On March 31, kindergarten teacher Mary Noser will circle the children around the table one last time after 37 years of teaching at Destin Elementary School.
Noser, who’s been teaching at the school longer than any other teacher to date, is teaching children of the children she once had in the classroom.
“I love to get the ones that I have a connection with,” Noser said. “Developing a relationship with them is the key to being successful with teaching them. If they know you love them or care about them, they’ll do anything for you.”
She now has the sons of former students, such as Capt. Trey Windes, Capt. Allen Staples, and Eddie Morgan of Harbor Docks to name a few.
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“Just the joy of watching the children grow, I think that’s another reason why I love kindergarten,” Noser said. “You see such growth in kindergarten. They come to me as babies and by the time they leave they are first graders.
“They’ve grown so much and that is so rewarding … to see them and facilitate them and watch them grow,” she added. “And then watch them grow up and be grownups in the community.”
Noser is proud to be the oldest person at the school.
“I’m the oldest person here,” she said sitting in her classroom. “I’m proud that I’m 66 and happy and healthy and ready for the next part of my life. I’m excited about retirement. I’m ready, its time.”
But she’s going to be missed.
“Mrs. Noser has been a rock for Destin Elementary and the Destin community for over 37 years,” said Destin Elementary Principal Joe Jannazo. “There may not be a single teacher in the history of Destin that has taught more families or generations of families than Mrs. Noser.
“She will be greatly missed in her role as a kindergarten teacher and seeing her daily as a co-worker and friend. She will always be a part of Destin Elementary,” he added.
Noser came to Destin after teaching in Alabama for seven years in the small community of Concord, right outside Birmingham.
She spent her first two years in Destin serving as a long-term substitute at the school. Noser tells the story of how she went to the county office to apply for a job and the lady there said, “you do know we have 1,200 applicants for every position.”
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“I was just spunky enough that I said, ‘Yes I know … and I’m that good and I’ll get one of those positions,’ ” she said.
After subbing for two years and making friends with others at the school, Principal Eugene Walls, who recently passed away, hired her in 1986 and she’s been at the school ever since.
She started in kindergarten, then went to third grade for three years, but then came back to kindergarten.
“I thought I wanted to go, and I enjoyed third grade and it was a great experience, but kindergarten is my love. I missed having that very first (class).
“I like getting them early, their first experience with big school and making it positive. That’s one of my big things is that I want to start them off feeling positive about school and feeling positive about themselves,” Noser said.
How has she made it positive all these years?
“What I say is it has to be a balance … being firm with being loving. I try to have a good balance between those two. If I have to be firm, just like with your own kids, you are going to go back in and give a little love before the end of the day,” she said, noting she treats her students like they were her own kids.
And if a child is struggling, “you can always find something that you can be positive about that gives them incentive,” she said.
Plus, Noser likes to have fun with children.
“Teaching has changed over the years and it’s not all fun and games, but it shouldn’t be,” she said. “But you can find the driest boring thing and you can put some fun in it. That’s kind of the challenge I’ve always liked. How am I going to teach them about this and them enjoy it? Make a song, make a rhyme, do a dance, do hand motions. We can find all kinds of ways to make the subject interesting.
“What I have found is they rise to the occasion. They’re ready, they’re ready for a lot of it,” Noser added.
The biggest change she has noticed has to do with the availability of information.
“Children know more when they come to me … it’s amazing what they can soak in,” she said.
However, Noser still loves hands-on instruction.
“I love finding ways that we can do things. We still do a lot of paper and pencil things. Anytime I can find a way to make it hands on, that helps them understand,” she said.
Noser’s last day at Destin Elementary is March 31.
She said her actual drop date was Jan. 31, but she extended and planned to finish the school year. Those plans changed when she found out that she had a grandbaby due at the end of March.
Noser will be keeping the baby while her daughter, who is a hospice nurse, goes back to work.
Not to fret, Noser has a “great sub” that will be finishing out the year with her students.
“I wasn’t going to leave these babies with just anybody. I’m very possessive, they are my children. And pretty much everybody knows that,” she said, noting that helped her as well to make the early out decision.
Noser has enjoyed her time at Destin Elementary.
“The people I have worked with have made it so enjoyable,” she said making mention of her teaching partners, kindergarten team and past principals as well. “I’m glad I’m ending on a good note and going out on a high.”
Noser said teaching kindergarten has been the best.
“Kindergarten is the greatest thing because (the kids tell me) I am beautiful, everything I wear is beautiful. They love my hair, they love my shoes, they love my necklace, they love my earrings and they tell me that every day. Where else can you go to work and have them tell you multiple times that they love you, ‘you’re beautiful,’ ‘I love your hair?’ Who wouldn’t want that?” she said.
“It’s been a wonderful experience. That’s why I’m ready to turn it over to the next generation,” she added.
In retirement she has plans to work in her yard and to travel.
“It’s going to be like an extended summer,” she said.
Nevertheless, she said, “I’m going to miss the joy of seeing the children grow. I’m going to miss that but I like to embrace every next milestone. I’m looking forward to the next part of my life. Who knows what will happen?”