– Mary Jean Le Tendre
“A great teacher never strives to explain his vision. He simply invites you to stand beside him and see for yourself.”
– R. Inman
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
– William Butler Yeats
Somewhere in a box filled with photographs, there’s one that was taken in the late spring of 1981.
About 30 soon-to-be high school freshmen are sitting on the front steps of a beautiful old house on Front Beach in Ocean Springs. In the middle of all these summer-anticipating kids is a young woman playing guitar and singing a song.
The photo is framed by giant oak trees dripping moss. And though you can’t tell this from the picture, all bellies are full from barbecued chicken grilled by my dad and homemade ice cream made by my grandmother.
The occasion? An end-of-the-school-year party for my homeroom students, who were also in my English class.
The house and most of the 100-year-old oaks are gone now, courtesy of Katrina.
The kids are gone as well, grown into young men and women who passed the 40-year mark a year or so ago.
These were the kids who taught me to love being a teacher during the second year of my first career.
Even in the best of circumstances, a teacher’s first year in the classroom is difficult. Mine was no exception.
And I toyed with thoughts of another career after that initial year, but decided to give teaching another chance. To this day, I’m so glad I did.
Early on in that second year at St. Martin Jr. High School in Back Bay Biloxi my students cajoled me into bringing my guitar to class.
Scared to death, I sat on a stool in front of those kids, played my guitar and, with trembling voice, sang for them a few of the simple songs I’d written.
When I finished, there was silence as nearly 30 pairs of wide-open eyes stared my way. Then applause.
Later, some of my students told me they had no idea teachers had friends and fun, hopes and dreams. They thanked me for showing them that teachers were, quite simply, human beings.
The rest of the year, those eighth-graders worked hard for me. They didn’t even grumble about diagramming sentences.
And when they moved up to the high school, I thought my heart would break – until another class of kids came along after a long, hot summer.
Most of those long-ago students have become remarkable adults who have accomplished some amazing things. In a few weeks, they’ll gather on the occasion of their 25th high school class reunion.
And I am so honored to have been one of their teachers along the way.
Contact Leslie Criss at firstname.lastname@example.org or (662) 678-1584.