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Big teachers don't cry

In my classroom is a mood wall, with lots of words to help pupils develop their emotional vocabulary. We hope this will make them better at managing their feelings and stop them kicking each other in the playground. Alongside the words are stylised pictures of boys and girls in various emotional states. There are no stylised pictures of teachers.

Normally this is not a problem as I seldom show my feelings in public. The last time I sobbed in full view of others was when Judy Garland tapped her ruby slippers together and said, "There's no place like home."

My wife says that, like most men, I am emotionally stunted. Apparently there is evidence to suggest that testosterone numbs our feelings. There is also a theory that the neural connections linking the logical left to the emotional right side of the brain are wired differently in men and women. In women, they are equivalent to the information superhighway. In men, they are equivalent to a bumpy country lane.

Today, I accidentally took an emotional wrong turn, skidded on some unexpected sad news and ended up a blubbering wreck. This surprised the head even more than it surprised me. "I never expected it to affect you so badly," she said, which I think was her way of saying, "I had you down as a cynical old git."

"Sorry," I gulped. "It's just that you brought back memories (gulp) and for a moment I could picture her again just as she was (gulp). The Tea Cosy Kid."

The head looked at me in a way that suggested she wanted to call in security. "The Tea Cosy Kid?" she asked.

By then I was unable to say anything that resembled words. I stepped into the corridor for a moment to take deep breaths and stiffen my upper lip. It is a well-known fact that real men - even primary teachers - don't cry. I was obviously experiencing a temporary lachrymal malfunction, triggered by the fact that a few moments earlier I had been advised that one of our pupils had been diagnosed with leukaemia. This in turn reminded me of Amy and something that happened 20 years ago.

Amy wore a tea cosy on her head to disguise the fact that she had lost her hair through chemotherapy. It wasn't really a tea cosy. It was a pale blue crocheted hat with pink flowers sewn on to it. I called her the Tea Cosy Kid to make her laugh. She laughed a lot for someone who was gravely ill.

Amy always wore her tea cosy when she was in school, even during those few weeks when the colour returned to her cheeks and her hair seemed to be growing back. That's when we thought she was getting better. A supply teacher who had not been warned of her condition once tried to get her to remove it but the other kids stood up for her. They told him she couldn't because she had something wrong with her blood - and anyway, she was bald.

When Amy went back into hospital for the last time and was too exhausted to smile any more, she was still the Tea Cosy Kid. I think she carried on wearing it to tell the world that no matter how poorly she felt on the inside, on the outside she was determined to keep smiling.

"Did you go out because you were crying, Mr Eddison?" Ryan asked when I came back into class.

"I wasn't crying," I replied.

"I saw tears coming out of your eyes," he persisted.

"That's because I have an infection of the lachrymal system," I said.

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.

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