They all need to feel our support

6th May 2005 at 01:00
You knew Eddie was a teacher when you met him. The leather patches, the crossword, the flask and, of course, the untouchable cynicism.

He shuffled into school every day to slump in the same seat in the staffroom. Morose, untidy, a halo of chalk dust ingrained on the edges of his pocket where he kept his duster. All day he would teach maths from his blackboard - neat, meticulous figures lining themselves up until it was time to go home.

He had been doing the same job for more than 30 years and had not enjoyed a moment of it. He was locked into a groundhog day of endless repetition, teaching the same things to grandparents, parents and then to their children. Eddie was an institution. He never saw any need to change.

Deputies came, heads went. None of it made any difference to him.

Every day was an exercise in endurance. He never liked children. They were vessels that needed to be filled. The explosive temper and the flying board rubber were the only things that kept them in check. Teaching was an armed struggle against rebel insurgents. Speaking to Eddie enveloped you in a black cloud of unhappiness.

And then his dog died. Suddenly Eddie unravelled before us. It was the dog that had kept him going. None of us realised because he never allowed any of his colleagues close enough to know anything about him. But when the dog went there was nothing left.

The dog was a substitute for all the closeness he had never experienced elsewhere - but that did not matter. What mattered was that the school did not know anything about him. He came in, did a job and went home. But the only purpose of it all was the bloody dog. Eddie was bereaved in a way that others with partners and children could not understand. Get another one? How could he?

It has always stayed with me, this sad old man who looked so unhappy. Older staff tolerated him and jollied him along but, as a young teacher, I did not really know how to talk to Eddie. And when he died during the summer holidays, alone, with the postman alerted by the swarm of flies on the inside of his window, I realised our responsibility to ensure that our staffrooms are communities where we help and understand.

You do not have to like your colleagues, but work brings responsibilities.

We cannot say that care and support are only for pupils, because teachers are people too.

Ian Roe is a secondary teacher in north Wales

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