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In Conversation with Ms. Mitchell: "It’s all just about trying new things"

Sidney Mitchell is currently a teacher at Bella Vista High School, after replacing Mrs. Sohal in October. BV Newsroom was able to sit down with Ms. Mitchell and talk about becoming a teacher, teaching during quarantine, and more.

Tell me a little about yourself! So this is my 1st year at BV, I took over for Ms. Sohal and her honors English classes. I’ve been here for about maybe two months now? Since October. I’m actually in Los Angeles county, that’s where I’m from. So with COVID and everything I haven’t had to go up there just yet, we just kind of have to see how everything goes. But yeah, I am remotely teaching from L.A., I’m from Los Angeles, I got my Bachelor's degree at CalState LA, so I’m a Southern California gal.

That’s really interesting, I did not know that. Were you planning to move up into this area? “Yes. So, if that had happened in January, if we were going to go to a hybrid schedule, I would’ve moved my little self up there for the rest of the year, and we just kind of have to see in the springtime if that happens, I mean who knows with all the cases going on. But yeah I’ve only been up to Sacramento.. Once? And that was in high school. So I don’t remember much. But yeah! I’m very happy, very happy to be here, And everyone has been so welcoming and very supportive. Like even the students at BV have been so so welcoming, and they’ve been great, they’ve been absolutely fantastic.”

Teaching is a very popular career for a lot of high school students. How did you get to becoming a teacher? What does someone need to do in High school, and then look to in college? I find really interesting that a lot of students want to go into the field of education. I did too when I was in high school. My parents are both educators so I knew that was a route I could always go in if I wanted to.

For anyone who wants to be an educator or go into the field of education there’s lots of routes to take. You would either apply to a 4-year college or you can start your classes at a community college, and you would get yourself into a credential program. So you would be doing your undergraduate classes at the same time you’re doing your credential program classes. And so that way, you get your degree in education, or you could get your degree in like, math, if you wanna be a math teacher. Or, you can get a degree in anything you want to and still get a teaching credential. So, the really nice thing about teaching is that if you can get a credential at anytime or any level of experience, all you need is a bachelor’s degree to get a credential, if you don’t do it at the same time as your bachelor’s degree. And you would just kind of take courses and kinda go your own pace. It took me a year and a half to get mine at my university. You would have to take a couple of tests. There’s something called the CSET and the CBEST, and so there are a couple things you have to do in order to get into a credential program. So you go through your program, you get your credential, and then you have to do student teaching at a high school or middle school or elementary school, depending on what kind credential you want to get. You could either get a secondary credential, which I have, meaning I can teach 6th-12th, or a primary meaning K-5th. So there are quite a few hoops that you have to jump through, but it is incredibly rewarding, and you get to a point where all of that kind of is behind you and you get to focus on your students.

So how many years did it take to do this? It took me about a year and a half, I fast tracked it. I actually quit my job, and I moved back home, because I was working in the entertainment industry, I was working in TV production, so that’s actually what I got my bachelor’s degree in was TV, film, and media studies. I loved it, it was great, and I spent about two years doing that. and after a while I was like ‘I hate this’. I cannot see myself spending 12-14 hours on a set jumping from show to show and doing all these different things, or working in an office setting with a bunch of people who are going to yell at you all the time. It is so high stress, and I just wasn’t built for it. At least with teaching, yeah it’s a lot of work and I spend a lot of time outside of the classroom. However, that’s on my time and I get to do it from my bed. I’m not in a very high stress situation. But yeah, I fast tracked it. I was taking like 4-5 classes at the same time. You don’t do that when you’re an undergrad. But if you were to teach and go to a 4 year college it would be a part of your undergrad. And I realized too that I didn’t have a lot of super young classmates either; they were all people who had previous careers and previous lives and they all had different backgrounds, which I thought was really interesting, so there’s never a bad time to go into teaching. UNLESS it’s in a pandemic.

Quarantine has affected everyone in education very harshly, students and teachers alike. How has teaching been during quarantine? Is there anything that you could possibly even like about it? What concerns do you have going into the new year? Teaching over zoom was really scary at first. When I was teaching last year at the high school I was teaching at down in San Diego, it was very scary because for a couple of weeks there it was looming. This virus was just looming over our heads and nothing was official yet. And then they said you’re gonna teach from your homes, and it’s like this utter panic of ‘I have no idea how to do this’. I just spent a year and a half teaching in all these classes and learning how to teach in a classroom. I have no idea how to teach online. Students don’t know how to learn online. It was very scary at first, but honestly, now I’m at the point where I’ve gotten used to it. I think students have gotten used to it and they’re in a rhythm now. And it’s all just about trying new things and seeing what’s working with online learning and learning what’s not working. I think it’s also being very aware of students’ emotional needs. I don’t need to pack on all the assignments and tests because this is a crazy time, so as long as we are learning and taking care of ourselves, it’s been that kind of adjustment. It’s the focus on socio-emotional needs as well as our academic needs.

The one thing that I do like about it is that I don’t have to go anywhere. I love that I don’t have to get in the car, drive 20 something minutes to work, get all settled in the classroom and mentally prepare for students. I love being in a classroom, don’t get me wrong. It’s much easier to get students to engage and participate. But I also love that when I’m done teaching I get to lay down in my bed. I get to take a break. Last year I’d be in the classroom hours after school trying to lesson plan and I’d get home really late, but now I’m already here, so it’s comfortable, so that’s something I really like about it.

My concerns for the future would be that we don’t know. It’s not having an idea of what’s next. We have no idea what could possibly be next and all the issues and problems we’re gonna run into if we do have a hybrid schedule, and that includes next year as well. There’s a lot of concerns with learning gaps. It’s students who aren’t learning skills and are not participating and they’re not actively engaged in learning, and it’s ok, while there’s a lot of learning loss here, and how are we going to prepare them for life after high school. And it seems like a bubble now, but you all are gonna get out there and be like ‘oh, I was not prepared for this at all’ and especially preparing for life during a pandemic and after a pandemic. So it’s definitely that learning loss and concerns about student learning and emotional needs. It’s also concerning that this hasn’t ended yet. We’re eight months into this thing, and it’s getting worse, and everywhere! And I don’t understand how this possibly could get any worse, but it is, so it’s those concerns too. I think it’s not knowing the future at all. At least with seniors and most high school students already have a plan. 'I’m going to a junior college, I’m going to a 4-year college,' at least there’s some semblance of a plan. 'But now it’s like, what is college even going to be like for me? And what is my career gonna look like for me?' There’s lots of people out of a job that have had their jobs for a long time. What is the economy gonna look like, what is school gonna look like, all of those kinds of concerns being a young adult. So yeah, those are my concerns.

On a lighter note, as an English teacher, is English your favorite subject and was it growing up? Yes it was. English was my favorite subject, it still is.

I’ve always taken to understanding, I really like analyzing and I really like getting to the bottom of things; I’m always that person who questions things like ‘why would they do that’ because I also love human nature, and what makes people tick. I think human psychology and English can go pretty hand in hand sometimes. But the really interesting things are when we talk about the world as a whole, and where we wanna go and what we wanna be, and I think English provides an avenue for answering questions. Just the whole ideas of human nature and integrating those questions into our classes.

Ms. Mitchell currently teaches five classes at Bella Vista High School consisting of Sophomores and Juniors. We’re thankful that we were able to talk to Ms. Mitchell, and we hope you all have a great finals week!

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