Black History Month: Male educators teach leadership, edify youth
By Blenda Copeland
Nehemiah Mitchell has been the automotive technology teacher the past eight years at Russell County High School.
A RCHS graduate, he joined the Navy and later ended up in Virginia working at a used car dealership. Years later, he returned to Russell County and began working at a local dealership, Carl Gregory Dodge. When he heard the automotive technology program at RCHS was close to ceasing, he applied for the teaching job.
“I wanted to figure out a way to help others,” he said. Almost 10 years later, he’s still at the high school, helping students realize what “the real world” is like and helping them to prepare for it.
“Kids today don’t really know about work ethic: time cards, and other life skills,” Mitchell said. Part of Mitchell’s job is to teach students the basics of how a vehicle operates. When they leave his classroom, they can secure a job at a dealership or an after-market shop (repair facility).
“I try to find out what the students’ interests are, and I try to build on that,” Mitchell said of how he reaches his pupils.
Some students have plans to attend college. Others may have no plans. In a case like that, Mitchell encourages the student to take the ASVAB (a military aptitude test). In other situations, if Mitchell knows of auto shops in town that are hiring, he lets certain students know about those opportunities if he thinks they are qualified to do the job.
“I feel like, at the end of the day, my job is to get a student employed,” Mitchell said. He works hard to help his students stay motivated, get a job, or a scholarship, and to encourage them to stay enrolled in school. Sometimes, they stop by and tell him how they’re doing now – like former student Connethia Miles, who happened to stop by the high school to see Mitchell minutes after the interview for this article.
“(Mr. Mitchell) gave me direction when I got out of school,” Miles said. “I got in his class and I was a car freak and we went to Skills USA. We won 1st in the district and then I got a scholarship and now I’m a senior master Ford technician.”
Miles is just one of the many lives Mitchell has impacted. One of the comments Mitchell said he often hears from students is that they’re grateful for the job interview training he provided in his classroom – a skill that students see they need when they leave.
“My class helps with math and English class,” Mitchell continued. “They need those things. Because a student will need to be able to write, figure interest rates, etc., across the board.”
He talked about fractions and how algebra even matters in his field. It’s more than learning how to change tires and brakes and check fuses, he said. Students learn a concept and sometimes they forget it. His class builds on what students need to know: learn to take a tire off, and now learn other skills that build on that foundation.
As Mitchell inventories his life, he said he see his current job as “more of a God-sent thing than a ‘me’ thing. I can see how God has moved some things around in my life to the point that I’m here now. I’ll stay here until He’s ready to make the next move.”
Dr. Eddie Obleton
Dr. Eddie Obleton is the assistant principal at Russell County High School. As one who’s worked in the field of education for more than three decades, he’s seen his work come full circle.
During his undergraduate years, he was a business major when he transferred to finish his collegiate education closer to home. He completed the teaching program at University of Georgia. He graduated, and began teaching co-op students in the marketing field.
A global thinker, his aspirations were to become an assistant principal. He served as principal at Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga., and also worked as the Director of Secondary Education in Muscogee County. He retired from that school district as the Superintendent of Student Services. He also taught online for six years for Columbus State University as a professor.
He found his calling back in the grade school setting.
“I’m back with students and teachers,” he said. “I know what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Obleton said he loves the interaction with others and feels his mission in life is to help others become better. He has a desire to help aspiring administrators to become better administrators. He enjoys helping his principal navigate situations that may lie ahead.
When it comes to his job, he said sometimes he may be perceived as “the bad guy,” because sometimes punishment must be administered. However, when it comes to students, “I’m still teaching (and) trying to help people see a different way,” he said.
That statement came a day after a tragic mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Obleton said for him, a “good day” is, “When I see behaviors changed and kids that we’ve dealt with even help others to see the light.”
He said it was thrilling as a first-year assistant principal when one day, he noticed a teacher teaching and students who were attentive and engaged. “I said, ‘Wow. That’s cool. That’s what we’re all about,’” Obleton recalled as he smiled.
Continuing, Obleton said student involvement is important to him. When he looks back on his career one day, something he’d love to hear from former students is: “He helped me,” and that he made an impact. Already Obleton has been blessed to hear a good report from the past. Former students have come back to visit him and said, “You saved my life.”
“Really?” he has asked in response, stunned.
Former students also have said to him, “You inspired me.”
The commendations mean much.
Obleton is in his second year serving at RCHS. He has more than 30 years of experience in education.
Command Sgt. Major Jones
Command Sgt. Maj. (CSM) Darrin Jones leads the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program at Russell County High School.
Originally from Phenix City, as a high schooler, Jones himself went through the JROTC program. He entered the military and retired Oct. 1 as a CSM after 32 years of service.
“I know what JROTC did for me,” Jones said.
It taught him to “be all you can be,” a motto that has morphed into “be the best you can be.” The program lifted his self-esteem.
“I thank God for the two instructors I had,” he said. “ROTC gave me that pathway as an option.”
Now that he has served the country, he continues to serve – by inspiring America’s youth.
“We have to start with our youth,” he said. “They’re our foundation. They’re our future. That’s our strength in our communities.”
Jones spoke with conviction as he said that part of a teacher’s job is to show today’s kids that there are other options than, for instance, violence, using the previous day’s Parkland, Fla., mass school shooting as a reference point.
He said it’s a teacher’s job to show students that it isn’t a negative quality to have a different opinion than someone else. What is important is to ask questions like, “Why are you doing this? (And to show that) there are choices other than that (violence).”
One way to model constructive action is to teach students effective communication skills, Jones said.
As Jones goes throughout the school year, he said it makes him proud “When I see these kids turn around, and grow.”
He likened it to his days in the military: seeing new cadets first “crawl, then walk, then run” – to put it into another analogy.
The CSM is also proud when he sees his students incorporating what they’ve been taught into their lives: that they continue to persevere.
“You turn it into ‘I can’ do,” he said of life’s hurdles.
He strives to help students identify weaknesses as just that – weaknesses – but not crippling circumstances.
He teaches his students to finish the race.
“You’ve still got to keep going,” he said. “Just fix the problem – and keep on going.”
As Jones reflects about the end of his time as an instructor, he said he hopes to hear others say that he led by example.
He credits the positive role models and leaders he’s had in his life who showed him how to lead others.
“That’s what I did with my soldiers,” Jones said, referring to his former military career. He encouraged them.
“Everybody wants to be a part of something great,” he said. “You didn’t come here to fail. You came here to do better.”
In the end, Jones believes that’s the key: teachers must continue encouraging their pupils toward their goals.
“Get them to identify their own weaknesses,” Jones said. “Don’t just give them an answer. Keep them motivated and keep them on track.”
Jones knows the system works.
“I’m coming from the same environment,” he said in reference to his students’ backgrounds. “It’s on you to get to where you want to be in life. You control the environment. The environment doesn’t control you.”
Jones began his employment as a JROTC instructor at RCHS Feb. 1.