A teacher with a ‘Grande’ heart

By Nicholas Trujillo/Arizona Sonora News

Listen to the audio version of this story above.

In an empty classroom at Tucson’s largest public high school a teacher can’t quite reach the top of the white board.

James “Jimmy Grande” Bourland (yes, Grande is his nickname) has used his love of journalism to teach the art of storytelling to students at Tucson High Magnet School. Journalism was something that Bourland had been practicing for 3 years—2 years at the University of Arizona and roughly one year as a freelance journalist—he decided that he would be a great teacher.

But as soon as he realized what he was up against, he found out it wasn’t easy. He’s faced everything from ridicule, to unmotivated students, to budget problems. He has tried everything to stay in the teaching game. He first started teaching in early January 2015.

“I walked into that classroom and I immediately was like, ‘Oh, I got this.’ Because the first thing I thought was, ‘They’re gonna love me,’” says Bourland. “This is literally going through my head. They’re going to love me. And our first exercise is going to be that of, ‘Okay, we’re going to do an interview. It’s with me. So ask me some questions.’” The questions that the students fired off on that day were: “How tall are you? Why are you so short? Are your parents short? Are you married? Is your girlfriend taller?”

Every day, Bourland would be asked personal questions; he would face jokes about his height, and dealt with deadlines that were almost never met. He faced the humiliation of his students. Even with his “teacher bros”—as Bourland calls them—backing him up, the classes just weren’t the same.

“But I couldn’t do it anymore,” says Bourland. “I was tired man. Like deadlines are fine when they’re done by adults. But when they’re done by kids, (they) just don’t adhere to deadlines anymore. No. Like they don’t care.”

James Bourland opens his class with a brief to-do list of assignments students need to complete for the day. (Photo by Nicholas Trujillo).
James Bourland opens his class with a brief to do list of assignemnts they need to complete for the day. He minimizes time that lectures take in order to let students do what they need to do in a timely manner.

Kids not caring may not sound like the end of the world, but to a man teaching his passion to a room full of teenagers not caring, the reality starts to pick at you more and more. The final straw came from Bourland’s fellow teachers who wouldn’t punish kids because they missed their deadlines.

“Teachers will give (them) chances,” explains Bourland. “I don’t want to do that so much because the moment you leave here, ‘Welcome to the real world.’ If you were a journalist and you missed your deadline, ‘See you later.’ Over here, if you miss your deadline, I can’t fire you or I couldn’t fire you as much as I want it to.”

So Bourland decided he needed to switch his approach and his teaching subject. Now he walks new students through coding and photography instead of journalism. But to the students it’s less about what he teaches and more about how he teaches it .

“He doesn’t make it feel like work,” says Ariana Cordova, a high school junior who took a class last year with Bourland. “That’s the change from other teachers, it’s fun to do the assignments here instead of in my other classes.

Cordova found Bourland so fun that she comes to chill in the class even during her other classes.

Bourland’s teaching methods come from his time at the University of Arizona. He graduated from the UA in 2011 with a B.A. in Journalism and then again in 2018 with a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration. Throughout his college career, Bourland always had a couple of teachers he credits for his style of teaching.

Brian Kopy was Bourland’s journalism advisor when he headed to Tucson High School.

“He was one of my favorite teachers of all time because he didn’t give a damn, he was just old-school,” recalls Bourland. “Any kid would walk in, poor kid, and he’d immediately ‘BOOM!’ destroy the kid with, like, ‘Hey those are some weird jeans you’re wearing.’”

It was this short banter that caught on with both Bourland and with the kids in the classes he now teaches. According to Bourland, it would mostly start with the kids calling him short, and then they would, as Bourland puts it, “get in to it.”

“I figured out (that) my teaching method, my classroom management style isn’t the same as anybody else’s,” says Bourland. “It’s controlled chaos. Like one of the things they are trying to push here is to not use your cell phones in class. This is the Wild West. I don’t have a problem if you’re using your phone for the purposes of good in this case … I don’t care if you’re listening to music and at least, you’re not bugging anybody else.”

Amber Soland is the assistant arts and life editor at the Daily Wildcat, UA’s student-run newspaper. She was also Bourland’s student. And it was his teaching that got the creative writing major into journalism.

“Me being in his class was an accident,” says Soland. “I just wanted to get out of Stage Management and it was the next best thing … And it turned out I really, really liked it and he’s the reason that I’m a creative writing major. He’s the reason that I tried so hard in school.”

Amber took on a magazine project one semester on her own, when no one else would turn in work, because Bourland inspired her to do something great. She created the 12-page magazine, with some help from two writers. 

“It was one of the best magazines we’ve ever had and it was the last magazine we ever had because of funding (cuts),” says Bourland.

The budget for the newspaper in those years was limited: It wasn’t enough to send even one person to a conference and a lot of the equipment Bourland had for it was borrowed. One semester it got so bad for the school newspaper, that Bourland had to do a crash course on how to sell an ad.

“So we had to rely on advertisements and that was difficult, because the kids didn’t know how to get advertisements—it’s a journalism class.”

It wasn’t easy to teach high school students the importance of journalism, time management with seven classes, and the ethics of selling advertisements for their student paper. This left many students with a bad impression of the class, and at times, it taught them too much.

But Bourland had no option but to teach with what he had. And despite it all, he’s had a plan and the motivation to teach. With him, are the other teachers on the third floor of Tucson High’s Technology Building.

“Without them, it’d be a lot harder,” says Bourland. “When people say, ‘Don’t bring work home,’ I’m looking at it like, ‘Well, what do you want me to bring home?’ I spent all my day over there. My soul is still somewhat connected to that damn place.”

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