It all ends in tears

You know something extraordinary is taking place when Courtney writes "Miss U 4 Eva" on the back of Ryan's school shirt. Could it be that we are on the brink of a new era of reconciliation? Or are we simply witnessing the latest manifestation of that annual phenomenon known as the Great Leaving Day Lament?

For the past few weeks, a mixture of post-testing aggression and pre- hormonal tetchiness has left our 11-year-old children unbearably stroppy. And a recent heatwave has only conspired to make things worse. Long before this day dawned, it was clear that a storm was brewing and there was nothing anyone could do.

At around mid-morning on the final day of term, the emotional bubble bursts and a torrential outpouring of class hysteria sweeps over all before it. In an instant, all that swaggering belligerence is washed away by a deluge of impassioned weeping. Old enmities transform into new amity, while pledges of eternal friendship are inscribed in permanent marker.

There is a precedent for this sort of summer madness. In July 1518, some 480 years before Zumba was invented, a woman named Frau Troffea began to dance wildly in the streets of Strasbourg. Her actions caught on and within a month hundreds of her fellow citizens were gyrating themselves into an early grave.

Most cases of collective obsessional behaviour start with one person doing something wildly unpredictable, and the Great Leaving Day Lament of 2013 is no exception. Its origin can be traced directly to Nathan. If Daisy had burst into tears no one would have raised an eyebrow. Her response to minor tragedies, such as her pencil going missing or Jason blowing snot bubbles, is always worthy of an Oscar.

Nathan, on the other hand, is the boy who does not cry. In six years at primary school, the only time anyone can remember him shedding a tear was when Damon's giant bouncy ball struck him indelicately in a delicate area. His howling this time round is more contagious and contains no references to his "fucking nuts".

During the Dancing Plague of 1518, the authorities in Strasbourg determined that the best course of action was to let madness run its course. They turned civic buildings into impromptu dance halls and employed musicians to encourage the afflicted to boogie until they dropped.

Working on a similar principle, I send for three more boxes of tissues, shrug manfully and set off to tidy up the book corner. Unfortunately, Alicia and Samira are there before me, sharing a final tearful embrace.

"I don't understand why you two are crying," I say. "You live next door to each other and you're going to the same secondary school."

"It's everybody leaving school," Samira sobs.

"It makes you want to cry, doesn't it, Mr Eddison?" Alicia blubs.

What's this? Do the children honestly believe that their leaving could reduce a seasoned old git like me to tears? Can't they see that I've just got something in my eye?

Steve Eddison teaches children aged 7-11 at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield, England.

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