Jim Chin just might be the most interesting person ever to have set foot on Burlingame High School’s campus. The AP European and Modern World history teacher is the teacher-advisor for BHS’ Model United Nations (Model U.N.) club, the Teacher-Coach of BHS’ Mock Trial team, and an absurdly fast grader of student work. He has also fended off a gang of muggers with a foam sword.
Chin, who was born in Taiwan, moved to the U.S. when he was three years old. As a high-schooler in the East Bay, he was a member of his school’s speech and debate team, a member of its drama program, and an avid Dungeons and Dragons player. Though he always knew he wanted to work in the field of history, it was not until after attending University of California, Berkeley for college and grad-school that Chin knew he would be a teacher.
“In college I figured out I liked the teaching and I liked interacting with students more than researching,” he said.
As a teacher at BHS, Chin has taught every history course offered except for Government and Economy. Throughout his time at the school, he has maintained a reputation as an exceptionally effective grader.
“I have a little folder with a bunch of student work in it that I’ll just take out and grade or read if I’m in line at the post office, or basically whenever,” Chin said. “I also try to carve out time for me to hammer out a bunch of grading.”
Some of that time occurs in the middle of his commute home from BHS to San Jose, where he lives.
“I’ll often pull over specifically to the East Palo Alto Ikea to grade until until traffic dies down,” he said.
In addition to being a teacher, Chin is highly involved with BHS’ mock trial and Model U.N. teams. Both clubs meet in his room weekly, and he regularly attends Model U.N. conferences held at universities around the Bay Area.
“Mr Chin is unlike any other teacher or club advisor. He’s so motivated and involved in the club that he makes it whole. He’s the central piece that brings it together and organizes it, alongside the students,” said Model U.N. president Anton Bobrov.
Chin is also known for his idiosyncrasies, which range from the various inflections he places on specific words to his staging of occasional foam-sword fights at the ends of classes. In them, Chin will draw two foam swords from a corner of his room and dare someone to challenge him. Though the fights are never violent, they are entertaining.
But perhaps the most interesting facet of Chin’s persona is the crazy life he has lived, and all the insane stories he has accumulated over the years to go with it. One of these such stories involves him fending off a gang of muggers, armed only with a foam sword.
Chin, who was in college at the time, had just left a drama rehearsal that had gone poorly. Other members of his troup had not prepared for a fight scene, and were using the rehearsal to practice what they should have practiced at home. Chin ended up leaving early, frustrated that his time had been wasted. He was biking home with a foam sword from the scene when he ran into trouble.
“When I turned the corner to bike to my apartment, I saw a group of four or five people that had beaten up this other bicyclist,” he said. “Then they saw me, and they immediately started circling me.”
Though Chin could have biked away and called the police, which he knew he should have done, his lingering frustration at his drama troupe and his anger at the muggers got the best of him.
“I just grabbed my foam swords and started hitting the first guy in front of me. I don’t even know if I was shouting words. I was just angrily grunting and yelling,” he said. “It was just a really dumb thing to do because if they’d had a weapon I’d be dead. But instead, I got really lucky and they ran away.”
From there, Chin called 911 to get the other bicyclist medical attention, and went home confused as to why he did what he had just done, despite the fact that his brain told him the right thing to do when the event unfolded.
Chin has certainly led and interesting life and his commitment to teaching and encouraging others has earned him the love and respect of many students.
“Every day I leave class wanting to learn more,” said sophomore Alec Abramson. “He brings events that happened centuries in the past to life.”