This is an old journal piece I wrote in 2007 when I was a jobless substitute teacher. I found it, read it, and decided it is still relevant to today when I am soon going to have to give up teaching and retire due to ill health. It was written during one of those times when I was made of glass.
After the student at Virginia Tech cracked into pieces and ended thirty-two lives, shattering an entire university community, I began seriously thinking about how breakable human beings can be, and breakable in so many different ways. I can remember times in my own life when I was the boy made of glass. I was cracked and crumbled when I was ten years old because a fifteen-year-old neighbor boy sexually abused me. I was ground into shards again when the Wicked Witch of Creek Valley refused to see any redeeming qualities in my teaching ability, and zeroed me out on an evaluation so badly that no one will ever hire me again for the one thing in life I’ve been trained for and believe that I am good at. (In the Summer of 2007, Garland ISD actually did give me another teaching job… the fools.) The depression from each of those crackings was very nearly fatal.
Don’t despair for me, though. I have always only been made of glass for brief periods of time in my life. The rest of the time I am mostly made of spoof and rubber. Stuff bounces off me, and I learned from my grandfather (the one I always believed was secretly God in human form) how to laugh at everything, especially my troubles. Those of us who know the loving God (no matter what name we are willing to call Him by) are harder to break than most people. That belief, especially that part that galvanizes and changes the very stuff we are made of, helps life’s barbs and darts and plain ol’ rocks to bounce off like we are Superman’s sillier clone with very little harm actually done.
Not all people seem to be like that, however. I have been teaching hard of late (in spite of the Wicked Witch of Creek Valley), doing substitute work in Reading, Science, Special Ed, and even as a test administrator for the Texas state academic exams, the TAKS Tests (the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, though the name is perfect because they are really more like sitting on TACKS while paying your income TAX). In fact, I am a substitute Science teacher as I ink these very words (on paper, you know, because subs are not generally smart enough to be trusted with computers). As a substitute I have encountered more fragile kids in one year than I ever knew existed when I was a regular classroom teacher. There are more breakable people in schools than you can count on Robert Malthus’ abacus.
At the TAKS-celebration teacher-student basketball game, I was called on to sit in a quiet room with two unique specials who couldn’t stand to be around crowds or noise (noise being a constant condition in schools that one can only rarely get away from). The girl, who throws fits if she thinks you are looking at her too much, sat quietly with the computer, looking up Pokemon episodes and repeating dialogue aloud from each in funny voices meant only to entertain herself. The boy, who goes into the fetal curl and weeps, sat at a table with a book on origami, happily folding up an army of alien space cruisers to stuff into his notebooks and leave a trail of wherever he was soon to go. Neither one of them will ever damage anyone but themselves if they get broken by life, yet each is so fragile that mere noise can scatter their flower petals. Hothouse violets with no tolerance for much of anything. I suppose I should feel honored that the school felt confident enough in my abilities at classroom management that I could handle these two delicate blossoms at the same time while everyone else was off having fun of a different kind.
I’ve seen violent and angry broken people too. I once referred a boy to the school counselor because he was fantasizing about blowing people’s heads off with a shotgun in the pages of his class journal assignment. The counselor back then, in a pre-9-11 world, said there was really nothing that could be done about something that was in a boy’s private journal. Three years later that boy went to jail for beating his girlfriend’s youngest daughter almost to death. The child was only two years old. It put a few cracks in my own armor to learn about that, knowing what I thought I knew about that boy. Sometimes we are not Superman and the bullets don’t bounce off.
One of the most dangerous sorts of glass people are the girls made of glass (at least in the opinion of one goofy male teacher that didn’t marry until age 37). At least three times girls fell in love with me during the course of a school year. All three reached a point in their fantasy lives where they believed they required love and sex back from me. I wondered to myself if they had severe vision problems or were just plain crazy, but all three were lovely girls, and smart, a joy to teach… at least until that love bug bit ’em. The first two ended up hating me and becoming discipline problems for the remainder of the year. The third, well… she was just too perfect. She listened to the “you are more like a daughter to me, and I’m marrying someone else” speech and only put her sweet head against my shoulder and said to me with tears in her big, brown eyes, “You are the teacher I am going to miss the most when I’m in High School.” You know, fifteen years later, I still tear up thinking about that one (and not because I married the only woman in the world who is always right about everything and never agrees with me about anything). Those three girls were all breakable people too, and I had the hammer in my hand on those three occasions. They are not the type to hurt others either, but I mourn for them, because they all three grew up into beautiful women and are so much smarter now than they were then.
So, what is the main idea out of all this mooning, fluff, and drivel? Well, I guess that people are all made out glass sometimes, all delicate and easy to destroy. And you know what? There are too many angry bulls in this China shop we call our lives. Too much gets cracked, wrecked, or broken. If only people could walk through our lives with a bit lighter step… and maybe at least try to be careful!
Now, seven years after writing this piece, I am feeling like I’m made of glass yet again. I am going to miss being a teacher. I am going to miss dealing with Fragile People.