Meet and greet pupils? But that's just a bit weird

Greeting pupils at the door may be a valuable bonding tool for some. But, for Stephen Petty, it's a cold waiting to happen

Teacher and pupil shaking hands

What proportion of teachers follow the now-familiar advice to meet and individually greet all their students as they file into the lesson? 

As with disco-dancing, the wearing of culottes and trying to look a cool dude on bus duty, I know some colleagues who can carry it off easily. They look perfectly fine and natural, beaming benevolently at their door. 

But when some of us attempt it, everything somehow feels forced and a bit weird for all parties concerned. (“What’s ’e smiling about?”)

Besides, I have a lesson to prepare. How am I supposed to carry out those last-minute, pre-launch checks if I am socialising at the door? Has my board-marker pen run out yet? Probably. Is the internet working? And if it is working, is that key YouTube clip still available, or is it now defunct and displaying that irksome emoji sad-face and the miserable “no longer available” message? How I loathe that face. 

“Meet and greet” may be a valuable bonding and behavioural tool for some, yes, but it does not work for all of us. It is surely going to have the very opposite impact if it just makes some of us seem even stranger than before. Children quickly sense what seems false and what feels genuine. They can soon tell if someone is faking it at the door, especially if we are perhaps only standing there because some behaviour guru at the start-of-term Inset training made us all agree to do so. 

Just married

Last year, on a behaviour-themed September Inset day at another school, staff were advised that said greeting should also include a firm handshake. On being asked the question, the visiting speaker confirmed that the teaching assistant should also be at the door and shaking each hand, creating the impression among the children that teacher and TA had just got married. 

The English department were the only team at that school to go the whole hog and include the handshake. Before September was out – the one time of year when teachers are generally well – over half of them had gone down with a cold or flu. They all blamed it on those blessed handshakes. The practice was abandoned.

Another strong advocate of meet-and-greet assured me that we should try to make it feel as if the students were all coming to a dinner party. Hmm. I haven’t been to many parties where a register is taken, where conversation is repeatedly silenced by the host booming a “5…4…3…2…1” ultimatum, and where all eating is frowned upon. 

Nor have I attended many social gatherings where some senior figure walks in and starts inspecting the guests' clothes. I don’t doubt that there are parties where this happens, but I have never been invited to one. 

I should always look to improve my practice. I should be open to new ideas and accept that some of what I was taught in teacher-training may now turn out to be wrong. But what the meet-and-greet initiative surely confirms is that not every new idea (however valid) can be applied to all of us, in spite of what some visiting Inset missionaries might like to think. 

We tailor our teaching to get the best from each child; we surely need to do the same when it comes to training? 

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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