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Staffrooms are no longer a haze of tobacco smoke. But a faint puff lingers in the TES forums, Bill Hicks finds

Can you tolerate the notion that a good teacher might also be a smoker? Does it surprise you that such a question need even be asked in this year of the near-complete demonisation of the tobacco habit?

Even broaching the topic in this magazine makes me glance nervously at the TES website's emergency cigarette drawer. There are nine duty-free Gitanes left, just enough to get me through this column.

That cigarettes and teaching still go together - maybe not so well as they did in the 1960s, when, as I remember it, a summons to the staffroom pretty well condemned a child to severe life truncation through passive inhalation of a certain art teacher's pipe fumes - is all too vividly confirmed in a series of threads in the TES forums over the past 10 days.

A week ago, jivebunny threw down this gauntlet: "Teachers who insist on smoking anywhere in schools - a huge risk to health and safety of children in their care and therefore negligent. Dismiss them."

Lilyofthefield took issue with the shrillness of the proposition: "A huge risk? How on earth did so many generations of schoolchildren manage to limp into their seventies before the guilt-and-blame culture made their lives so much safer?"

However, the anti-smokers prevailed. Or so it seemed, until dfmapplebeck arrived on the scene, with a devilish new topic: the "Smokers Appreciation Thread - What's your brand?" He opened: "In the light of attacks from the 'what-about-my-rights-you-make-my-clothes-smell' element of the TES boards I feel we should celebrate all that is good about this ancient tradition."

More than 60 postings followed, with plenty of ex-smokers all too pleased to be reminding themselves of the sensual pleasures of sucking on a plump, moist, full-strength Camel as the fire takes hold.

There were advocates of rolling your own, which according to loosecannon even offers side benefits for the classroom: "You can make anything from a Rizla. I once made the entire crest (3D) of Liverpool football club for a girlfriend who was an avid fan."

And then, to cap it all, along came the pipe-smokers, such as Prep-room-boy, with serious advice on the problem of dribbling: "Get used to it. It always happens, most of the gunk is by-products of combustion so you can't eliminate it. A decent pipe shop will sell you a small oneway filter that fits between the stem and the bowl and that helps with some of the backwash."

Hmm, lovely. Think I'll stub out that fag right now.

Bill Hicks is editor of the TES website.

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