People in Your Neighborhood: Meet retiring La Jolla High art teacher Carol Shamrock

Editor’s Note: The “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about! La Jolla Light staff is out on the town talking to familiar, friendly faces to bring you their stories. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send the lead by e-mail to or call (858) 875-5950.

After 26 years at her post, La Jolla High School art teacher Carol Shamrock is taking the Golden Handshake and retiring in 2017. With a reputation among some students for being strict, Shamrock is adamant about the importance of the visual arts in education. Alongside local artist Jane Wheeler, she started a program where students painted murals on school walls — even in the bathrooms.

Where are you from?

“I’m originally from Ohio. My parents moved out here in 1952. When we first came, we moved into a trailer park in Leucadia! We lived in Solana Beach and Del Mar for a while. It was really great growing up in a place where there was no freeways. There was no I-805, there was no I-5. There was the US-101, and that’s how you got to San Diego. I went to San Dieguito High School and graduated from there.”

How did you become a teacher?

“I went to Santa Barbara City College first, then to San Diego State. I didn’t really plan the way I should have because I didn’t know what I wanted to do (until) I was a sophomore. When I got out of college, there were no jobs, so I faced the question, ‘What do I do next?’ I had to support myself, so I worked as a waitress. I did a little bit of boat work. A few years later, I was working in business when I thought, ‘This isn’t for me.’ So I went back and tried to get my (teaching) credentials. That was a bit of an effort, and I was like, ‘What am I doing? I’m going into this field late!’ But I thought to keep plugging along, and then I substituted for about a year. And then I got this job!

Jake Tarvin (La Jolla High Principal 1982-1996) was an incredible principal, he chose you; it wasn’t that you just applied for the job, he saw something in the people he hired here back then that he thought would be a good fit. I was always grateful. He passed away a few years ago. (Charles Podhorsky) is the third principal who’s been here since I’ve been here. I think principals could learn something from the teachers, but they don’t usually ask (laughs), they continue with what they think.”

What’s your teaching style?

“A lot of kids say I’m really strict, but the reason I think they say that is because I’m structured. Even though it’s an art class, there is a curriculum to teach with a structure to it. I’m skill-based. I try to make kids understand that I want them to be able to communicate their ideas visually.”

What have you learned from your students?

“That I don’t know everything I think I know. When you have to communicate to them so they understand something, you have to rethink what you think you know.”

Why is it important to teach art?

“It’s a visual skill, and so much of our life is visual. We have computers now, but someone has to create those computer images.”

How have students changed through the years?

“The biggest thing that has changed in my classroom is the interference and disruption that cellphones have brought. The students are so addicted to these phones. There are times I’ve said, ‘we don’t have enough computers, you have your phone, go and use it,’ but it goes way beyond that to where they’re really detached, and they have walls up because they are so focused on these phones. I think cellphones are really detrimental to the advancement of learning ... it’s almost like, kids don’t think they need to learn something because they have it in their little box.”

How has your teaching changed?

“Not a lot. I had to eliminate some of the lessons I’ve had, or in some groups slightly change the expectations, but I find that kids still love art. They’re still kind of infatuated with it. They are engaged. You don’t see students waiting for the teacher to start the class in a lot of other programs.”

What was your biggest challenge?

“I have had to fight for the arts. I’ve had to defend them. I helped write the standards for the district before there were California standards. There were a couple of years when they tried to reduce programs, and then at the State level, they tried to solidify programs by building standards into them. It’s almost like to be respected, art has to look like other curriculums in terms of its standards; it has to be justifiable.”

What is your personal life like?

“I’m not married at this time. I don’t have children of my own. I have some stepchildren from a previous marriage. But basically, I have a Golden Retriever, Murphy, my favorite little buddy. I’ve been able to bring a different perspective (to teaching) because I don’t have children.”

Do you make art?

“I’m also an artist. I’ve always continued with that, and I probably will continue even more once I have the time. I work in oil, watercolor and acrylic. (My style) is all over the board; sometimes I like to paint landscapes, sometimes imagery I’d like to be realistic but isn’t, so it could be that there’s a little surrealism in what I like to paint.”

What are some of your adventures?

“I lived on a boat for eight years and did some traveling. I went to Baja, lived there along the coast for about six months, sailed to San Francisco, lived out there for about five years. I did a lot of adventurous traveling. I always had the bug to do that.”

What’s in your future?

“I’m planning on, at some point in time, moving to Arizona. I have a house in the high desert, it’s beautiful. The two things that stand out with me right now are to work more on my art and get some traveling in.”

What do you look back on and say, ‘I’m really happy I did that’?

“I’m really happy that I took the risks that I did, whatever they were. Whether it was traveling or (going) back to get my teaching credentials. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I have to rely on myself. It was nice that there were people in my life, but I had to look out for myself and plan for myself.”

Discuss the school mural program.

“That’s a program we were doing with the AP (senior) students. The first one we did was in the bathrooms because there was so much graffiti there. And it took a lot of effort — the last principal didn’t want to do anything with the campus, but he finally approved it. So, in the girl’s bathroom, the girls did the wall painting, and the boys did the artwork. The reverse happened in the boys’ bathroom. That was successful.

Some years back, there was a Viking painted, and the class from 2014 did the murals. It can happen again. Right now it’s kind of in the water, but I do hope that the person who replaces me comes in with a little enthusiasm to want to continue that.”

What’s something people don’t know about you?

“I have a good friend who is a Canadian citizen, and she said to me once, ‘Let’s go to Canada!’ So off we went on a trip. As we approached Canada, we needed to cross into Toronto, and as we crossed, we were detained by the Canadian police. They thought that we were Patricia Hearst and (kidnapper) Emily Harris, so we were held. It was, of course, a case of mistaken identity, but it was a really wild ride because they really thought that we weren’t who we said we were!”

What were the challenges of teaching in La Jolla?

“Most people think that the art program is really thriving here because La Jolla is a cultural community. But honestly, all the focus is toward science and math, and perhaps, it has something to do with the interests of the parents and the community. This room is not the greatest art room, and if there was a commitment, certainly money is never the problem, we could have had a fabulous art center with the music and drama departments, and the industrial arts. But that’s been hard. Sometimes you feel invisible here. But you just keep plugging along, doing what you know is right.”