Follow the thread

15th October 2004 at 01:00
Bill Hicks takes a weekly look at the hot topics in the TES chatrooms

Oh shock! Oh horror! A teacher swore confessed to taking drugshas been seen around town wearing a rude T-shirt, etc, etc.

Teachers behaving badly. From the way the press has regularly raided our forums (www.tes.co.uk staffroom) in search of juicy stories, you might think they were there for the express purpose of bringing teachers into disrepute.

It started when a BBC journalist happened upon a thread in which teachers fantasised about what they'd like to do to their worst troublemakers. And it climaxed last spring when Libby Purves devoted her TES column to a plea for self-restraint. "You must control yourselves, you really must," she said.

For the next week or so, the TES Staffroom profanity filter - a dumb censor of the type that removes the c**t from Sc**thorpe - was severely tested.

The arguments about what we should allow to be posted in the forums are far from over. Having tended them from the start, we know their ecology is more complex than sensationalist reporting suggests.

Outsiders often fail to grasp the self-regulating nature of online communities, nor do they understand the pressures teachers work under. It's the combination of those two factors that has so often put our forum users into the headlines.

Sure, we've had our hooligans and renegades. More often, they're just the ill-advised and immature, and the majority of more experienced posters are usually quickly at the scene.

Look what happened, for example, when one student teacher admitted having unsuitable feelings towards teenage girls in his class. Within minutes, he was getting this sort of response: "It's only human to look, but of course I'm sure that you are able to activate the button that puts us in 'teacher's mode'." Heavier admonishments followed.

Drugs are a recurrent issue. A trainee worries that an old cannabis caution would disbar him from a teaching career. "Is this right? Or should our personal lives stay separate from our professional lives?"

Back comes: "I don't feel too bad after a bit of coke, but too many pills of a weekend can make me feel a bit shitty on Monday."

Ooh, should we call the Sun? Oh no, it's a joke, and followed by volumes of eminently sensible precautionary stuff.

We thought the fuss had died down, until we opened a new forum for teachers of Latin and ancient Greek this week. And what do we hear? "The classics forum is a cesspool of filth." Quick, find a reporter.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website

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