28th October 2005 at 01:00
Half-term approaches, and tempers are flaring in the forums. But Bill Hicks wonders if an online punch-up is the best way to blow off steam

Is it something in the air, or has it been a particularly hard autumn for teachers? I ask because there's been a distinctly abrasive climate in the forums for the past week.

Posters hovered on the brink of eruption. Fuses were short. It was always Friday night closing time in the market square of a garrison town. "You callin me a prat?" "Yeah, you're a prat" "You want to take that back?" "No, you prat." "Come over 'ere and say that to my face," etc.

You could tell there was bad karma around when a generally even-keeled poster started a thread with this: "Right, I want a fight. Put them up."

And continued: "I am writing this so that all the pedantic gits can correct my English on this thread. I came on the site to enjoy the debate, banter and the occasional clever wit and abuse... This is an open site, I will get arsey but I am open for the abuse."

Ironically, this turned into a rather polite discussion about punctuation, until the instigator repeated the challenge and provoked a properly pugnacious response from firstfiddle:

"Take THAT! and THAT!

I feel better already (bummer of a day)".

The day was of course the last day of the first half of term for many schools, and teachers were feeling it.

In the Behaviour forum at 9am, skip1975 asked: "Are you experiencing or expecting to have one of those awful last days today where all the kids are high as kites and refusing to do any work? Are you going to give in and let them do pretty pictures and pointless wordsearches? Or will you carry on teaching till the bitter end?

"I myself will be teaching all day today till the bell goes at 2.40. There will be no 'nice' activities going on in my room. Oooo, no wonder the kids hate me! HAHA!!!"

Well, I'm sure Skip is really loved by all hisher pupils. This is the odd thing about the forums; when you meet the ones who've built up the most fearsome online personas, they turn out to be veritable lords and ladies of civilisation.

I worry, though, that online stress relief is not effective. When all you can do to an assailant is hurl, via your clackety keyboard, a stream of misspelt invective, you are not really releasing anything. It's like road rage, without the instant gratification of winding down your window and sticking a finger up at the object of your ire.

I know this to my cost, and there's a patch of office wall behind my PC which is forever stained with the juice of an innocent banana to prove it.

I'm hoping that these few days of holiday will restore some calm to our battered discussion boards. Another celebrated orator on our boards just posted something that suggests it could go either way. The thread was called, "Half term! Yay!"

And the first post: "I don't care what anyone says, including w***** SMT, I (we) deserve this half term, and i am feeling better than i have for AGES that i don't have to go to work tomorrow!"

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website. www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

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