Okay, so my first bit of serious outreach work left me with not only a sense of achievement, but also a feeling of dissociation from the modern teenager; I really do think I might be growing up!
The University of Manchester’s excellent MAP (Manchester Access Programme) scheme is designed to support post-16 students with their entry to the University of Manchester. The scheme has rigorous criteria for participation, with the ideal that personal circumstance and the quality of the school attended should not impact on the ability of an individual to gain a place at high-caliber education institutes.
MAP requires participants to undertake an extensive range of activities over the period of a year. In return, students receive a 40 point reduction in UCAS entry points (two grades) required for entry to the University of Manchester, as well as a significant bursary for the duration of the undergraduate studies.
MAP requires paid postgraduate ‘volunteers’ to work with students, setting them an essay topic, guiding them throughout the writing of it, and subsequently marking the result. The prospect of all these aspects is somewhat intimidating, probably for the student also, but primarily for myself.
When the time came to meeting my students, I began to feel the roles in this pseudo student teacher type interaction were somewhat ambiguous. With no experience, and technically still being a student, to suddenly find myself in the role of a teacher seemed somewhat deceptive. Fortunately though, through rational self-analysis, I put this down to my eternal personal perception of being a charlatan, developing a career and reputation primarily by convincing people that I have some idea as to what is going on. In addition, it is also comforting to realise that teenagers have generally yet to reach this tipping point of critical self-evaluation and subsequently have no idea what is going on in your head, and fortunately, naturally regard you with a degree of, I feel, unwarranted deference.
So about the handshake.
Now you know that your handshake will never be super cool, but you also know that as you develop professionally, a good handshake is very important; obviously you don’t want to break any bones, but once you have been on the wrong end of a dribbling snivel of a handshake, you are aware that this is much worse. A weak handshake always leaves me feeling that the offending participant has been doing something with that hand they really shouldn’t, and subsequently, as they are ‘forced’ into a handshake, they succumb to guilt and attempt to minimize the transfer of whatever may be on their sticky, sweaty, coated palm on to yours. The take home message: ALWAYS wash your hands after a lackluster handshake! (Remember it is very easy to dry your hands these days).
Okay, so my students were not feeble handed, though with their handshakes they did teach me one thing. As an adult it is always important to stick to your well rehearsed, firm but moderated, traditional, gentlemanly/womanly handshake. No matter what the ‘other party’ attempts to engage you in, whether it be fist bumping, thumb hugging, or finger clicking, do not be drawn in. No matter how successful you think you were, you will always feel that you have let yourself down, that you have succumbed to the will of your student and that they are mocking you. Beware though, this is not the worst of it, what follows rapidly is the realization that you no longer are a young adult, in fact, you are ‘fully grown’, and accordingly professional. Fortunately, this is not such a bad thing; and though interacting with teenagers comes with a degree of nostalgia and jealousy, the opportunity adulthood gives you to teach and help shape people positively in their own lives is just reward.
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