Darlene Tums is Destin Elementary Teacher of the Year, in final year
It's a time of joy and sadness for Destin Elementary School first-grade teacher Darlene Tums.
Tums will say goodbye to many longtime teacher friends as well as a classroom she has taught in for 35 years at the end of this school year. Tums is retiring.
But for now, she is honored to be selected as Teacher of the Year at Destin Elementary. The Teacher of the Year is nominated and voted on by the faculty at the school.
“Ms. Tums has been a rock for this school for decades,” said Destin Elementary Principal Joe Jannazo. “Her love for students and doing things the right way is always evident. Her selection as Teacher of the Year in her last year teaching is a testament to her continued standard of excellence.
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“We are extremely proud of her and will have some very big shoes to fill come the end of the year,” Jannazo added.
Tums was surprised at the selection.
“I have no clue where it came from because there are a lot more deserving teachers than me,” she said while sitting in her classroom filled with charts and drawings on the walls.
“I don’t feel deserving … I just don’t,” she said, noting she doesn’t like being in the spotlight.
Her biggest concern as a teacher is “having my children prepared for second grade,” she said.
“I just want to give them a love for learning and to be curious about what‘s going on in the world,” Tums said. “I tell them, growing up we went to the beach but we didn’t have the money to travel all over the world, but reading can take you everywhere and you can learn about so many cool places.”
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Tums went to Jemison High School in Chilton County, Alabama. She got her Bachelor of Science and Master's from the University of Montevallo and got her first teaching job at age 20.
“I started teaching when I was 20,” she said, noting that her dad believed in the three-year college plan. She did dual enrollment her junior and senior year in high school.
Although her mom and sisters were all teachers, teaching wasn’t her first choice.
“I was determined not to be in education, I was going to go into nursing,” she said.
While in college, however, she did a practicum at the college child care center and fell in love with the young kids.
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Since then, she has never gone higher than second grade. Tums taught kindergarten and first grade in Alabama for five years before moving to Destin.
Tums was hired by Eugene Walls, who was principal at Destin Elementary in 1986.
“We had four or five first grades,” she said of that time.
Now its doubled, with 10 first grade classes.
“You used to know all the teachers. ... Now I can’t remember them all,” Tums said. “But I’ve taught with some great teachers. I’ve been fortunate to experience a lot of great educators.
“Destin community is wonderful and the parents are very involved, very supportive,” she added. “I never knew how much I enjoyed teaching until I started teaching here.”
Love of the job
Not only does Tums love where she teaches, she just loves the children.
“I like the interaction with the kids in that you’re able to be yourself around them, because they know if you’re not real,” she said. “They are always so happy to see you. I hug them when they come in and I hug them when they leave, because you never know what they are coming from.”
Her main focus the past four years has been math and science, which she loves. She has been able do hands-on experiments with the students.
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“I just love the kids, and they still love you at this age,” she said of the 6- and 7-year-olds. “It’s easy to mold them into how they should be and how they should behave. I’m big on discipline. You’ve got to have some order in your classroom for there to be learning. If there’s a lot of chaos going on, there’s not a lot of learning.
“I try to create an atmosphere in my classroom that I’m not going to get upset with them if they do something wrong,” Tums added. “This is a learning zone, mistakes are expected.
“They are just so innocent and they want to please. You can have a horrible day and you can come in and they’ll give you a hug, and everything is going to be OK,” she said as she teared up a bit.
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She also loves the parents and their involvement in the classroom, although that’s been kind of scarce the last two years due to COVID.
“I think our school district has handled it very well,” she said.
Tums has been teaching so long she is starting to have kids of kids she has taught come through.
“I had a number of the Jarvis boys … and now their kids are coming through, not grandchildren yet,” she laughed.
“I’ve had two former Destin City Councilmen in class as well,” she said, noting Parker Destin and Chatham Morgan both came through her first-grade class.
Changes in the classroom
When Tums started at Destin Elementary in 1986, the school had just built the cafeteria and the library was where the office is now. The office was small and on the other side, she said.
Today every child has his or her own iPad in the classroom.
“Children don’t have a lot of global experience,” Tums said. “They are not exposed to a lot of different vocabulary that you get from books. … It’s all about electronics,” she said.
Tums tries to do things with the children to get them to use their “critical thinking skills” such as puzzles and working through addition and subtraction and how they are related.
At the end of the school year, Tums will give up her room of 35 years to someone else.
“I’ve spent many hours over here. It’s going to be sad. ... It’s going to be a big change,” she said.
Tums plans to spend her summers in Minnesota fishing and hiking and then back to Destin for the winter.
“It’s been a ride, it really has … a lot of great experiences. It’s just a great place. I couldn’t have chosen a better school to be at.
“We’ve had so much fun … the people that I have taught with. The people have been great and I’ve been lucky to teach here," she added. “The greatest joy I get is from being in the classroom with my kids. That is what I enjoy and I enjoy coming to work. I don’t know what I’m going to do without it.”