Sarasota Military Academy English teacher Sharon Mitchell goes beyond the basic requirements of teaching her 75 students grammar and reading comprehension — she teaches them to think differently, especially when it comes to poetry. Mitchell learned the importance of being open to new ideas when her literature professor at New College of Florida encouraged her to take a creative writing course, which she had never considered studying.
“When you are first teaching (poetry), you have to trick them into thinking differently,” Mitchell says. “I teach them that it’s their ego standing at the door when they say, ‘This is stupid.’”
Mitchell was a legal secretary in her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, before she moved in 1984 to Sarasota. After working as a legal secretary in Sarasota, she attended State College of Florida and New College of Florida to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.
“I don’t think I can ever go back to an office,” Mitchell says. “I like to work with the kids; they are fun to hang out with, and they always make me laugh.”
The summer before she started teaching at SMA in 2006, Mitchell was diagnosed with cancer and had a tough first year, but is now cancer-free and says she had a lot of support during the illness.
Mitchell has brought actors from the Asolo Repertory Theatre to perform Shakespearean works for the students; taken students to Sarasota Ballet performances; started the Beatnik Poetry Café, a school poetry competition; and teamed up with the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to bring visiting artists to SMA through the Kennedy Foundation.
“I always tell the kids, ‘We have grunt work, but learning should be fun,’” Mitchell says.