Octogenarian Tutor Brings Warm Encouragement And Grammar Basics To English Lab

Photo of Jerry Mitchell
Tutor Time: Jerry Mitchell, 86, tutors students struggling to learn English at the Kendall Campus. He has served as a tutor at the campus for seven years.

At a time when most people his age are retired, Jerry Mitchell, an 86-year-old English for Academic Purposes Laboratory (EAP) tutor at Kendall Campus, chooses to help students who are struggling to learn English.

“I love tutoring because I get to meet students from all over the world,” Mitchell said. “They keep me thinking young.”

The lab provides English as a Second Language (ESL) students with computers and printers to assist with what they are learning in class. Students may also ask for tutors to assist them with ESL related work and to practice English.  Students come from around the globe including Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Besides covering the foundations of grammar and vocabulary, Mitchell uses the song Cold Water by Burl Ives to teach his ESL students pronunciation and life philosophy. The song is about a cowboy in the desert with his horse. He sees all kinds of mirages created by the devil. But the horse encourages the cowboy to keep moving.

“The biggest thing that I try to do is encourage them,” Mitchell said. “Many are a little downhearted because they can’t learn English, whereas they are actually better than they think they are. Just a little encouragement, they go a long way.”

Standing at 6 feet, 2 inches tall with well-deep, kyanite blue eyes and grey hair, Mitchell has worked in his position for seven years. He tutors every Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. at the EAP LAB Room  6351. Mitchell substitutes in ESL classes teaching writing, grammar and spelling.

He was born in 1929 in Long Beach, California. In 1948, he joined the Air Force when the Korean War was just starting. Mitchell served for four years and afterwards started studying  in the private Roman Catholic University of Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington in 1952. He attended the university with a scholarship in basketball and funding from the Government Issue Bill (G.I Bill). He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Later, he earned a master’s degree in linguistics and a doctorate in higher education.

Around 1990, Mitchell decided to retire from his position as counselor at Long Beach Public School and as a history and English teacher.

He moved to Miami, where he spent his time teaching windsurfing at Key Biscayne for Sailboards Miami. Mitchell learned how to windsurf at 50 and continues to this day.

When he came to Miami, Mitchell’s daughter, Cristi, a professor in the Kendall  Department of World Languages, needed a substitute teacher for her ESL classes and thought no one better for the position than her father.

“He’s perfect, because my students always have a great time with him,” said Cristi Mitchell. “He follows my plans, but also does his own thing, which the students love. When I come back from being absent, my students always have big smiles on their faces, and they tell me how much they love him—probably more than they love me!”

Mitchell likes being an ESL tutor more than a professor because he can work closer to his students without worrying about the grades.

Cuba-born student Claudia Lopez is a regular in the EAP Lab.

“He is a very, very, very good professor,” said Lopez, who aspires to work as a pharmacist. “He’s very good in grammar, reading and pronouncing and well, everything in English.”

Photographer Eli Abasi contributed to this article.

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Lorena Umaña

Lorena Umaña ,19, is a mass mass communications/journalism major at Kendall Campus. Umaña, a 2014 graduate of Felix Varela Senior High School, will serve as a staff writer for The Reporter during the 2015-2016 school year. She aspires to work for National Geographic or become a book editor.