Real sparks of passion fly in virtual staffroom

With the 100,000th user signing up to The TES website, and a 1,000 new users each month adding to well over a million postings, it's not surprising that 2005 has been another record year for The TES online staffroom.

One of the first postings of 2005 captured the mood of our opinion forum:

"I always look to the new year with optimism and greet the sunrise with hope....then reality sets in....Oh well, things can only get better... or worse of course...."

This came after a week when discussion was dominated by the Boxing Day tsunami. Several posters were directly affected; most felt impotent, bewildered, but full of sympathy for the victims - just like the public at large.

As the new term opened, discussion returned to the perennial topics: workforce reform, finding a job, pupil behaviour, and whether the TES forums are a good thing.

But within a week the hounds of the forum had got their teeth into a new topic, the Teacher Training Agency's recruitment ads which suggested that repeated exposure to pupils was "better than any anti-ageing cream".

Incredulous posters found the pound;12million campaign "patronising", "hilarious" and "bearing little resemblance to reality". The "reality" of attempting to teach disruptive pupils was already a topic of pained discussion in the Behaviour forum, and early in February the exchanges of some of these embattled teachers were picked up by the Daily Telegraph.

Quotes such as "Tired, totally beaten and frightened... now I've quit" gave the paper powerful evidence to set against Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's speech on cracking down on classroom troublemakers.

The proposal for a new pay scale for "excellent teachers" gave food for thought. As one teacher railed: "Who is so far up themselves that they want to be called an 'excellent teacher'? Do they get a badge or a T-shirt? Do the rest of us have to make coffee for them?"

In April the forums made headlines in The TES for a happier reason: two teachers who first "met" online in our "Personal" forum got engaged. Theirs was not the first TES staffroom romance, but it was the most visible, and (we hope ) successful.

It coincided with a high point in the forums' role as a social club, with posters organising meetings and parties around the UK. Traffic often dips in May and early June as exams start, only to pick up again as teachers compare notes on papers and marking. This year's most contentious area was, unusually, not GCSEs but KS2 and 3 Sats marking.

Educational gossip was temporarily silenced by the London bombings of July 7. London-based staff described pupils' reactions. But it was a far less serious debate that gave the forums their biggest media notoriety to date.

As September approached, teachers joked about what they could tell about new pupils from their first names. Members of a parents' chatroom got wind of this, and didn't like it at all. The national press had a field day, fingers were wagged, and tuts were tutted. Teachers got on with teaching as best they could.

The untimely death of Ted Wragg came as a bodyblow to hundreds of readers who posted tributes during November.

As the term drew to a close, regulars organised a poll to nominate "TES Poster of the Year". Joint winners were ElaineC and lilyofthefield. As another nominee, Inky, put it: "Congratulations to the wisest, wittiest, cleverest and most entertaining posters of the year."

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. Join the debate at

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