Destin Elementary teacher spent 35 years in the same room. Now it's time for new chapter.

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

For more than half her life, Pam Carroll has spent the school year within the walls at Destin Elementary School, but that is soon coming to an end on May 25. 

After 35 years in the classroom as a first-grade teacher at Destin Elementary, the Destin native is retiring from the school she not only taught at, but once attended as a child all the way through sixth grade. 

“I never went anywhere,” Carroll said, sitting in the classroom that she has occupied at Destin Elementary for the past 35 years. 

Destin Elementary first grade teacher Pam Carroll talks with some of her students before they head out for the end of the day. Carroll is retiring after 35 years at Destin Elementary.

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“I went to school in Pensacola and came right on back, hoping and praying to get a job here, not thinking I would,” she said. 

Carroll a graduate of Okaloosa Walton College, now Northwest Florida State College, and the University of West Florida in Pensacola, said back in the '80s, you didn’t just come to Destin Elementary and get a job. 

“There were no openings … people stayed here until they died or retired,” said the jovial Carroll. 

After college, she interviewed with a few schools and didn’t get hired, but then she got the call three days before school was to start. Destin Principal Eugene Walls, who recently passed away, called her in for an interview. 

“He had some other teachers here telling him, ‘Hey, she’s local. Get her, get her,’” she said. 

Destin Elementary first grade teacher Pam Carroll is retiring after 35-years.

“I didn’t do it on my own merit, I had people helping like Betty Jo Woodward and Janet Cass, people that knew me and spoke up for me,” Carroll said. 

She started as a first-grade teacher in the fall of 1987 and has been in the same room ever since. 

“There’s a lot of junk in this room,” she looked around and laughed. 

First grade and changes 

Carroll wound up teaching first grade because “that’s where the opening was.” 

She had never done any of her practical teaching in college in the first-grade classroom, it had either been second grade or kindergarten. 

“While I was thrilled to death to have a job, I was petrified,” she said. 

The year Carroll started, she was one of five first-grade teachers. Today, Destin Elementary has 10 first-grade teachers. 

Destin Elementary first grade teacher Pam Carroll assist Theresa Keller with one of her assignments about writing a letter about her mom. Carroll will be retiring at the end of the school year after 35 years.

She admits there were years she was a bit insecure about holding on to the job, thinking they may not need five first-grade teachers. 

“But of course, we’ve never looked back … we’ve only continued to grow in enrollment and population,” she said. 

Carroll recalls being petrified that first year, as well as feeling at home. 

“I was home because I was back at Destin Elementary. Mr. Threadgill was still the PE coach; Mr. Adams was still in the library,” she said. 

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But it was weird, she said, teaching alongside people she once thought to be her elders. 

“Ann Shirah (who was a teacher) is saying 'just call me Ann' … Mrs. Shirah, I can’t do that,” she said. “That was strange.” 

But needless to say, Carroll adjusted over the years, as things continued to change. 

One of the biggest changes she has seen is “the expectations … there’s a lot more expected out of kids in school today. Not that that’s a bad thing, because if you expect it, you can make them rise to that,” she said. 

Destin Elementary first grade teacher Pam Carroll listens as Mason Hughes reads his writing assignment out loud. Carroll will be retiring after 35 years at the end of the school year.

And not enough parental involvement. 

For the love of reading 

Carroll teaches reading and writing, and loves it.  

“My favorite quote is, ‘The greatest thing about teaching is it matters, the hardest thing about teaching is it matters every day,’” she said as she started to tear up. 

“It’s so true, at the end of the year, you feel this anxiousness. I get to thinking did I teach them enough?” Carroll said. 

"You just hope that you have given them the service that they need. This is where we are supposed to teach them to read, and not just read, but to love to read … love to pick up a book, can’t keep their nose out of a book,” she said. 

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Carroll has a favorite little book she likes to share with the children on the first day of school entitled, “First Day Jitters.” 

Throughout the story, the children think it’s about a kid who is scared about going to a new school on the first day, but when you turn to the last page, they find out it’s about a first-year teacher. 

Destin's Pam Carroll has been at Destin Elementary for 35 years and is now retiring.

She explains to the children that she still gets the first day jitters and then mixes up some Hawaiian Punch and Sprite and calls it “jitter juice.” 

“It’s a good ice breaker and puts them at ease and not scared to come back tomorrow,” she said. 

As a matter of fact, a lot of them expect “jitter juice” the next day, she said. 

Throughout the year, she also reads chapter books with the children, reading one chapter a day. 

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With just a couple of weeks left, the class was on their 15th chapter book, “James the Giant Peach.” 

And sharing the love of books with the children is what Carroll loves about teaching. 

“Turning them on to books and literature … that’s the best part,” she said.  

A few years back Destin Elementary departmentalized and Carroll was excited not to teach math anymore. 

Destin Elementary School first grade teacher Pam Carroll stands beside the wall of "biography buddies" her students made. She will be retiring at the end of the school year.

“Teaching writing can be tough, but so rewarding. But if I can teach reading with that writing, then sign me up. I love being able to teach reading all day long,” she said. 

The next chapter 

Although Carroll will miss the children, she said it is time to move on. 

“It’s time, it’s time to pass the charge to a new generation,” said the 57-year-old, whose last day is May 25. 

“The kids … watching them learn and grow and become independent readers and learners, I am going to miss that, a lot. That makes it all worthwhile being here year after year,” said. 

But when you have children of children that you’ve taught, “that’s when you know it’s time to go … you're old,” she laughed. 

And for the last 10 years she has seen a lot of them come through. 

“Sometimes they are just like their mother or daddy, and sometimes they are a much better student than I remember mom and dad,” she said. 

Although she is moving on, she will not be forgotten. 

“She has been a consistent and reliable teaching force,” said Destin Principal Joe Jannazo. 

“She has spent her entire time here at Destin Elementary in the same room. Generations of families have been able to pass through that classroom and know that they are going to get a great education from Mrs. Carroll. 

“We will miss her and thank her for all of her hard work and dedication to the Destin students, school and community,” Jannazo said. 

And Carroll is honored to have taught at the same school for 35 years. 

“This was my first teaching gig and I never left. I’m proud of that. I was always proud to be here. It’s going to be weird to say I’m not a teacher anymore,” she said. 

Carroll says her daughter reminds her she will always be a teacher and that it doesn’t matter if you are in the classroom. 

“This is home to me. Destin Elementary will always be home to me and I’m proud to have been here as long as I have. I love this community … I love it. It changes every day, but it’s my home,” she said. 

Carroll likes to work in the yard, garden and go for walks. 

“I’ve bought some tomato plants … it’s time to be an old southern woman and plant tomatoes,” she said.