Why You Should Greet Your Students with a Smile

A Bad Greeting

When I was 10 years old, my dad took me to a Detroit Tigers spring training baseball game in Lakeland, Florida. We went early so I could collect autographs. While huddled around rookie catcher Matt Nokes with a group of 15 or so other kids, I heard my dad call me.

I turned, and he nodded toward the best former ballplayer in the entire state of Florida at the moment. Hall of Famer and former Tigers great Al Kaline was striding across the blacktop. He was wearing a suit and holding a briefcase. I knew Kaline best as the Tigers’ TV color commentator. But he had always been my dad’s favorite player. Dad’s softball jersey still bore Kaline’s number six even though the legend hadn’t played in 12 years. Dad was probably more excited about Kaline’s autograph that I was.

I left Nokes and walked toward Kaline.

Kaline visibly sighed.

Now, looking back as a 41-year-old man, I get it. Kaline made the big leagues at age 18, so he’d been hounded by autograph seekers every day for the last 34 years. I’m sure he just wanted to get up into the booth and start preparing for the game without being waylaid by a pack of kids.

But at the time, I noticed that sigh. So did Dad. In the blink of an eye, Al Kaline destroyed my dad’s idolatry of him.  I still can’t think of the man without remembering this moment, the only time I met him in my life.

The Right Way

Contrast this with the day my daughter was late to preschool. She had an appointment that day, and even though Mom and Dad had the day off, she wanted to go to her preschool class, which she loved. I soon saw why.

The preschoolers were acting like preschoolers–active, loud, messy, and loving every minute of it. And in the middle of the chaos, the teacher, Miss Ashley, looked up and saw us.

Well, not us.

She saw my daughter. And her whole face lit up. She came over to us with a huge smile on her face and told our daughter how happy she was that she was there. With a classroom of four-year-olds, her complete focus was on my daughter for those few moments. She barely acknowledged us.

If it was an act, it was a damn good one. I’m sure it made our daughter’s day. I know it made mine. I never once worried about sending her to that school after that day. And when I think back on her preschool days (many years ago now), I can relive that moment like it was yesterday.

How you greet people matters. It matters a lot.

How to Greet Your Students

So before your students enter the classroom for the day, get in position and get in the right frame of mind. You are about to set the tone for the entire day. You’re about to leave a lasting impression and you get 180 days to solidify it.

Don’t sit at your desk. Don’t hustle around the room preparing some last minute thing. Don’t check your phone. Don’t do anything other than stand outside your door with a smile on your face.

And don’t miss any of them. It didn’t matter how Al Kaline greeted every kid that came after me. Not to me. His actions had sent a clear message: I was an imposition. My presence was not wanted.

As each student arrives:

  • smile
  • greet them by name
  • shake their hand
  • make it known by words or tone that you’re happy they are there
  • compliment some of them and compliment different students the next day

When I greet each student, I am modeling the kind of behavior adults expect. How many times have you greeted someone only to have them grunt or ignore you? How do you feel about that person?

I shake hands because it’s a professional way to greet someone and I want to set the tone for the school day that we’re about to get down to business. We have serious learning to do. I also use the handshake as a teachable moment. Teach students how to shake hands and look people in the eye. Teach them acceptable responses to someone saying good morning or complimenting them. Don’t assume anything.

If people were born with this knowledge, we wouldn’t have adults that don’t know how to return a greeting.

I also greet my students because I know there’s a good chance it may be the only time all day when they feel someone is happy to see them. And if nothing else–if I don’t get the chance to make another personal connection with a student throughout the course of the school day–at least we had that moment before school.

Finally, when you’re feeling rushed or when the room isn’t quite ready for the students and you feel tugged in another direction, remember this:

The only reason you have your job is because of your students. That’s why you’re there. When you’re doing anything other than greeting your students, you are sending the message that something else is more important than they are.

Nothing is.

So don’t be like the Hall of Fame outfielder. Be like the underpaid preschool teacher: Take the time to greet your students enthusiastically.  Because it’s true what they say: They will remember how you made them feel. I know I did.

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