by Leslie Criss
Editor’s note: This is from a teacher, which is a definitive answer to the oft asked question: should we invite our teachers to the reunion?
To be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner. I am not a teacher, only a fellow student. Soren Kierkegaard
Members of the St. Martin High School Class of 1987 assembled in Biloxi for their 20th reunion. I was invited. And though I’ve sworn never to attend another class reunion of my own, this one I attended. I was, it seems, the only teacher invited. I could tell you the reasons those former kids gave me for my inclusion; instead, I will hold them in my heart. For weeks before the reunion I wondered if it would be odd to be the only adult in attendance. Then I was reminded: These folks are closing in on 40.
So, I went. And I was touched by excited squeals of “Miss Criss” and bold embraces by handsome young men and beautiful young women. Some of them I recognized immediately. Others took some time. But eventually in their adult features I caught a glimpse of the faces still smiling from the pages of old yearbooks.
This is the class whose members, at least some of them, suffered through my English classes twice–once as 8th graders, and again as sophomores, after I moved to the high school. Bless their hearts. We got to know each other well. And as it must be for all teachers, I hoped to somehow make some difference in their lives, to teach them something they’d find useful in the world. Two Saturday nights ago I received the rare gift of hearing, in my lifetime, the effect my time as a teacher had on my former students. One guy, introducing me to his wife (also an English teacher), said he’d never had me as a teacher, but the word in the hallways all those years ago was, “Miss Criss is the go-to person if you ever have a problem.” Two folks actually thanked me for making them learn to diagram sentences, something that drew deep sighs of disapproval during the long-ago learning process.
My friend Robin told me I was the first teacher who treated them like they were human beings. I had no idea – I was simply being who I am.
I never chose to teach. I wanted to be a writer. I majored in English and landed in a classroom where I stayed six years. There’ve probably been times when I allowed myself one of those if-only-I’d-not-wasted-those-years moments. No more. Things work out like they are supposed to. I was right where I was supposed to be. To the members of the St. Martin Class of 1987: Thanks for all I’ve learned from you. And for the opportunity to see what amazing human beings you’ve become. Originally appeared in and reprinted with permission from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
About the author
Miss Criss taught 7th and 8th graders English for four years, and later taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades for two and a half years. After graduate school at the University of Mississippi, she started a second career in journalism and has been a columnist, feature writer and editor at several Mississippi newspapers for 18 years.