Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Telling Stories

When I stopped teaching in 2005 (you can read about that here), my students were awesome about it. They were upset -- it's hard to make that kind of change in the middle of the school year -- but they were really cool.

One of them was a boy I called JimBob.

Why I called him JimBob, I honestly couldn't tell you. Sometimes nicknames are just like that. He sat down in my classroom and my brain said, "That guy shall be known as JimBob from now until eternity, amen," and that's how it was.

JimBob did not mind. He also appointed himself my secretary -- so if, say, the phone in my classroom rang in the middle of his class (it wasn't supposed to, but it did with some regularity) he would answer it. "Ms Balentine's room," he'd say, smoothly. "What is the nature of your call?"

It made me laugh every time.

When I tell you that my students were cool about the fact that I was going? They were. But this is how cool JimBob was: he went home and talked to his parents about why I was going, and how he thought it wasn't okay. He knew that it was one thing for me to have my students with me, but it would be something else entirely for me to have the support of their parents.

Which is how I came to be having a conversation with JimBob's mom about speaking out about what happened. I eventually chose not to do anything at that time (which shames me) but the fact that this young man and his mom wanted to make sure that I had a voice and that I knew if I wanted to go out swinging (so to speak) they would stand with me?

It was one of those moments that you look back at and cherish.


I got called on the carpet once because of JimBob's class. That group met at the end of the day and I would frequently lead off with a story about something in my life -- it could have been something that happened that day, or something that happened when I was in high school, or whatever -- and I think it was everyone's favorite part of our routine, except that my dean received word that I was telling stories (in an ENGLISH CLASS. SHOCKING) and not, say, devoting every second of our 90 minutes together to Shakespeare or some such.

He called me to his office."No more stories," I was instructed.

"No more stories," I dutifully reported to the class.

There were protests, but JimBob looked thoughtful. "Maybe," he said, "you should write them down."

That was when I started to blog.


On my last say of teaching, my students gave me a book that they had made for me. JimBob wrote this:

"Ms Balentine: You're the best! I had lots of fun in your favorite class and being your secretary. Good luck -- I'll miss you tons! -- JimBob"

Yes, he actually signed it "JimBob".

When I read through the book, I said, "JimBob. You know you're going to be in a story at some point, right?"

"Make sure everyone knows I'm awesome," he said, and he laughed.

JimBob passed away over the weekend.

He was 23.

The story of his death, like the story of most of his life, belongs to his family and the people who loved him.
But the story of the time that I knew him, and the impact he had on me, is mine to tell, and that story reminds me that you can make a difference in someone's life even if you only know them for a short time.
I knew JimBob for seven months. But if you asked me, of all of the time I spent teaching, who and what stands out? One of the stories I would tell would be of JimBob, talking to his mom, trying to make sure that something he thought was wrong was made right.
And reminding me that there are all kinds of ways to tell stories.
Rest in peace, JimBob. Sleep well, sir. You are still awesome.

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