Beloved teacher retires after 40 years

Spend a short time chatting with Pam Muncey and discover she’s the kind of teacher you always wanted


Special to The Record

Spend a short time chatting with Pam Muncey and discover she’s the kind of teacher you always wanted when you were a kid.

After 40 years of teaching — 39 years at South Whidbey Elementary School — Muncey retired June 14, the last day of school. She has taught grades three through seven during the past four decades. Over the past seven years, Muncey has taught grades five through seven, looping with the same students over the course of three years. This year she taught fifth grade.

A young-looking woman who teaches what she loves — math, English, science and art — Muncey exudes creative energy, even though it’s the last week of school. On a Tuesday afternoon, she wore a shirt bearing the Pi symbol, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, and an infinite number.

She appears to have acquired an infinite supply of fun ways to learn over the years.

Imagine learning math by playing cards, throwing dice and knitting. Or geometry by making arcs with a compass that creates flowers. The fifth grade classroom walls are lined with student math/art projects. Along with drawing, students use blocks to gain visual cues on volume. Muncey taught her fifth graders how to draw in 3D so that they could accurately calculate volume.

Heather Dubendörf has taught for more than two decades and said she benefitted from her interactions with Muncey. She said she was lucky to be able to work with Muncey over the years, especially the last few at the fifth and sixth grade campus.

“Working with Pam has meant that I know I have support,” Dübendorf wrote in an email, “and help from a colleague whenever I need it and that she gives this support without as much as a second’s hesitation. She has so many exciting and creative ideas to make learning fun and I have definitely learned so much and used so many of her ideas in my own teaching. My kids were lucky, too, as they both got to have her during her ‘looping years.’ Which meant Isla and Aengus both had her for three years each.”

Dubendörf’s now-grown children remember their former teacher.

“Ms. Muncey encouraged creativity more than any other teacher I ever had. If it was buying us clay or having us write crazy stories, she always kept us creating,” said Aengus Dubendörf.

“I’m so grateful that she taught me to knit and I have something that I can still wear today (the hat she made),” Isla Dubendörf commented. “Alex (Isla’s boyfriend), saw the hat and asked me to make him one, which I could because I learned how to knit!”

Muncey was raised in a mathematical family — her dad was a math major — and math was something she loved since she was young. She also knew from an early age that she wished to be a teacher.

Muncie grew up in Bellevue and graduated from Hazen High School. Enrolled in a University of Washington honors program as a freshman, Muncie majored in English literature.

“In those days when you went into a teaching program, you needed a degree first before you did student teaching,” Muncey recalled. “I was student teaching in a classroom for a year and a half.”

She began her career teaching at a Renton elementary school. She was in her element.

“I just loved it from day one, seriously,” Muncie said. “I feel really blessed to have chosen this career. I’ve loved it the whole time.”

Later, she had a baby and decided she wanted to raise her family on Whidbey Island. Her family had a cabin, and she found work with the South Whidbey School District, where she remained for the past 39 years.

Muncey said she wished to retire while she still enjoyed her work and looks forward to spending time traveling and camping in places where there are mines — she found a couple of sapphires while staying in Montana years ago that she had set into a ring. She also plans to pursue another love of hers — science.

“For a while, before I was known for math, I was known for science,” Muncey explained. “I won Pacific Science Center’s Teacher of the Year award and went to D.C.”

During summer breaks, Muncey spent vacations at Mount Rainier with vulcanologists, studying the effects of eruption. She also was trained to dig for dinosaur bones.

“I applied to the DIG Field School with UW’s Burke Museum and was trained to dig for dinosaurs,” Muncey said with great enthusiasm. “They research mammals that survived extinction. It takes two years of training and three years as a volunteer. The highlight was when they found a full T-rex skull that’s now at the Burke Museum. I got to see it in situ in Montana. And Burke lets me bring real gravel from the digs. My kids sorted through to find teeth and bones.”

The DIG Field School offers K-12 STEM teachers professional development courses and curricula. Teachers work with researchers in the field.

“It’s so amazing that I did this on my vacation,” Muncey recalled. “When I retire, I will get trained to work at the Burke. I want to work in the fossil lab cleaning fossils.”

While kids are more worldly due to technology these days, Muncey said kids still like the same things today as when she first began teaching.

“They love to play, explore and create,” Muncey said. “They like ‘Heads Up Seven Up.’ Remember from our day? It’s still a thing.”

Heads Up Seven Up is a simple and quiet guessing game often played in camps and classrooms.

Muncey said using computers affects student concentration, so she limited her class to using them while taking tests. Otherwise, she prefers using hands-on materials.

“At this developmental stage they need to be touching things and exploring and seeing,” Muncey said. “I teach the kids to knit. We do needlepoint, knitting, and string art. We just finished a sewing project. They made stupid sock creatures. I totally believe in that. They need tactile stuff. Students I had for three years knitted their own sweaters.”

Muncey said teaching is a family affair and is grateful for the support she’s had the past four decades.

“My parents, son, daughter and sister have all helped me,” Muncey said. “My parents have always helped set up my classroom. My sister has helped me pack up, cut up things, label things. My kids grew up here. They’d ride their tricycles — Sarah rollerbladed — up and down the hallway when I worked on Sundays.”

John LaVassar also worked beside Muncey, teaching fifth and sixth grade for more than a decade.

“I have always looked up to her as my mentor and as a resource to help me be a better teacher,” LaVassar wrote in a text message. “I will miss working with Pam, but I will still interact with her as a friend and neighbor.”

Photo by David Welton
Mrs. Muncey plays a whistle to end recess.

Photo by David Welton Mrs. Muncey plays a whistle to end recess.

Photo by David Welton
Muncey stands with her classroom of students.

Photo by David Welton Muncey stands with her classroom of students.

Photo provided

Photo by David Welton Muncey stands with her classroom of students.