Updated: Aug 1
By Jeremy Clarkson
It was June 2009 when I was first introduced to Charles Criniere in the library at Grandview High School. I was a new teacher getting ready to start my career, and we were at the school to work on the curriculum for the week. My earliest impression of Charles was that he seemed very happy and upbeat. Whenever asked a question, he would always smile while explaining something he had been doing with his family since school ended.
Charles played a big part in my earliest years as a teacher. Some of my first two years brought a lot of challenges, as any new teacher has. I wasn't always sure I could handle the overwhelming feeling of being a new teacher. I would go to Charles to get advice or just some encouragement. Occasionally, I would stop by Charles' room, and he would stop what he was doing and say, "Hey, kids! Do you know Mr. Clarkson? He is the best Algebra teacher in the school!"
Charles was the best at building others up! He knew what to say to make you feel like, whatever you did, you were the best at it. I gained a lot of self-confidence in my teaching abilities in my first two years working with Charles. We both taught Algebra 1 in summer school, compared notes, and discussed how things went each day.
Charles and I left Grandview High School for different reasons, but it was a blessing that we both found ourselves back at GHS a few years later. Criniere saw me one day in a meeting and said, "There is Mr. Clarkson. The LeBron James of Grandview High School!" Not to be outdone, I countered my friend's claim by labeling Charles as "The Wayne Gretzky of GHS" (since Gretzky is known as "The Great One"). I cannot tell you how many times we called each other these over the years.
In April 2018, I went with Charles to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Conference in Washington, DC. It was such an exciting time since I knew being with Charles would be an adventure. I was fortunate to attend the NCTM Conference at the last minute in place of a co-worker who could not attend. Unfortunately, since we could not get the registration changed before the conference, I had to wear the name badge of our colleague.
There we were, walking around the conference, and I had this big badge on, but it displayed our co-worker's name instead of mine. Charles could not stop laughing every time he saw it. Over the next three days, whenever we met someone, I would introduce myself as our co-worker, then notice Charles would have this huge grin on his face and laugh. Whenever we would walk away, Charles would say, "Oh Clarkson! You're too much!"
Much of our trip involved me finding new ways to make Charles laugh. I remember we went on a trip to see the White House, and then we decided to walk back to the hotel. As we walked, I would find a place and say, "Hey Charles, why don't we go and stop there for a bit!" Charles would laugh and shake his head at me and decline. Even though I knew he would refuse, I kept asking just to hear him laugh.
The Covid Pandemic changed a lot of how things worked in education for a while, including us at Grandview. We seemed to instantly transition into doing everything on Zoom. During the pandemic, I started playing this game with Charles, seemingly to try to make him laugh. We would be in a meeting on Zoom, and I would find myself holding up notecards on my screen. The cards said, "Criniere 2021: Make Algebra Great Again!"
I would hold up the cards until Charles noticed. Sometimes, he was so focused it would take him a minute. But eventually, he saw what I was doing and would shake his head and smile. Every time this happened, I couldn't help but start laughing. Later, after the meetings, I would run into Criniere, and he would give me his usual, "Oh, Clarkson! You're too much!"
Since we returned to Grandview, I expected that Charles and I would work together for the next 20 years. I would always talk to him about how we were the two young guys in the Math Department when we started, but soon, we would be the two old guys who had been teaching forever. I always pictured that we would be two guys who could retire at any given year but keep teaching.
Charles began teaching at Martin City Middle School in 2021, where he was taking on the new challenge of teaching middle school. I remember sitting with him at a football game that year, talking about school and seeing how happy he was with how things were going. Criniere loved the kids and his co-workers so much! His classes were going better than ever. He was so happy to be able to enjoy a new challenge and a new environment. But I was also jealous to teach with him again, so I told Charles I needed him back at the High School to "Make Algebra Great Again!"
I remember a moment at the beginning of this year when we were about to have our meetings. I passed Charles in the hallway but eventually turned around and went back to give him a big hug. It wasn't new that I would hug him. I just wanted to hug him, tell him I missed him, and chat with him for a few minutes.
Charles was a big part of my career, and I always believed we would teach together for decades. But, like so many others, I was blessed to have that unique friendship with Criniere where it felt like I could make him laugh no matter what. Everyone loved his special laugh!
I hope to honor Charles and the legacy he left in our school and community through my efforts and continued service to our community. I hope he's continually looking down on my work, smiling and laughing at me like he always did.
Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for always doing what you could to make me feel special and build me up, even when I wasn't sure about myself. I love you Charles Criniere.
- Jeremy Clarkson