — many — most? — teachers when yet another office aide walks through the door with yet another reason for another student to miss classroom time. I bet that aide doesn’t get many smiles.

Work has been rough lately. Not my day-to-day stuff; not what I do or with whom I do it. The big picture, though, is bleak. Our district has been having some trouble, and the brunt of it is falling on teachers who had nothing to do with any of it. Recent news has raised the general temperature of the school’s employees to the “frustrated-to-outraged” zone. We are all stressed out. Some have begun to doubt the trustworthiness of this vessel on which we are sailing. Some are considering exit strategies. “Keep your chins up,” our leaders plead. “Think of the kids. Keep doing a great job for their sakes.” And we do, because that’s our creed, that’s our calling — because that’s what we believe in. But morale is affected, even if it’s invisible to our students.

Over the past few years, I’ve had to learn how to care less deeply about problems, to choose my battles carefully. This is one battle where I’m choosing to stand back and let others with more time, energy, and passion fight the dragon. This is important, and it affects me and my friends, but there are other soldiers and I have other things I must attend to.

In the meantime, apparently, I smile without knowing I’m doing it.

Maybe I’ve always been quick to smile.

I know that I’m not yet the teacher I want to be. I fail at some things, am weak in others — but I’ve grown to understand that in one area, at least, I am successful: my students feel as though I am happy to see them, that they are in a good place when they walk into my room, that I know and care about them. They know that I have a smile for them, even when they are being little douchebags-in-training, Stalker McCreepsters, or have “forgotten” their homework for the ninth time in a row. It’s not conscious. It’s just something I do. And maybe, without even knowing it, I’m making a little bit of a difference for someone as a result.

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