A Sigh is just a Sigh?
During my first year of teaching I was not only the newest teacher on staff but also the youngest. It was an exciting time. No doubt, I learned more that year about teaching than any that followed. The learning curve was steep, but it was so much fun.
On this particular day I entered the staff-room after spending the first half hour of the lunch break on corridor duty. I sat at the long banquet table to enjoy a coffee and finish what remained of my lunch. Two of my science department colleagues sat to my right, one across from each other. They were also eating their lunches. We enjoyed some casual conversation.
After a short while, the door opened and Thelma, a teacher getting close to retirement, entered. She had a rather forlorn look on her face. Although she didn’t have a lunch with her she opted to sit across from me rather than choose more comfortable seating at the other end of the room. She taught in a different department, and I didn’t know her very well; actually, at this point, I didn’t know any of the teachers very well, but I did know most of the names.
I said hello to her and she nodded but didn’t say anything. She stared at the surface of the table then leaned her face into her right hand and let out a rather mournful sigh. I didn’t say anything but this was obviously a reach-out for some attention. I looked to my right at my science department colleagues but they too were quietly staring at the table.
Thelma let out another sigh. If you were sitting with me I could imitate it for you, but I am not sure how to describe it. Mournful works but it was more than that. It was a sound that came from a deep and dark, dark place. Her face sank even further into her hand. The room was very quiet.
I said, “Thelma, is everything alright?”
Seconds after I spoke, one of my science buddies packed up what remained of his lunch and excused himself from the table. The other fellow looked at his watch and said, “I need to get going”, and he left.
It was now just Thelma and me.
She took a deep breath and, after a few moments, started in. She told me about how sick she was feeling and how much she was behind in her marking. She talked about issues in her personal life and uncertainties of her future. She went on…… and on …….. and on.
When the bell sounded to mark the end of lunch hour, I told her I had to get to class. I felt sorry for her and said something like, “I hope you are feeling better in the morning.” I wasn’t sure what else to say.
At the end of the day I was walking down the main hallway when I heard my name called out. I turned to see one the science guys who had been in the staff-room. He approached me with a rather serious look on his face.
“Rookie, we don’t have a lot of rules for the staff-room but one of them is that you never, NEVER, ask Thelma how she is feeling. You got it?”
I got it. Like I said, there was so much to learn, and some things are just not covered in teachers college.
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