Although he retired this spring, the reality of his retirement won’t hit until late August when the teachers head back to school. Marion “Mitch” Mitchell has been a high school teacher for 39 years, all in Hamilton. But this August, instead of setting up his classroom and preparing to teach another senior class about government, he will be wading in some blue ribbon fishing stream, casting away.
Mitchell grew up in Hamilton, the son of Albert and Lolamaud Mitchell. He began school in 1956 and now, as he said, “I am finally graduating in 2015.”
While in school, Mitchell did all of the usual activities of a student in a small school. After graduation, he went into the Coast Guard for four years. “I saw a lot in the military, and decided the Bitterroot was a pretty doggone good place to be. I’ve never had any regrets.”
When Mitchell finished his tour with the Coast Guard, he then went on to college at what was then Western Montana College, now University of Montana Western. He graduated in 1976 and began his tenure at Hamilton. He later completed his masters in education at the University of Montana.
Science is where he began his teaching career. Biology, chemistry and physics were his first subjects. But his heart was more in the social studies curriculum and Montana history and world history. He transferred over to those subjects and found his niche.
For the past 20 years, he has concentrated on teaching government and civics. He said that through the years there have been very many students who were, and are, very knowledgeable. And then there were those who weren’t. In both cases, Mitchell’s goal has been to show the students ‘real time government,’ government in action. One way he has done this is to bring in guest speakers from local government. He has the sheriff and Hamilton city police come in and speak about the 4th Amendment. They have gone to Missoula District Court to see that aspect of government.
He said that he understands that the youth of today, and throughout his teaching career, are self involved and they don’t really think it pertains to them. “So I plant the seeds (of understanding government), and when the light comes on, they know where to go to learn more about it.”
Seniors are the students taking government and that is an advantage for Mitchell. Unlike so many teachers these days, he doesn’t have to ‘teach to the test’ as the seniors do not take the state standards tests. With that in mind, some topics receive more attention if the students are engaged and interested in the topic. Throughout the years and especially in this day and age, there are many ‘push button’ topics. Mitchell said he has always taken the basic approach and had the class look at both sides of the topic and then let his students make up their own minds.
He sets the tone for a well-run classroom at the beginning of the school year. He said that although technology has changed over the years, the students themselves really haven’t changed. They are still just young adults trying to find their way. He said there isn’t as much time spent in the library researching topics, but he feels that research is still being done, on the computer and on smart phones, and he thinks that it’s probably easier to do research now. Mitchell strives to make the classroom fun and says there is a lot of laughter in there.
“I give them clear expectations of what I want,” he said. “I give them the structure.” After those first few days, the students know what to expect and then, said Mitchell, it’s nothing but fun.
“We the people” is written in large letters above the whiteboard. These words are used not only with the Constitution but Mitchell incorporates those words into all aspects of the government curriculum. And, with the words displayed so prominently, you have to believe there is a bit of subliminal teaching going on as well.
Through the years, Mitchell has worn other hats at Hamilton High School. He was an assistant football coach for years. He began coaching under Arlen Seamens, his own high school coach. He also taught driver education for many years. His summers have been spent working for the Forest Service.
Some highlights of his career include attending workshops on the Constitution and the new high school. The workshops gave him a chance to see how his teaching measured up to others teaching the same subject. He says this gave him greater understanding of the Constitution. Mitchell is very appreciative of the Hamilton voters who passed the bond for the new high school in 2000.
Teaching in one school district for so long has given Mitchell the chance to teach multiple generations. He taught the children of his friends. And now he’s teaching their grandchildren. And he’s taught a couple of his own grandkids. Like their grandpa, all four have attended Hamilton schools. One has graduated, one is a junior, one is a sophomore and one a fifth grader. He and his wife Melissa have two daughters, Tamsen and Megan.
One must on his ‘to do’ list is to walk, walk and walk some more. A couple of years ago he had heart problems. This ‘eye opener’ made him take stock of his life. It was then he began walking. Throughout his career, Mitchell said he’s always known when to walk away from something. When he quit coaching, he felt that was the right time. Now, he feels it’s time to move on. He’ll still come back and do some substitute teaching but he’s more likely to be on a river somewhere or working at becoming a ‘gentleman farmer.’
“I don’t remember a day where I didn’t want to come to work. It’s been a fun journey,” he concluded.