Randy Mitchell is the oldest of four children, so he's always felt the responsibility of helping others, and showing people how to do things they haven't attempted before.
"I have been a teacher forever," he said. "That's really all I've ever known. Whether it's a student, a parent or another staff member, it's just part of what I feel comfortable doing and what I feel called to do."
But what first set Mitchell, who is currently working as the ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) Facilitator at Piner Middle School in Sherman, Texas, down the path to get his Master of Education in Special Education – Administration online at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU) was a desire to help and a passion for music.
"When I was in high school, I volunteered as a Special Olympics coach in the big town of Plainview, Texas, my senior year," he remembered. "When it came time to make a choice and to finally get serious about what I was going to do for a career, being able to spot the people who needed a little more help perhaps than other people was key one for me."
Mitchell, who sponsored the Guitar Club of Piner and is a member of the Praise Team for the Mosaic Service at First United Methodist Church, said, "I also love music and there's very few special education students you can get around who don't love music too. We click!"
With over 15 years of experience working in special education, Mitchell is ready to soar to new heights and lead more people to help others.
Not Just a Number
As a husband, father, Praise Team member, club sponsor and ARD Facilitator, Mitchell knew that the flexibility of an online learning environment was paramount to his continued education, but what drew him to SOSU — beyond the specific program — was the sense that he would not be lost in a digital sea of students.
"I had looked at other universities that were much larger and it was very clear that I was just going to be another number, and I didn't want that," Mitchell said. "So I found out that Southeastern had this particular degree [online] that no one else had yet. The Special Education Administration [specialization] opens me up to different avenues."
Mitchell felt the personal touch as an online student when tragedy hit his family in the fall of 2018.
"I unfortunately lost my father due to health conditions last September," Mitchell shared. "I immediately contacted Dr. Kathy Boothe as soon as I knew what was going on. Not only did she work with me, there was never even a question. She just said, 'Okay, whatever you need. Let me know how I can help.'
"I was able to work through that tough time, still stay in classes, get everything done and meet the requirements. I know, if I was just a number at a larger school, I would not have been able to accomplish all of that. It was very encouraging and very personal, the support from all of my professors during that time. It was the way that it was supposed to work out. I couldn't have made it without them."
The human touch resurfaced when Mitchell walked the stage in May of 2019 and had the opportunity to meet the students and faculty who had helped see him through the program.
"I was able to shake hands with these people I had only met online," he said. "These professors and students who were in the class — these were real people! They were the same in person as they were in my online classes. The program is very honest and very real."
It wasn't just the people who were real for Mitchell, though. The curriculum he encountered in the program became immediately real as he integrated his coursework into his career.
With the loving support of his wife Annette and 6-year-old son Caleb Alexander, Mitchell looks forward to one day becoming a director of special education or perhaps even an assistant superintendent — both positions he feels better qualified for thanks to the education he received from SOSU.
"Each class that I had, I would find things I could implement immediately," he said. "That was the most fun of everything throughout the entire program — being able to take what I was learning in a very practical, logical way and implement it the same week that I was learning it. That was amazing to me."
The classes Mitchell took with Dr. Boothe enabled him to make a difference in the lives of his students.
"The RTI [Response to Intervention] methods, calculations and the tracking of data that we talked about in Dr. Boothe's class showed me that we were already using RTI [in my school], but we just had not put it together in a way that was as useful as it could be," he said. "We had not mapped it out in the way that Dr. Boothe had recommended, but when we did, we could make better-informed decisions for our students."
These insights help students and their families beyond the classroom, beyond the schoolhouse and into the world we share with one another.
"I worked with what's called the 'Life Skills Classroom,' on communication, understanding social cues and knowing how to express your emotions in school," he said. "So instead of hitting, screaming, yelling or biting, my students have to learn how to communicate.
"Helping the student communicate meant the family could go to dinner, go shopping, or go to a movie without the fear of having a behavior episode or without the fear of people chastising or looking at the student in a demeaning way."
Mitchell looks forward to making an impact in the lives of more students and their families by serving a higher position in education.
"I want to work in the administration side of things, because I can help staff members and henceforth a lot more students by being in those higher roles and ensure a quality education for all of our students," he said.
Learn more about SOSU's Master of Education in Special Education – Administration online program.
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