I’m banning banter in my classroom.
Alright, alright! You can stop now! Stop throwing things! Sit down!
Look, lest you accuse me of lacking a sense of humour, let me establish my credentials: I was the kid in high school who called his school newspaper SYPHILIS, just so’s he could shout ‘Have you got Syphilis?‘ in the corridors. As a teacher, I like to think I continue to carry on as I begun, with impromptu games of Binball* and almost constant verbal sparring regarding my being an Aussie.
I’m no stranger to jokes. I adore ’em. However, I loathe banter.
Banter is one of the things I’ve had a real time adjusting to in Britain, alongside insane rental costs and the tendency to deep-fry everything.
Banter, once a term that was used to signify ‘light-hearted joking, a gentle ribbing of a friend’, now seems to be a catch-all term for any sort of off-colour or inappropriate behaviour. If I catch somebody nicking someone’s pencilcase, calling another student a derogatory name or thumping them on the back, nine times out of ten I’ll be met with a ‘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 TV, radio and especially the internet. Chuck ‘banter’ into Facebook and you’ll get hundreds of pages dedicated to ripping a person, group or organization 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, especially 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 with the person who has suffered the insult. The kid on the receiving end is further marginalized because they don’t get it, they’re not part of the joke.
The repeated calls of ‘It’s just 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, surpressing what is natural behaviour.
So, here’s what I’m going to do.
Before another kid has an opportunity to use the term, I’m going to sit my classes down and explain that I’m no longer going to take ‘banter’ as an excuse for inappropriate behaviour in my classroom. 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’d you do it?’, ‘Why’d you steal his or her pencilcase?’, ‘Why’d you thump her? Give me a solid reason.’.
From now on, I’m demanding that students are 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.
* * *
What do you think – am I going too far? Am I a sadsack who can’t take a joke? Let me know with a comment.
* – An ancient, venerable game in which members of the class take turns tossing a wadded piece of paper into a bin. Points are awarded for hitting the bin, in addition to style and difficulty.