How do you celebrate being named the most outstanding teacher in the Blue Ridge region? By going to Antarctica, of course.
Carroll County High School chemistry teacher Fred Mitchell received a major award Thursday night as he was named the winner of the prestigious McGlothlin Award for Teaching Excellence. Mitchell won the 2017 McGlothlin Award for the secondary level, while Glen Chilcote, a K-5 music teacher in Montgomery County, was announced as the primary level winner. By virtue of being named two of the Blue Ridge region’s outstanding teachers, both were presented with checks of $25,000 to take the international trip of their dreams.
Thomas D. McGlothlin, President of the McGlothlin Foundation of Bristol, Va., presented the winners with checks and trophies April 6 in an evening ceremony at Radford University’s Bondurant Auditorium. Four runners-up each received $1,000 and smaller trophies. Judging is done by a volunteer group of veteran educators representing many school districts across the 55-district eligible region.
McGlothlin Award winners have been to six of the world’s seven continents as part of their winnings. Mitchell will be the first to travel to Antarctica, something he says will allow him to fulfill the mission of the Mr. McGlothlin in presenting the awards.
“Why Antarctica? Two reasons. One of them is Mr. McGlothlin says we need to gather experiences our community can’t gather on their own, and the reality is most of the folks in our community won’t be able to make a trip to Antarctica, so I feel like I will be upholding his expectations by going there and bringing it back to the community,” Mitchell said Friday. “But also, I have always been drawn to the edges of places and that is kind of the ultimate edge. When I think about my dream places is it not the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, it is far out places. How many chances do you have to do something like this in your life?”
Shortly after Mitchell was announced as the winner Thursday night, Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Strader Blankenship pronounced Friday, April 7 as Fred Mitchell Day in Carroll County Public Schools.
“Everyone is encouraged to wear khaki pants, white shirt, and tie. If and when you see him, give him a well-deserved pat on the back,” Blankenship wrote in an email to staff Thursday night. “We are very proud of Mr. Mitchell and his accomplishments.”
Blankenship said Mitchell had to take part in a rigorous, eight-month process to be chosen for the McGlothlin Award. Hopefuls are asked to fill out an application, put together a video, and do interviews with the McGlothlin Award staff.
“He has a great video. They did the interviews in his class and they did observation interviews with the principal and interviews with the students. It’s quite a lengthy process,” Blankenship said. “He was chosen in the top three about two months ago and we didn’t know for sure until Thursday night that he had won. We are extremely proud of him. We’ve always known he was a great teacher, but this proves that.”
Mitchell has taught chemistry at Carroll County High School for nearly 20 years. He began at the school in 1997 and also teaches dual credit college chemistry through Wytheville Community College at CCHS. He has twice been named the Carroll County Public School Division’s teacher of the year – in 2007 and again in 2015.
Mitchell said just being a part of the McGlothlin Award process was a huge honor. The fact that many CCHS students and their parents made the trip for the ceremony in Radford made it even more special for the Carroll teacher.
“It was a real special night and it was a real honor just to be there on the stage with those folks. I said in my speech, anybody would be lucky to have any one of those teachers there just once in their life. To be a part of that group is real humbling and real special,” Mitchell said. “We had quite a few parents and students that drove down, and for me that was the most special part. The ceremony was great, but it was special because folks from here drove down to be a part of it.”
As far as his trip to Antarctica, Mitchell said he doesn’t know any of the details yet because he wasn’t expecting to win the award. But he does plan to fly to the southernmost airport in the world in southern Chile. Before departing for the Arctic Circle, Mitchell plans to visit Tierra del Fuego, a volcanic island on the tip of southern Chile, to talk to a volcanologist. He then plans to go around the Cape Horn and on to the southernmost continent of Antarctica.
“I don’t know any of the true details yet, but I know during the day you get to go off and explore and experience Antarctica, and in the evening scientists will talk about what we saw that day,” Mitchell said. “As far as where we are going specifically, I don’t know yet.”
An avid cyclist, Mitchell said the chance to ride a bicycle in Antarctica would probably be a ride he’ll never be able to top. And it’s because of something he says he still just can’t quite grasp – the fact that he was named one of the top educators in the entire Blue Ridge region.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Mitchell said. “It is still hard for me to really get an understanding of that. I just come in and do what I do and it is hard to see that as being exceptional. But this week I have had a realization that at least in some folks’ eyes, my room is a special place. I am glad for that and proud of it, I just don’t quite understand it. I just teach chemistry the way I think it ought to be done.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN