KC Teacher Inspired Students
Chris Bullmer Taught English, Was Poet
It is with tremendous sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Kalamazoo Central High School English teacher Chris Bullmer. Chris was kindness and inspiration rolled into one terrific human being. He was also all about his mission. In 2010, he wrote:
"Some people believe in the God they worship.
Some people believe in the sports they play.
I believe in the students I teach.
Chris Bullmer was a great teacher, one who tried to help each student — through writing — with his or her specific challenges in life. He taught children to express their feelings first on paper and then orally, in public, skills that many children didn’t think that they had, but which will now help them process Chris’s passing and all that Chris meant to them.
Two days after his death, an auditorium full of students — past and present — bore witness to his kindness as a human being and his extraordinariness as an educator. I am sorry that our Kalamazoo Central and KPS students and staff have lost such an important part of their lives. But I am so proud of the compassionate way they have supported one another since Chris’s death. It would have made Chris proud.
It’s impossible to sum up an individual in a single piece of writing, but the following poem, “Jerome,” written by Chris Bullmer himself, gives you a glimpse into the man and the educator.
"There is a subtle buzz that
Rises from a full classroom
A kinetic teaming that streams
Flows full force through the
Ears and eyes and those little minds
Blazing a straight path from the
Hands of the teacher.
Mostly we teach what is given
The answers laid out in the Backs of books study guides
And student handouts.
But sometimes we must teach
Only from what we know
And I learned that from 3’11 5th grade Jerome.
He sat in the back of the class
With the extreme distance
Of a rain soaked horizon
Huddles in his chair head Just about the tabletop
Looking lost right there where he
Was supposed to be.
In the middle of every art lesson I taught
I saw how cruel kids can become.
They called him imp, midget, monkey, elf,
Gnome, squirrel and one hundred other
Nicknames to remind him how
Tiny he really was.
Eventually he came up to me and
Said in these exact words,
“It must be golden to be tall”
Explaining that being small must be
All the things wrong in the world
Rolled into one.
For ten minutes I watched this little man cry
Thinking back to me at that age
Hovering over everyone
The teacher calling on me every time
She couldn’t reach something
And my classmates called me tree,
Bean pole, giraffe, jolly green giant,
And they called me freak.
Fifth grade going home hunched over
Hoping I wouldn’t grow anymore.
Looking down at Jerome,
Trembling tear shuttered
I saw his sketchbook open
To the perfect picture of a dragon devouring
A little boy in the back of a classroom.
I remember that drawing,
It was a tiger, the boy was taller but the picture
Was the same.
All I could tell Jerome that day
Was that it would all be O.K.
But this is what I was supposed to say....
There are words, whole worlds, and even wisdom
That we can not possibly comprehend.
You must be careful
When listening to what others have said.
Do not be discouraged.
The truth is that we are all imperfect to perfection,
All of us are screaming in opposite directions
We grow and rage and move and change
And sometimes we end up a little bit strange
But we are all golden
And your strength should not be broken
By those who would remind you
That they are flawed too
By insulting the way that you are made.
We are only as tall as the tops of our heads
Next time measure your spirit instead."
It was Lao Tzu, the Chinese writer, who wrote 2,500 years ago in “Tao Te Ching,” “To die but not be forgotten: that’s true long life.” By that measure, Chris Bullmer lives on in the large numbers of KC and KPS students — and staff — whom he touched, guided, and taught in his uniquely kind and powerful way.