“Mr. Jerome winked and smiled significantly.”
-- George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life
I came across this quote in my reading this morning, and I instantly felt it was useful for my teaching. I guess I smile as much as any teacher, but I’m sure my smiles are not always significant – not always signs of an open door of enthusiasm and acceptance on my part, but often, I’m afraid, signs of just the customary, required kindliness any teacher tries to bring to class. A significant smile is one that says I’m totally present and totally appreciative of the students’ presence – that I’m thoroughly enjoying being with them. My smiles, truth be told, are too often merely robotic responses – the kind of smiles that probably don’t mean much to the students. Making a change might be fairly easy, but it will require more mindfulness on my part than I sometimes bring to class. I need to be entirely aware of what’s happening, including how the students are feeling and looking, and exactly what’s being said and exactly why and how it’s being said. When I’m not fully aware – when I’m sort of auto-piloting my way through a lesson -- my smiles are simply pictures pasted on my face, but when they’re born of genuine awareness, they are sincere and helpful gifts to the students. It just takes some clarity of focus. Instead of being with my students in a casual and distracted manner, I need to take their presence seriously, second by second, and make my smiles something more than mere routines.