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The pathway to learning: Shearer English teacher strives to build ‘forever readers’

Shawna Mitchell has worked with children her entire career.

While she is teaching fourth grade for her second year at Shearer Elementary and has been a teacher for 18 years, Mitchell got her start working with youth in high school.

“When I was in high school, I loved summer camp,” Mitchell said. “My father noted one day that the kids would follow me around like a momma duck.”

There is a history of teaching in Mitchell’s family as well, with her mother working as a teacher. She cites her mother as one influence on her career choice, but said that she has always been drawn to work with children.

“There was just something that drew me to the kids at church,” Mitchell said. “I always wanted to be in the Sunday School rooms versus the big church. I wanted to help with youth group. I wanted to be the camp leader. I just wanted to have my little group of kiddos.”

Mitchell’s first “real job” was with the YMCA working as a day camp counselor for three summers.

“That’s the job that helped get me through college,” she said. 

She also worked as a nanny and babysitter before becoming a teacher.

After teaching for several years, Mitchell accepted a job in Lexington as an instructional coach who helped other teachers plan their curriculum. However, she soon moved to Clark County where she interacts directly with students again.

“I like working with kids,” she said. “I think their curiosity makes it fun, and you build a bond where they trust you and they believe you. There’s just a mystery to what they want to learn, and you know the pathway to help them get there.”

Mitchell teaches a home room in addition to being the school’s fourth-grade English language arts teacher, meaning she works with every fourth-grade student in the school at some point.

“I kind of see it as though if I knew where the treasure chest was,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell them where the treasure chest was, but I would go along with their journey as they found it.”

She said teaching ELA comes with its own challenges.

“Sometimes students can be amazing speakers, but not know how to read as well,” she said. “They can be fluent in their reading but not understand what they’re seeing, and you have to be a detective and work with them in different facets to make sure that comprehension, fluency and speaking are all growing.”

Mitchell said the process of learning to be a lifelong reader is one she knows well personally, as she did not begin to enjoy reading until adulthood.

“I didn’t become a forever reader until I was 30,” she said. “For so many years through high school and college I did it because I had to, then afterwards I taught reading and was kind of faking it because I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t do it at home, didn’t do it in my spare time.”

That changed on one fateful Thanksgiving Day when Mitchell was home with sick children.

“I was flipping through a magazine and a book looked interesting,” she said. “It was a nonfiction book about a culture or society that I wasn’t familiar with.”

She got the book and read it cover to cover that day. That sparked an interest that had Mitchell reading through entire library shelves absorbing stories about new subjects that interested her.

“You’ve got to find a topic  or genre that hooks you,” she said. “Then you have to find that part of the book store or the library and read through it until you run out and then go to the next topic.”

Mitchell said she has loved working at Shearer because the school has a lot of history within the Winchester community.

“Being a shark is very special,” she said. “You go through town and when people find out you teach at Shearer they want to tell you about when they went to Shearer. It has history where some of the newer schools don’t have that just yet.”

Mitchell and her husband Scott Mitchell have two children ages 13 and 8. She said when she is not teaching she is supporting them in their theatre, music, dance and sports pursuits. 

She also volunteers at First Christian Church, where she is a member, to develop children’s programming. She enjoys reading, exercising and travel.