TUPELO – This year’s class of 24 retiring teachers in the Lee County School District can boast a record number of years of experience.
“Between those 24 names, they’ve accumulated 555 years of service in Lee County, not counting years they taught in other districts,” said Superintendent Jimmy Weeks during Thursday’s reception for the retirees. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that many years. Usually it ends up being around 300.”
The reception has become a celebratory ritual each spring. For retiring teachers Mary Heard, Julia Smith and Alisa Burns, it’s more like a family reunion.
“At one time, all three of us taught at Plantersville Elementary,” Smith said. “It’s been great catching up again.”
Heard and Burns will finish side by side teaching special education at Verona Elementary. The pair have taught 26 years and 28 years, respectively, 18 of them together.
“I’m excited. I’ll miss my friends, my fellow teachers, but I will not miss getting up at 5:15 in the morning,” Heard said.
“When I started teaching, my students were only seven years younger than I was. Now that I’ve started teaching their children, I decided it’s time to bow out,” she said. “I’ll probably be burning up (Heard’s) phone all the time now.”
Smith and Heard said retirement will be a chance to spend some much-needed time with their families.
“It’ll be hard, but it’ll be fun, too,” Smith said. “It really makes us feel appreciated to have a reception like this.”
Debbie Pickens, who taught special education and art for 25 years at Shannon High School before spending the past seven serving through the district’s central office, said they had earned it. She will be retiring at the end of the year as well.
“When a teacher has worked long enough to retire, they’ve got a lot of life experience under their belt,” she said. “They’ve weathered a lot of storms and gotten plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.”
Though the teachers said they will miss the students themselves, they were all smiles as they caught up and reflected on their careers.
“I don’t know why they’re all smiling,” Weeks said. “You know they’re going to be sad when school starts in August.”