In those years where I have had a student teacher, as the student teacher progressed, I was supposed to leave him/her alone so they could garner valuable experience (sink or swim) and I would need a place to be other than my classroom while the student teacher taught.
It’s hard to find a quiet place in a school that is bursting at the seams with energetic young children. The staff room is too noisy and there are no other spots to work or to think in peace.
One place that can generally be trusted to be fairly quiet and offer respite from the mayhem beyond, is the caretaker’s room. Ironically the least clean room in the school, it is more like a garage than an office. The caretaker is seldom there, and suggested I use it when I need it. It is set up as sort of a man-cave.
One day, suffering a migraine, but blessed with an hour of “nothing to do” I sat in a rickety old armchair among the paper towels and supplies and set about breathing exercises and set to meditate. The room has blinding fluorescent lighting or cozy soft lighting from 30 watt bulb in a standing lamp in the corner. Naturally I chose the subdued lighting.
I was sitting absolutely still with my eyes closed when I heard someone else enter the room and start a phone conversation. I continued meditating with my eyes shut until I realized that my colleague had not seen me and was engrossed in a conversation of a highly personal and sensitive nature that I was sure she wanted to be private . I was faced with a dilemma. If I were to move or make noise, that might scare or shock her and might have been an uncomfortable and unnecessary scene. It was too far beyond the point where I could have cleared my throat and left gracefully. I decided to just stay still and eventually the phone call ended and my colleague left the room.
I now had a further dilemma. I had involuntarily heard a highly personal conversation and though undetected, I felt ashamed. It felt like a betrayal even though I had done nothing “wrong” per se, but I felt compelled to let my colleague know that I had heard, and reassure her that I could be trusted with her secret, and if she needed to talk, I am a good listener. Not doing so would have been unauthentic on my part.
I approached her in private after the children had gone home and told her that I sometimes use the caretaker’s room to meditate and that she had not seen me earlier, but I had heard her entire phone call and I was sorry and I did not mean to “eavesdrop”.
The look of horror on her face is not something I will easily forget. She had recently been betrayed by someone of my gender and here I was knowing details that only her therapist or lawyer should know. She was desperate that no-one else should know her problems and pleaded with me to keep it secret. She was clearly upset that I knew. I assured her that my fealty could be counted on and my experience in maintaining anonymity is something she could rely on and if she needed to talk, I was there for her. She said we should never speak of it.
Months passed and not a word was spoken about it between us. Over a year passed and one day my colleague came to me to thank me for keeping my word. We already admired each other’s skill in the classroom, but something softened in her and we became friends and she opened up about the difficulties she was facing and I listened and encouraged her using my own experience, strength and hope.
I think we both learned different things about human nature through the odd details of this story. Something about loyalty and dignity. I am grateful for her friendship and I am glad that she no longer has the huge upheavals that set this story in motion.