CALDWELL — Rebecca Mitchell woke up at 6 a.m. Wednesday and got ready to head to school, thinking about her lessons — like she does everyday. Little did she know she was in for a surprise.
The 41-year-old Vision Charter School teacher arrived at her 9 a.m. class to find State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, who would inform her she was named Idaho’s 2018 Teacher of the Year — an honor that comes with a $1,000 award from the state.
Mitchell, a chemistry and language arts teacher, has been teaching for about two decades and was chosen from a pool of 18,000 Idaho teachers to represent the state.
Accepting the award, Mitchell thanked her colleagues at the school and her students.
“You (students) are the best part of my day,” she said. “You’re certainly the most interesting part of my day.”
Mitchell’s parents were also present at the ceremony.
“We are just so proud of our daughter,” Clarane Sundin, Mitchell’s mother said as she teared up.
Mitchell recalled one past student from years ago who changed her perspective about teaching, for the better.
“He was super smart but kept pushing boundaries and I had to be very consistent with him,” she said.
For her efforts and for helping him find the “right path,” the student gave Mitchell the nickname, “Captain Mitchell,” she recalled.
Today, that same student is a police officer in Seattle, she said.
Mitchell wanted to be a pharmacist, but while tutoring her first year of college, she realized teaching is what she enjoyed the most.
She changed her major sophomore year and hasn’t looked back since.
Originally from Baker City, Oregon, Mitchell first came to the Gem State for her undergrad at Northwest Nazarene University in 1994. She graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry Education.
In 2012 she earned a degree in Language Arts and Professional Development Courses.
She didn’t stop there
She later went on to earn a master’s degree in Science Education from Montana State University and took graduate education courses at Boise State University.
Mitchell, a mother of two sons and a daughter, wears many hats at work.
She teachers English Language Arts classes to high school students, is an adviser for seniors, a tennis coach after school hours and is also the Drama Director.
More recently, she also started a broadcasting class.
Announcing Mitchell’s award at the school assembly, Ybarra said Mitchell exemplifies the state’s commitment to preparing students with the skills they need moving into the real world.
“Educators are in the business of human elevation,” Ybarra said.
As a spokesperson for the state and a representative for educators and students, Mitchell said her big message will be to advocate for students to pursue higher education.
She also would like to begin a conversation about standardized testing. To prepare her students, Mitchell said she arranges from them to take practice tests in timed conditions to familiarize them with the SATs.
Outside of being a teacher, Mitchell described herself as an adventurer.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Idaho’s Teacher of the Year program started in 1959. Each school district nominates one teacher for the award, according to the State Department of Education’s website.
The winner travels across the state talking with other teachers and policymakers about education in the state, and travels to Washington, D.C., in the spring to meet Teachers of the Year from other states and the president.
The teacher also serves as the state’s nominee for National Teacher of the Year.
The winning teachers from all 50 states participate in a year of professional learning through the National Teacher of the Year Program.
Last year’s winner was Mary Spiker, a kindergarten teacher from Pocatello.
For Spiker, passing on the title was a bittersweet feeling.
“It is definitely a life changing opportunity,” Spiker said. “I’m excited for Becca (Mitchell) and for all the things she is going to learn.”
The task of being a representative for the state can be overwhelming at times, Spiker said.
“But it’s all worth it in the end,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with lawmakers about education and the opportunity to travel.”
This isn’t the first time that a Canyon County teacher has won the award. Three Caldwell teachers and five Nampa teachers have won the state award.