She teaches students to trust themselves

February 05, 2001

She teaches students to trust themselves

By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer
photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Sherrey MitchellEditor's Note: The Herald-Mail is featuring one middle-school teacher a month through May. The eight-part series highlights excellent educators on the first Monday of each month. Coming in March: Smithsburg Middle School.

Students in a sixth-grade language arts class at Northern Middle School sit quietly on a Thursday morning designing a book cover. It might appear like a basic task to those not in the class, but for the sixth-graders, the assignment is challenging.

The students must use a culmination of skills they've been learning since the start of the school year, including how to describe what they've read by using specific details. The lesson is part of a system-wide goal called "Reading to Perform a Task."

Sharrey L. Mitchell, the teacher, stresses for her class to focus, brainstorm and explain. Mitchell, a teacher since 1973, was chosen by her peers as the Middle School Teacher of the Month.


"This group is doing a beautiful job. You're very, very focused," she told a group of students who were intently working on their assignment.

Mitchell also said the assignment allows the students to delve into the meaning of books and take each other to task on differing interpretations or ideas.

"I've heard kids say, 'Prove it. I don't understand what you're saying,'" she said. "You just need to keep them moving, keep them involved. It's kind of like a workplace atmosphere. It's a great atmosphere for sixth-graders."

Mitchell said sometimes it can be difficult for a student to go into detail on a particular topic, but with both affirmation and constructive criticism, the students usually catch on and understand that it's OK to ask questions.

"Nine out of 10 times it's a matter of getting them to trust themselves," Mitchell said. "I tell them it's alright to be wrong. I tell them you have to risk being wrong to help yourselves. They know if they mess up, you're going to let them know it. But then they also know when they need help, you'll be the first one to help them."

Her methods appear to be working. Several students raised their hands to ask questions, while others chose to discuss their newly designed book covers.

"This sixth grade is totally amazing this year," Mitchell said. "They're totally willing to help each other. They're very quick to come up and say, 'Mrs. Mitchell, I don't understand.'"

Mitchell has taught at Northern Middle since 1989. She began her career in 1973 at West Washington Street school. She was raised in Williamsport and graduated from Williamsport High School.

She was inspired to become a teacher by one of her former educators. "I thought she was one of the most demanding teachers that I've ever had," Mitchell said. "Then I took her class again by choice as a senior and I thought she was the most amazing teacher I ever had. She didn't take mediocrity."

Mitchell then went on to Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., to become a teacher.

She's married to William, whom she met in high school, and has a 15-year-old son, Joshua. Outside of the classroom, Mitchell said she loves to play golf as often as possible.

For now, Mitchell isn't sure when she'll retire. She said it's hard to imagine herself not teaching.

"Teaching does not provide instant feedback," she said. "But the rewards are long-term. It's like the stock market. You better be in it for the long run. I can't imagine myself not doing it. When I'm in this classroom, I never even think about it. As my son would say, 'Mom, I can't imagine you not teaching. You're a teacher.' I really love it."

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