While Tammy Mitchell acknowledges that being an educator isn’t always easy, it’s something she wouldn’t trade for the world. Especially since she gets to work at Iola Roberts Elementary School in Pell City, where she once attended classes as a student.
“When I went to school here, Mr. Mann was the principal, and Mrs. Mann, his wife, was the librarian,” she said. “I was a student library helper.”
Since Mitchell is now the school’s librarian, it was a portent of things to come.
“I started at Iola as a kindergarten teacher in 1990, and some of my teachers were still working here then,” she said. “It’s fun teaching at the school I went to school at, and I’m seeing kids now whose parents I taught.”
In between helping students locate books and check them out, she identified what she enjoys about working in education, offered tributes to her favorite teachers, and explained why she once lived in a barn.
Did she ever consider another career? “I thought about being an airplane pilot or a pharmacist, but I knew how much fun and how rewarding teaching could be. That’s why I pursued it. It’s a great job.”
A rewarding aspect of teaching: “Watching high school kids you taught in elementary school perform and be successful. I love getting to know them and watch them grow up to be on the football team or in ROTC and be happy kids and good people. Watching them graduate is a teacher’s dream. You’re so proud of your kids.”
Her favorite student: Her son Jordan, a sophomore at Pell City High School, where he plays football and baseball. “He went to school here at Iola. I learned a lot about teachers by being a parent. I never realized how much of an impact teachers have on students, and not just in elementary school.”
An example: “I think about how hard coaches work and what great role models they become. They sacrifice a lot of time to work with our kids, and it’s more than just being on the football field Friday night. I drop my son off for the team breakfast at 6 a.m., and when he leaves after a ball game, it’s 11 p.m. The coaches are there earlier and later, and the kids love them so much. I’m thankful for the influence they have on the kids they work with.”
How she’s experienced it herself: “When I was still in the classroom, the mother of one of my third grade students sent me an email that said, ‘My child talks about you all the time.’ Parents and kids have been wonderful to me. They’ve made me a part of their families. I want to be a person who influences someone, so that’s really special. There’s nothing like being a teacher.”
The work’s greatest challenge: “The other side of the coin is when something tragic happens, like when someone in a student’s family passes away, their family is having a hard time, or there’s abuse. That can be hard to handle. You want to do something to help, and sometimes you can’t.”
The people she most admires: “Some of my teachers, like the librarian when I was at Duran, Marie Manning. She’s probably the reason I’m a librarian. She was one of the first librarians to put in a computer system. Back in the 80s, she had that going on. I would do anything for her.”
Another favorite teacher: Sara Bain, her high school math teacher. “One day she brought in a painting she did, and instead of calculus, we talked about goals in life and what’s important. She expected excellence and hard work, but it was more than that. She invited me to go to church with her, and that’s when I started going to the church I still go to.”
A benefit of being the school librarian: “I like getting to see all the kids and talking to them about reading. And these kids read. Some will come in here three or four times a day. They just love reading. It makes me proud.”
Is it a library or a media center? “I still call it a library. We just have so much more to offer than bound books now. For example, I have an app on my phone that lets me download ebooks from the Pell City Library. I do that more now than going to the library. It’s marvelous. I go out to my creek and read my ebook. It’s awesome, and that’s what libraries are now.”
One of her favorite books from childhood: “Where the Red Fern Grows. I remember reading that and crying my eyes out.”
The one item she’s never without: “My phone, especially since my 16-year-old son started driving.”
If she could have lived at any time in the past: “I’m good with where I am. I like dishwashers, washing machines, and telephones, but I bet covered wagons were fun.”
Something an acquaintance might be surprised to know about her: “I lived in a barn for four years while we were building our cabin. We had already sold our house, so we moved in with our Holstein cow, a donkey named Balaam, and a horse named Apple.”
The rustic life: “We have 40 acres along Cane Creek. We see deer, wild ducks, owls, and snakes. We set up a wildlife camera, and I was surprised how many animals we see: possums, raccoons, even coyotes. I love to go out in the woods and walk on trails and canoe.”
If she could change one thing about the world: “I wish we would learn to appreciate each day we have with our loved ones and treat it like it might be our last so we would have no regrets -- live like you were dying. I still need to go bull riding and sky diving.”
Her favorite guilty pleasure: “Vanilla ice cream with fudge topping.”
The food she could eat every day: “I love salsa. I could drink it with a straw.”