Serious cat.

Why So Serious? [On Demeanors In The Classroom]

Jose Vilson Mr. Vilson 3 Comments

Serious cat.

Serious cat.

“Why are you so serious all the time, Mr. Vilson?”

The students just finished giving me my student evaluations, something I thought I’d try this year, but probably waited too long in the year to do.

“Well, it depends …”

And before I could finish, my co-teacher put me on blast by saying that it depends on the situation. The yearbook has a picture of me smiling for the first time all year, sometime during a few thrilling renditions of my favorite band songs. I probably didn’t smile or much until this month, either.

How do I put this? There’s a teacher rule out there that says we shouldn’t smile at the kids until Christmas. It’s supposed to send an authoritative signal to students that the adult in the room isn’t in the classroom to play games, and won’t allow for excuses. It also assumes that displaying positive and tender emotions is a negative, a gaping hole in the armor of some otherwise well-meaning teacher.

This dictum has especially been prevalent in urban settings i.e. with children of color. Teachers of all backgrounds get told in trainings that displaying emotions makes kids think you’re their friend, or worse, roadkill.

At first, I believed that, too. Getting too friendly with students didn’t help them get serious when I needed them to. At the start of my career, even my colleagues got the serious treatment. I couldn’t risk them knowing that I was a Teaching Fellow, because they’d assume I was leaving in a couple of years. The serious face became a mask I developed to guard me against the nonsense.

Within the serious persona, however, I found relief. For one, I was allowed to slip in a few jokes while keeping the environment learning-focused. Everyone usually takes me at my word, and only then do I tell them I’m joking. Plus, it’s fun to see kids try really hard to make me crack a smile. They at most get one of these -> :-J

Yet, this week, I’ve decided to let loose, a gift to the eighth graders I have and will soon “had.”

I continued, “Well, let me say this, too. I want everyone to know that I don’t take myself too seriously, but I take the work I do with each of you very seriously. I want you to see just how much it means to me that you learn, and I can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. You know what I mean?”

The student nodded. A few others asked about the seriousness. One student asked me to laugh in Spanish. I pointed to my face and said, “See? I’m laughing right now.” They laughed. I didn’t.

The last student evaluation I read today left a comment at the end: “Why so serious?”

Because I’m trying to be what my students need me to be. No Joke.

Mr. Vilson, who will share some of his reflections for the year over here …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 3

  1. John T. Spencer

    I smile often. I’ve never been able to repress that. I couldn’t if I tried. But I am more serious in the classroom than anywhere else. Part of it has to do with discipline. Part of it has to do with the fact that I take learning seriously.

  2. Angela Watson

    I appreciate this post, Jose. I smile a lot with students but my demeanor is very serious. I’m not the laughing, joking, playing around type. There have been many moments in which I wish I was, and I could just let go and relax with the kids more. But this is me. I’m glad to know it’s you and John, too, because I respect you both so much as educators.

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