I’m Banning Banter!

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.

Great-BanterBanter 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.

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About Mike Stuchbery

Teacher, Humorist, Writer
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93 Responses to I’m Banning Banter!

  1. It is like the phrase, “I was just teasing”. We can use words to make light of bullying and in the end it is just bullying. Good for you for standing up for what is right. Your school is losing a great teacher.

    PS- This post reached me in Canada. 😉

  2. I just came across you via the BBC news. Even though you put the flag upside down in your post I agree with your message. More power to you.

  3. Can’t get my head round this at all, Mike. Seems to me that your blog is as close to uncontroversial as you can get. Don’t give up standing up for the bullied! All the best 🙂

  4. Chris Newton says:

    Good on you and I think you’ve been treated badly by the school to be let go. Good luck with the future and hope you find a better place soon.

  5. apdharma says:

    Mike, I completely agree with you. I know of some colleagues who says really bad things and when I can’t laugh about it they contributed it to just banter. The managers would not be bothered either. I think there is a difference with just harmless banter and bullying later “converted” to a banter. Thanks for writing this.

  6. apdharma says:

    can I re-post this in my blog please?

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  8. oliverpig says:

    Finally evidence of a teacher taking a real stance against bullying- I agree, often disguised as ‘banter.’
    Bullying is a real problem and leaves lifelong scars. Banter is often used as an excuse to be completely awful and then pretend it’s all a joke- not acceptable!

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  11. magscarr22 says:

    Well done you! I aim to send pupils into the big wide world knowing what sort of behaviour is acceptable in a variety of situations. (It also stops them getting thumped!!) People in real life don’t think it’s banter when you assault them or nick their belongings!

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  15. Pedro Sarg says:

    Good on you! Can’t get my head around the issue of you stepping down, especially in a world where we are supposed to be ‘preparing children for modern day Britain’; this seems to be spot on. Youngsters will not be allowed to do this in the workplace, or if they do, it should be unacceptable. By the way, the Union Flag is not upside down, its just wrong. It wouldn’t work the other way up either. I’d leave a dig about colonials but…

  16. James pentergaust says:

    OMG the PC brigade strikes again, this country has had it.

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  18. Jane says:

    This is a great article on an irritating subject. It’s helped one of my colleagues deal with ‘just banter’ so thanks! And good luck

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  21. Utter rubbish. What will banning banter do? They’ll just use another word. Abuse of power- you just did that “because you can”. Your arguments are invalid, pointless and useless.
    Coming from a fellow teacher.
    “It was just banter”. You mad bro?

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  24. Finch says:

    You have no fans, no ground and no banter. All hail the banter king aka Finch. Banter can frankly never be stopped, society has to change to the needs of banter.

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