The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Javier and the Eyeball”

“Teaching is not a service, profession, or a job. It is a pillar of the society.” — Source unknown

The path of a teacher is winding, sometimes downright convoluted. I could never predict some of the situations I would encounter as a teacher, nor could I make up these stories I’ve included in my book, Life is a Classroom, A teacher’s journey.

I’ll never forget Javier. He had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor behind his left eye when he was three. By the time he reached kindergarten, he had undergone surgery to remove it, leaving him with only one eye. He wore a patch for a while until his insurance permitted the hospital to provide him with a prosthetic eye. He was later in my first-grade class and cancer- free. A little unruly boy, it was clear that his mother let him get away with more than was acceptable, but who could blame her, having to go through a terrible situation like that with her child?

Javier was a growing boy, just as a normal, healthy first-grader does. In fact, he was growing so well, he was also growing out of his prosthetic eye! His family’s lack of medical insurance at the time prohibited him from getting a new prosthetic. It was now becoming too small for his eye socket, and — as you may have guessed — it fell out one day.

I had a student teacher sharing my classroom at the time, who had no prior teaching experience before his assignment with my class. I was to mentor him and observe him teaching my class periodically. Recess had just ended and we brought the kids back into the classroom. They were still excited and running around the classroom. At this time, Javier was running toward me, and as he did, my own eyes widened and my own eyeballs nearly fell out of their sockets because his eye was gone, leaving a gaping hole where his prosthetic should have been! I grabbed him, afraid that if the rest of the children saw him with a missing eye their present state of laughter and excitement would be raised to a chorus of screams, with me being unable to calm them, and pandemonium would surely ensue. Basically, I envisioned a nightmare.

I panicked and hissed at him. “Javier! Your eye! It’s gone! Where is it?” I demanded.

That poor child had no idea. He quickly raised his hand to his empty socket where his eye should have been and gasped. “Oh no! It must have fallen out on the playground, teacher!”

“Well, go find it!” My heart began to beat faster.

My first instinct to calm myself and maintain some semblance of order in the classroom was to call all of the students to the rug. Just as the whole class began to head over to that part of the room, I spotted the eyeball on the floor, right in front of the mass of kids heading that way!

I can’t let them find that eye!” I screamed internally.

Change of plans! In my best sing-songy voice, I yelled out, “Never mind, everyone! Go back outside to play!”

Everyone cheered! With the other kids outside, I could take care of recovering the eye. Or so I thought. I stood there for a moment, not wanting to touch the eyeball glaring back at me from the floor. So I did what every master teacher who has a visiting student teacher would do: I made him get it. I told him I’d give him an “Excellent” on his lesson he’d be teaching later that day if he’d just go and pick up that eye. Okay, it was a full-out bribe. The color drained from the student teacher’s face and his eyes widened. He looked at the unblinking glass eye, then back at me, then walked over to the tissue box and proceeded to remove half the tissues from the box, using it as a protective barrier. He slowly walked over, stopped, repositioned his tissue, and carefully picked up the eyeball, as if it were a ticking bomb that might explode at any moment. Then he ever-so- gingerly held onto it until he could return it to its owner, all the while being careful to avoid contact between his fingers and the eyeball.

Why do I share this story with you? Because sometimes our students are dealing with situations that we as teachers cannot prepare for. In teacher credential programs, the professors do not train us how to properly deal with glass eyes or the majority of what a child brings into the classroom from their personal life. In the classroom, the teacher sees the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Sadly, glass eyes are just the beginning. If only that’s all our students had to deal with. And until we begin to understand and address their main concerns, we won’t be able to properly teach them. We as teachers are stewards of their education, and must first let them know they are safe while under our care, and then we can teach them how to cope and how to learn. Is this part of our job descriptions? No. You won’t likely find this listed in our duties and responsibilities, and there’s certainly no standardized testing around it. And yet, I believe it’s part of my job. Many other teachers do too.