Literature Teacher Turns Kobe Bryant Tribute into Motivation Message for Seniors


Sydney Haulenbeek

Lines from Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” on the back whiteboard of AP Literature teacher Mrs. Charlotte Jenkins.

Sydney Haulenbeek, Editor in Chief

On Tuesday, January 28, students’ first day back to school following NBA player Kobe Bryant’s death, English teacher Mrs. Charlotte Jenkins took a different approach in her AP Literature classes, opening them with the poem “Dear Basketball,” written by Kobe Bryant to announce his retirement after his incredible 60-point win on April 13, 2016.


Jenkins showed her AP Literature students, an entirely senior-dominated class, the “Dear Basketball” short film of the poem, which won best animated short at the 90th Academy Awards, and then walked students through analyzing the text, drafting a thesis and identifying literary techniques on the whiteboard. She then brought attention back to the board in the back of the room, where verses from Byant’s poem were written: “I gave you my heart…/ I played for the sweat and hurt / Not because challenge called me / but because you called me.”


“I got up to let the dog out and then I ended up in a Twitter hole on this,” Jenkins confessed, motioning to the board, “but I started thinking about this, and you guys. And this is a quote that struck me the most.


“I thought about your lives, and my own life as well. When you are just working, just to work, just to be done, just to be like everyone else and not work, there is no passion in it; you’re never really going to be that successful. If your goal is simply to graduate and be done, it’s a pretty miserable existence. You have to be passionate about something. And even though in education and school we talk about ‘You gotta have great grades and all straight As,’ I’m going to tell you right now: you really don’t…have to have straight As, and the best GPA. What’s more important though is that you have a passion for something. 

What calls you? It could be hair products. It could be eyebrows.


“And if that means that you don’t kill yourself with getting a 4.0 GPA, and you also in your high school experience find something that you really enjoy, like dancing, or cooking, or a sport or whatever, then you’re going to have – that passion is going to keep you alive. That call, it’s going to make you be something other than just every other Lego man walking around out there.


“I want you to answer this for me: What calls you? At least three sentences, without thinking about it too much, and without any judgment. What makes you excited?” she asked students, mentioning cooking, football, soccer, field hockey and reading. 


“Don’t worry! Don’t think ‘Oh, this isn’t a good thing to call me.’ What calls you? It could be hair products. It could be eyebrows.


“What calls you, what makes you feel alive? Not the happiest, just alive. I don’t think Kobe was always happy when he was playing basketball. Think about this thing that you’ve decided today is your thing, and let it be your thing. Make it be your thing,” Jenkins said. 


Students joined in, declaring their calls: boats, the ocean, people.

My slam dunk moments now, my poems now, are my students.


“My thing when I was your age, I think happened to me in this very classroom,” Jenkins shared. “I had a wonderful teacher who said she liked my poetry. Changed my life. I wasn’t, probably, a very good poet, but it made me want to write. And I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote…I love it. Nobody makes me read poetry. Nobody makes me write poetry.


“When I graduated from college, I told my dad I was going to be a poet, and that doesn’t work out for everybody, right? So I supported myself being a teacher in the meantime. And then I fell in love with teaching. I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. And so those slam dunk moments in my life with poetry was when I was in college reading at a poetry slam and had the snaps from the audience, that was like ‘Yeah, I’m so awesome!’ And that slowly wither[ed] away because I was never going to be able to support myself with that. 


“My slam dunk moments now, my poems now, are my students. Each time I get my students to enjoy a poem, or come in here during One Lunch and talk about how they like reading, to me, it is like ‘this is my call, this is my thing.’…This is the thing that when I see them walk across the stage at graduation I feel like every year it’s an anthology of poetry that I’ve finished, each graduating class. And that’s probably one of my favorite days, graduation, and seeing people walk across the stage. And I think to myself ‘Oh, I remember that thing that they wrote,’ or ‘I remember when they finally found a book they liked.’” 


“And if I had not paid attention to my call… I would not be happy,” Jenkins finished. “I wouldn’t feel the contentment I have in my life today. So I want you, now that we’re in the second semester of your senior year, you really have to figure out what your thing is and let it drive your decisions for where you’re going to go next.” 


Public Speaking teacher Ms. Mary “BouBou” Boubouheropoulos plans to have her students go over “Dear Basketball” in her classes as well, beginning with her 1A class tomorrow and continuing with her 2B on Friday, having her students reflect on what it means to have a legacy.