Is fist bumping students a no no?
My name is Tom Clarke, and I am a Computer Science & ICT teacher at a school in Leicestershire.
It’s 8.23am. I’m walking up to the Science block with my board pen in hand. I’m making my way to my tutor room, getting ready to start the day.
On my way I bump into 2 girls from my Computer Science class. They’re not in my form, but I see them for around 3 hours a week in Computer Science. One of the girls has special educational needs and requires constant motivation during my lessons.
They both drop their bags to the ground and put both fists out. Am I about to be ambushed?
One of them shouts with a big smile on her face: “it’s my G!”.
I have never experienced this before, nor have I ever seen any other teacher doing this with a student. My Head of Department is standing right next to me. Other staff are walking around the area. If I respond with a fist bump, am I going to be judged? Will my colleagues think I’m unprofessional? Will they think I’m a bit odd, and that I don’t take my job seriously?
I can’t leave these two girls hanging. Are they mocking me, or is this a genuine sign of respect? Is this their version of a handshake? How bad will they, and I, feel if I don’t reciprocate?
I had to make a split second decision. I took the plunge and returned the fist bump. I even added a little explosion for dramatic effect.
The girls acted as if Christmas had come early. Now, every morning without fail, the girls wait for their routine fist bump from Mr Clarke. I even got a phone call from a parent thanking me for having this interaction with their child. They told me it made their day at school better and put a smile on their face. As I was relatively new to the school and the profession, the feeling of a student going home and telling their parents about the effect I had on their day motivated me like nothing else to have a positive relationship with every student in my care.
But, I still had this overriding feeling that it wasn’t right. I just didn’t feel professional doing it. I felt like I was compromising a lot of my ‘qualified’ principles, so I asked colleagues in the school, and received a mixed response. Some said they would only do it if the student instigated it initially, and some would not do it at all in fear of touching a student, which puts you in a vulnerable position in terms of safeguarding.
Nevertheless, I continued to do it. I could not walk away from a fist bump with the feeling I’d rejected a student and let them down. But still, this nagging feeling was there. Now more students are asking for fist bumps from me – the word has got around quickly.
It’s 3.35pm. I’m getting in my car to go home, and I’m still grappling with the dilemma.
4.47pm, I finally get home from work. I’ve got my Twitter page (@MrTClarke – shameless plug) and decided to ask Edutwitter. I was not actually expecting many responses to this at all. I have my notifications turned off, so any mentions or interactions from tweeters to me do not come through to my phone.
9.57pm. Before going to bed I open Twitter on my phone to a mass of notifications. My tweet is the hot topic of the day.
Teachers from across the globe are sharing their opinions and experiences on fist bumping with students. Again, a mixed response:
“Fist bump away. The moment we reject a fist bump is the same moment we reject the student.”
“Handshakes are more professional – it shows respect and is more professional than a fist bump.”
“You are not their friend. The relationship needs to stay professional.”
From my experience, a fist bump shows that you are willing to be friendly with a student in your care. I agree, it’s not about being friends, but we can still be friendly. I could not bear the thought of rejecting a student who wanted to share that with me. It has helped me to build respect and really strong relationships with these students.
I recently read a line from an education book that said: “if you want to build relationships with students, you have to be willing to go down to their level. Remember, they are children. They are not mature or mentally capable of coming up to your level.” This really hit home, and now I do not refuse any fist bumps with students who ask for it. I am glad that I can be that person for my students. The fist bumping teacher.
It’s not for everyone, but it is for me, and it certainly makes my job more fun. I just don’t like it when a student ‘cabbages’ me… but let’s leave that for another article.