Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

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Connecting with Students Brings Joy to Brett Mitchell

Even though Brett Mitchell struggled in school, he knew he had to “learn to teach.”

Brett Mitchell is a very open and talkative guy who likes to go on tangents. He has a lot of energy with many stories to match. With all that energy he can’t sit still. He is a tall, lanky, and has a funny sense of humor. He likes to wear red shirts or plaid button-ups, black sweatpants.

James Robison, a senior peer tutor, says, “Mitchell is a very welcoming person. He is always talking, giving off a good vibe and you want to be around him.”

Whenever I see Mitchell around, he always has a smile on his face and a joke to say. I have known Brett Mitchell for years through my father. But I never knew how much he does for the San Rafael community and the students that he teaches. He is well known, but the role he plays in the Special Education program at SRHS is something people may not notice. He teaches Special Day class for SRHS.

Mitchell has been working at San Rafael High for 10 years, but he has been part of the community here for 15 years as a basketball coach. One of Mitchell’s professional adult teaching assistants, Elisha Shrestha, says, “He can make a student laugh in order to make them feel comfortable in the classroom. I would describe him as caring, enthusiastic and accessible to not only students but to everyone in the school.”

Mitchell is not only teaching the students in his class, but also the student and professional assistants who help support him. James Robison says, “Being in Mitchell’s class as a TA, he has taught me many things about disabilities and made me more aware.”

“Working with Brett helps me to improve my own teaching method and be a better person,” says Elisha Shrestha.

Mitchell remembers how, when he was in high school, he did a buddy project. “For me, I had a friend whose brother had Down Syndrome and his mom used to have us do buddy challenge relief. You’re out there hanging out and helping.” He has a story about a kid who was galloping around the field and just not caring what anyone thought. “I quickly connected to the strangeness to it and that it’s not your typical reaction,” Mitchell says. “Many people would have not done that for the fear of being judged and being made fun of. That is one of the things that I find fascinating about kids and people with disabilities.” He also talks about how there are many beautiful things about students with disabilities. “They are not judging you and they are just happy that you are interacting with them.”

In college, Mitchell also helped kids. He answered an ad for helping a boy with autism. He didn’t know anything about autism before. “It was interesting to learn and create a bond with him,” says Mitchell.

At first Mitchell went to school to get his credential in physical education (PE), but it was a time where people didn’t know if PE would still be a class. His professor asked him if he had any other interests; he said that he was interested in teaching Special ED. His professor at the time told him that being a male, he could get a Special ED teaching job anywhere. “It was a really easy switch for me,” Mitchell says.

As I ask him questions about what he had to do to get a Special ED teaching credential he tells me that he didn’t like school and that it took him a long time to finish, “I was a very bad student and I did not like school because I couldn’t sit at a desks in rows and to ask students to sit in a class for 90 minutes I just don’t learn that way and I don’t think that a lot of kids learn that way, but some do. It’s just not the way that I learn.” He shows that he did struggle but his desire to be able to help other students encouraged him to continue his goal to “learn to teach.”

As we talk, he tells me that there were a lot of interesting classes that he took at Eastern Washington University. He moved to Spokane Washington after he and his wife got married. While he was taking classes at the university, he started to enjoy school. He says it was the firs time he had ever done well in school. Some of the classes that Mitchell took taught about different disabilities, behaviors, behavior modification, and classroom management. Mitchell says, “I really love behaviors and how you can change behavior. It does take a lot of time and consistency but seeing what progress you have made is a great reward.”

Sometimes teaching Special ED class allows going outside and even out into the community where there is a lot more to learn. For him, not having to teach in an indoor area is a great benefit, because he has a hard time sitting still. This need to move was explained when Mitchell was diagnosed with ADHD at age 22. With all the moving around, he thinks that his students are learning a lot more skills being out in the community. They can then use those skills in everyday life. This works for both Mitchell and his students.

Mitchell, being the students’ teacher, gets to help his students grow as people. Mitchell says, “What brings me joy is connecting with special needs students. It’s always different connecting with some through facial cues and words and sometimes I love seeing the smiles and connecting with the students.” Students that have been peer tutors in Mitchell’s class have said that he is very patient and really knows what he is doing.

James Robison says, “Mitchell is an extremely patient guy; he knows how to help out the students when they might be having a bad day.”

Elisha Shrestha, a teacher’s assistant, says, “This is the teacher to whom students can go to with any problems or concerns as well as funny stories. He would most often tell you the truth and help you with your problem, however, make it light and funny.”

Mitchell talks about how he always wanted to adopt, when he met his wife, she wanted to adopt too. They adopted two boys from Ethiopia.

“Adopting was such a joy and an amazing feeling,” Mitchell says. One of his sons is in his class, and Mitchell says, “I’m there teaching his education. It is nice for my wife to know that her son is okay.”


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