Mike Stuchbery, teacher and blogger based in Great Yarmouth, writes:
I’m banning banter in my classroom.
Now, lest you accuse me of lacking a sense of humour, let me state for the record: I’m no stranger to jokes; I adore ‘em. However, I loathe banter.
Once a term that signified “light-hearted joking, a gentle ribbing of a friend”, banter now seems to be a catch-all term for any sort of off-colour or inappropriate behaviour. If I catch someone stealing another student's pencil case, calling a fellow pupil a derogatory name or thumping them on the back, nine times out of ten I’ll be met with, “Siiiiir, it’s just bantaaaaaaaah”.
It’s as if kids think squawking these words in the tone and cadence of an East End fishmonger is some sort of magic get-out-of-jail-free card.
Banter is everywhere. It’s on television, radio and especially the internet. Chuck “banter” into Facebook and you’ll get hundreds of pages dedicated to ripping a person, group or organisation to shreds.
Through repetition and the magic of social media, banter has become an acceptable, friendlier-sounding term for bullying. It attempts to mask inappropriate, appalling behaviour under the guise of some sort of ancient, noble, peculiarly British tradition.
Banter is also loathsome because it shifts the blame in any situation to the victim. It is classic victim-blaming. “It’s just banter” makes it seem as if the problem rests with the person who has suffered the insult. The kid on the receiving end is further marginalised because they don’t get it; they’re not part of the joke.
The repeated calls of "banter" in my classroom seem to reinforce the notion that it’s something that students are entitled to, that banter is what they’re there for, rather than learning. If I call them on their actions, I’m some kind of killjoy, suppressing what is natural behaviour.
So, here is what I’m going to do.
Before another pupil has an opportunity to use the term, I am going to sit my classes down and explain that I will no longer take “banter” as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour. I’m not interested in it. It carries no weight with me.
Instead, I’m going to look my students dead in the eye and ask them point blank: “Why did you do it?”, “Why did you steal his pencil case?”, “Why did you thump her? Give me a solid reason”.
From now on, I will demand that students be accountable for their behaviour – no more escape clauses. I’m not going to let a cheeky little spiv of a word cover up any more hatefulness.