Teachers’ Smoky Staff Rooms

When I started teaching in 1972, smoking was allowed and pretty much expected in staff rooms. Teachers smoked before classes, between classes, at noon, and after school. Non-smokers were regularly exposed to second-hand smoke if they were coffee drinkers, ate in the staff room, played cards, or hung out there on their spares.

I remember in 1967 when I went to my own high school’s staff room. The door would open and smoke would billow out from the room. Sometimes teachers emerged from the fog or fug; it was that thick.

None of this, naturally, was any good for teachers’ health whether they were smokers or not. I can still remember the majority of teachers being smokers at McNally in 1976-83 and some of the smokers taunting me when I wore G.A.S.P. buttons at staff meetings.

This all changed in the ’80s, with smokers forced outdoors and such things taken for granted as smoking on planes or in restaurants stopping all together. It was a long process and then the packaging on cigarettes and signage everywhere changed, even in university classes.

Yeah, the air was unforgettably foul in most enclosed spaces and your clothes stank with smoke regardless of where you went. During my band years (’73-’75) in Grand Centre-Cold Lake, the bars and halls all smelled like giant ashtrays. It definitely had an effect on my singing and breathing and coming back to live in Edmonton was like de-smoking and drying out. (There was a lot of drinking in those days, particularly if you were in a band. I drank a fair bit of hard liquor like rum, vodka, and rye and if I had stayed up in that area and in the band any longer, I likely would have succumbed to smoke or alcohol long, long ago; such was the lifestyle.)

But there were many innocents who suffered (I owe much of my asthma problems of olde to my parents’ second-hand smoke) and many smokers, especially young people, who were too dumb to give it up. Heavy prices were paid. Eventually, many smokers died off (my parents in ’99 and ’07–they were life-long).

*Today’s blog entry arose from one unforgettable image of smoky staff rooms, as memorable as the old DDT mosquito-fogging machines of Winnipeg in the ’50s-’70s. The sight of a fogging machine in parks was definitely on a par with doors opening to staff rooms. Killing us not-so-softly, as it turns out, indeed.

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