Teacher Fred Mitchell’s upcoming Community Presentation, “Journey To Antarctica” will be a lot of things.
One thing it won’t be is just photos. The Presentation is scheduled for March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Carroll County High Auditorium. The McGlothlin Award winner plans to have Antarctica trip photos support the talk, leaving time for questions afterwards. Mostly, Mitchell plans on talking about how he wound up in Antarctica and what he thinks makes for good teaching.
“I’m going to encourage folks when they go home to think about their best teachers. We’ll see if those best teachers, even though they will be different, do they share similar characteristics? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to identify what best teachers are. The McGlothlin Award does that. It helps indicate who the best teachers are but there are a lot of best teachers that don’t win the award,” said Mitchell. “I think we all esentially have the same traits. I’m going to talk about that some. That’s how I really wound up in Antartica. Being an educator is more than just teaching. We’re going to talk about students a little bit. From the student perspective what they think good teaching is. The overall theme is making connections. Meaningful connections with students. That’s how you get to be an effective educator. That’s how you make a difference in somebody’s life. That’s how you get to be a good teacher in my opinion, by making good connections with students.”
Mitchell he said he can teach everybody chemistry but without a connection they will not learn and teaching is different than helping somebody learn something. He stressed it is important to encourage people to get out of their comfort zone – a ‘don’t be afraid to take chances’ element more than about traveling in the strictest sense. He’s set to give the same Presentation later this month at Emory & Henry College’s 30th B.G. Raines Educational Forum at McGlothlin Hall.
“I’m to the point now I’m practicing the speech in my sleep. It’s bothering me that much. It’s outside of my comfort zone. I talk to teenagers all day. No problem. First graders and grownups (though), that’s two different things,” said Mitchell. “It was a good trip. The best way to describe the trip to Antartica was you go essentially as a tourist and you come back as an ambassador for the continent, the ecosystem. I guess I was a tourist. An active tourist but nothing I did left an impact on Antarctica to speak of but coming back here has made an impact.”
He says the presentation will also include a little bit of talk on the science of Antarctica but the talk at its core remains a story.
“I do not want it to be, in this picture we did this….and in this picture. Nobody wants to sit through somebody else’s vacation photos. I have a story crafted. I gave it to the Rotary a couple of weeks ago and it was well received. I think I’m on to it and will have it right by the 26th. I hope I have it right by the time I get to Emory & Henry,” said Mitchell, who has recently returned from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “All the folks I met last week at NASA, they were all excited about what they do. A lot of folks go through life and never get excited about what they do. There were 14 scientists on board the ship in Antartica. They were excited about what they do. Those are the kind of folks I like to hang around. They are inspiring. They are from totally different backgrounds. The commonality was they were all excited. I feel that way about my job. I like to be here. This is a good place to work and a good job. I’ve been teaching 21 years and it seems like two. Some days by themselves seem like 12. Isn’t that the case though? Days take forever but yesterday was last week and last month was last year. I think that’s a life thing, not just a teaching thing.”
Mitchell said while Antartica’s glaciers are a mile thick it only snows a centimeter a year there. He said he realized he was looking at history and it looked the same it always looked. He thought about how no one had stood on the distant mountains there.
“These penquins do what they do whether we are here or not. It’s a glimpse into the way the Earth has always been, relatively speaking. That’s kind of unprecedented anywhere else in the world. That’s why it is such a special place. You leave with a feeling of ‘you have to protect it’ because it is kind of the last untouched spot. It’s not totally untouched but essentially untouched,” Mitchell said. “When we left life was not different than when we got there. We didn’t harm anything but we got a glimpse into what it used to be because it still is and that is just really interesting. The animals aren’t afraid of us because they don’t know to be afraid of us. They’ve never had negative interactions.”
He noted that just getting to Antarctica is an adventure, understandable considering it is the “end of the world.” This observation was reinforced by two airplane flights to get to a ship to take him there.
”When you look at it on Google Maps, it doesn’t look that far away. Then you fly to the southernmost airport in the southernmost city in the world and you get on a ship and you go three days further south before you get there,” Mitchell said. “Well, Antarctica is that. Part of this is to honor the award. Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the edges of places. Antarctica is the edge. The ultimate edge of places left in the world. It was fabulous just to be there. So to pay that back I talk to folks like you. I talked with Channel 7 News. That was terrifying. You give speeches and presentations because that’s how you pay back the award. Even though it comes tough for me I do it and I do it happily because it is part of it. “
Mitchell said the meaning of the McGlothlin Award is to travel, to go someplace your community can’t go or is less likely to go and bring the experience back. He said he is honored to be able to do that for Carroll County.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.