Do you ever look back on life and think about people that made a major impact on you at an early age but you haven’t seen them in years? You might reflect on how much a high school football coach influenced your work ethic or how a teacher steered you in a certain career path. For those of you that know me, you may be wondering right now if I’m about to tell a story about how Tracy Harris taught me what cards to “hit” on in blackjack… well, those stories are not quite fit for print so we’ll leave that alone.
I’m referring to a man that dedicated his life to teaching, and he approached it in a way that was truly unique (but parallels our feature story). John Mitchell’s career spanned 46 years and the majority of that was spent at Lufkin High School. The irony of Mr. Mitchell’s significant influence on me is that he taught English Literature, probably my least favorite subject. Candidly, I really couldn’t stand English Literature – it bored me. However, that is what made Mitchell so uniquely great: he focused more on challenging our thoughts and questioning our beliefs than preaching Chaucer. Sure, there was plenty of required reading such as Beowulf, MacBeth and other fiction I’ve since forgotten, but I always found the Cliff Notes versions more efficient in getting to the point. Mitchell’s class was more about debate, critical thinking, challenging people’s minds and preparing his classes for college. No offense to the other teachers at LHS, but I’d say without question that no teacher prepared 27 graduating classes better for college than John Mitchell did. Mitchell crafted his hour as entertaining, clever and thought-provoking as any teacher or professor ever could. Let’s face it; keeping the attention of high school kids was a feat unto itself. Mr. Mitchell’s guiding principle was to enable his students to obtain knowledge and then to apply that knowledge to life’s situations.
Unfortunately, Mr. Mitchell lost his battle with cancer on August 28, 2011, but left behind a legacy of students who are forever grateful for the passion he had in shaping lives. Mitchell traveled with students all over the world where he made each country, each museum, and each church his living curriculum. Mr. Mitchell earned plenty of prestigious awards for his work in the classroom, but was really motivated by making sure his students pushed the limits of their minds.
While Mr. Mitchell will be truly missed, it’s fitting that this issue features Trinity University icon Colleen Grissom who shares Mitchell’s passion for students and literature. Enjoy her story about how her 8th grade teacher instilled a belief in her that ultimately has led her to be one of the most revered and admired faculty at Trinity University, both by her peers and her students.
Thanks Mr. Mitchell.