The crying game
The last three minutes of lunchtime is like a "choose your own adventure" story. You race from the staffroom carrying a half-eaten sandwich in one hand, stuff you desperately need to photocopy in the other and a telephone number marked "urgent" between your teeth. You get halfway down the corridor when the bitter weeping of a soul in distress stops you in your tracks.
Do you a) behave like the Good Samaritan and hasten in its direction, or b) sneak by on the opposite side of the dining room?
Situations such as this require difficult choices to be made. It is never easy to balance human misery against life's exigencies. What helps is the fact that most primary teachers can quantify human suffering simply by the noise it makes.
To those who are sceptical I say one word: Eskimos. For is it not said that the indigenous people described by this pejorative term possess more ways to describe snow than there are variations in snowflake patterns? This is even more unbelievable when you consider that for most of us there are only three types of snow: the stuff that closes school, the stuff that doesn't close school and the stuff that closes school but only after you've tramped through it for three hours to get there.
Substitute Eskimos for teachers and snow for crying and it is easy to see how your average primary teacher is able to identify, classify and categorise more types of crying than there are crocodile tears in the entire swamp of human misery.
Take the five crying types that begin with the letter W for example. Alphabetically, these are: wailing, weeping, whimpering, whingeing and whining. Now couple them with woeful adjectives (pathetic weeping or irritating whining) or adverbs (wailing wretchedly or whingeing incessantly) and suddenly there are more crying nuances than you can throw a tantrum at.
Once the type of crying is established, a teacher will assign it to a dominant emotional imperative. For example, if a child happens to be "howling pitifully" they will quickly assess whether the pitiful howling has been occasioned by anger, sadness or sheer bloody petulance.
The only way to do this successfully is to consider contextual factors. Does the child appear damaged in any way? Have they been beaten up by a classmate? Are they regretting cutting their own hair with a pair of craft scissors in a style best described as hideous?
A further complication is that it is no longer just children doing the crying. Those little sobs I hear could easily belong to a teacher, which is why I choose option a).
You follow the sound, thinking it may be the snivelling of an NQT unable to teach good lessons to a difficult class. Or worse, the blubbing of an experienced professional no longer able to cope with entering pupil progress data into a fiendishly complex ICT-based recording system. Or worst of all, the lonely lament of a head anticipating Ofsted.
You turn a corner to find Mrs Lachrymose in one of her usual states of distress. You explain to her that teaching is a tough business and that sometimes a grown person just needs to pull herself together, roll up her sleeves and get on with it.
She responds by grabbing you by the tie until you turn purple. What happens next is up to you. Do you a) choke to death, or b) apologise for the fact you had no idea her husband was shagging her best friend?
Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield.