Meet Kimberly Mitchell, winner of ACTE’s Region II Postsecondary Teacher of the Year award. Mitchell’s interview appears as part of a spotlight series on our 2021 national award winners and finalists. This award recognizes career and technical education (CTE) teachers at the postsecondary level who demonstrate innovation in the classroom, commitment to their students and dedication to the improvement of CTE in their institutions and communities.
What is your job title and what do you do?
I am currently the CTE specialist and program chair at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama. I work with all CTE students in family and consumer science (FCS) education and business marketing education (BME). In addition, I serve as the university supervisor for all practicum and internship for CTE students. I am the university liaison for local school systems for CTE.
In my current role I enjoy the best of both worlds. I still get to teach, and I also get to work in the schools completing observations. I mentor teachers and serve on several professional boards, which has allowed me to strengthen my leadership skills.
What was your education experience like in general? What did you study?
I have an undergraduate degree from Jacksonville State University in family and consumer sciences education. I have a master’s degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in human and environmental sciences as well as an administrative certification. Additionally, I am currently a doctoral candidate at the University of West Alabama in Livingston, Alabama, focusing on rural education.
Please discuss the role of teaching in your life. Who or what inspired you to teach CTE?
My mother was and still is my inspiration. She was a stay-at-home mom, but she taught me so much of what I have turned into a teaching career. I did not decide I wanted to be a teacher until I was a senior in high school. I remember talking to my then home economics teacher Mrs. Betty Canada about teaching what now is FCS. She was so supportive and pushed me to consider it as a career path.
I just finished my 24th year as an educator and I could not imagine my life without teaching. It has richly blessed my life and afforded me opportunities that I never imagined possible. I had some wonderful teachers during my educational experience. Mrs. Gloria McKee was my second-grade teacher. She was the type of teacher that really loved and cared for “her kids” and she would go to bat for them. Still, to this day, she calls me her baby. I want my students to remember me like I remember her. A woman of strong character, an amazing teacher, and a person of compassion who loved her students like her own children.
My college adviser was the same type of strong woman like my mom, Mrs. Canada, and Mrs. McKee. Dr. Virginia Yocum was the ultimate professional. She was kind and loving, but she would kick you into gear if she needed to. She and the other FCS faculty, like Dr. Debra Goodwin, inspired me so much. They helped to polish this small-town girl into the person and educator I am today. I have always tried to make these ladies proud of me. I follow the creed that Dr. Yocum gave her students: Always do honor to your profession.
How has COVID-19 affected CTE program activities in your school. How has it affected the wellbeing of your professional learning community at large?
I think COVID-19 affected everyone to varying degrees. Simply put, our normal went away. We had to find new and different ways of doing things. The shift to virtual learning was not as difficult for those of us on the university level as it was in the P–12 setting. Virtual offers less contact with each other but it didn’t hinder our support of each other.
Technology can be great, but the human factor has been greatly missed by those of us in education. We have missed the one-on-one interaction with our students and other faculty members, not to mention the simple comfort of meeting with other CTE professional at conferences throughout the year.
I think that the isolation that we have suffered, and the mental stress, has played a huge role in teachers feeling burned out. Some retired just to get out from under so much stress.
In what innovative ways have you engaged students to remain connected with their communities — and have fun — while social distancing?
I took over sponsorship of the FCS student organization here at Jacksonville State, and I have really enjoyed working with the students on planning community service projects and activities. Unfortunately, we were unable to help with the FCCLA State Leadership conference. The students were so disappointed when the conference had to be held virtually, but they did assist with judging competitive events. From this experience they got a chance to participate in CTSO activities on the state level. Students also volunteered their time to help local CTE programs get ready for their state competitions. They helped conduct mock interviews, assisted local CTE teachers with student projects and judged local competitive events.
The CTE students held viewing parties for the FCCLA and ALFCS state conferences. They look forward to getting more involved with ACTE on the state and national levels. Many of my senior students have already signed up to attend the ALACTE Summer Professional Conference. I am working on getting the students plugged into their professional organizations as quickly as possible. I know the value of what holds for them personally and professionally.
As an ACTE award winner, you are recognized for your efforts to sustain high-quality CTE programs for all students. What advice would you offer a new teacher?
First, take care of your kids and always be professional. Second, build a network of professionals to serve as a support system. As we have seen over the course of the last year, it is hard trying to do things alone. Networking gives you lifelines when you need help. Networking and mentorship have made me into the educator I am today. That is why I have mentored so many teachers over the years. I know how life- and career-changing it can be. If COVID-19 has shown us anything it is that we need others to lean on. And we need to pay it forward when we can as well.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I was raised by two wonderful parents who always demonstrated a very strong work ethic. They passed that along to me. I have always encouraged my students to work hard. I try to give my students as many opportunities as possible because so many have been afforded to me.