If you ask 8th-grade social studies teacher Justin Mitchell what lesson defines his teaching, he’ll say Colonial America.
“This is such a crucial and complex period of time, with us going from being well under the rule of Great Britain to being our own country in just 20 years.” said Mitchell. But in order to get his students to fully understand and resonate with the founding of America, he knew he couldn’t just stick to worksheets and note-taking.
“I’ve always thought that history should come to life for students and that it shouldn’t be something that is just boring facts read from a textbook,” Mitchell said.
Since he started teaching in Simpson County at Franklin-Simpson Middle School in 2010, the Bowling Green native has tried to fully immerse his students in American history. He has taken his Advanced Social Studies students on a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and hosted a Colonial Fair. Younger students in the district work hard so they can test into his class for 8th grade.
Mitchell found his passion for being in the classroom by being surrounded by what he calls “phenomenal teachers” and a deep love of history he developed while in high school. He earned a bachelor’s in history and his master’s in education from Western Kentucky University.
“I didn’t really know what you could do with history and social studies at the time, other than maybe working in a museum or teaching it,” Mitchell said, “About probably halfway through high school, I really thought I’m going to go into teaching social studies.”
Mitchell was named a 2023 Valvoline Teacher Achievement Award Winner and also was named the Kentucky Historical Society 2021 Kentucky History Teacher of the Year.
Simpson County has proved to be the perfect place for Mitchell to thrive as an educator, with its “small town feel” and supportive community. It’s hard for him to hide his love of teaching. He says that his favorite holiday is the high school homecoming in the county of just under 20,000.
Though Mitchell acknowledges that sometimes the messaging around education is negative or discouraging to young teachers, he continues to be an unabashed fan of his job and of his students.
“I think it is the greatest profession,” he said. “I absolutely love it.”
Mitchell is committed to giving his students project-based learning that will spark a passion for history. He doesn’t want his love of teaching to be a secret either, reminding people his door is always open.
“Come to room 215 in Franklin-Simpson Middle School,” Mitchell said. “You’ll see the good, the bad, the ugly, but you’re going to see learning happening.”