In Jamie Morris’ classroom, history is all around you. The walls are covered in maps, pictures of presidents and old newspapers.
On one wall, Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency. On another, Lindbergh “dives into Paris.”
He stands in front of the 27 youth-sized wood-topped desks and speaks in his deep Mississippi drawl about the way the world used to be, trying to relate his passion to a handful of eighth graders.
But don’t think for a second it’s because he has to.
Morris, 60, has been teaching history at Howard Bishop Middle School for more than a decade. He does it out of love for the subject and his students. For the students, the feeling is mutual.
But it wasn’t always class time with the kids.
Twenty years ago, Morris made enough money running a chain of lumber yards that he retired at 40, but a life of relaxation proved excruciatingly dull.
“I need a little more structure in my life,” he said. “The two biggest decisions you make everyday are am I gonna play 18 or 36 holes of golf and what am I gonna eat for breakfast.”
Morris went back to school to get his Ph.D. in social studies education, then began teaching others how to teach history at colleges such as the University of Central Florida and UF.
But it didn’t take long to realize how much more fun it would be to teach the subject itself rather than teaching to teach.
“A lot of people are inspired by the great teachers they had,” he said. “I used to think to myself, ‘I could do a better job at that.’”
And Morris’ personal history is colorful on its own.
Born in the South in 1950, Morris had a front-row seat to the civil rights movement and can rattle off a chain of stories like nobody’s business.
An avid baseball player and fan, Morris has spent many years of his life coaching the sport, and three of his former players went on to compete in the major leagues. One even played in the World Series.
But all his past successes aside, he said teaching has been the most rewarding.
Four years ago, Morris was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and he had to take time off to recover from surgery. On his last day at school, near the end of class, the principal said over the public address system that some people had come to see him.
He paused to fight off tears as he told how the room filled up with friends and former students who came to tell the man that, whatever happened in surgery, they’d never forget the man standing in front of those little desks.
“You never know what kind of impression you make or impact you have on people,” he said. “(It was) a day I’ll never forget in a bizarre way, a very rewarding day.”