CARROLL COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ7) - If you sit in on Mr. Mitchell's chemistry class at Carroll County High School, it feels nothing like a lecture but more like a conversation.
"Mr. Mitchell has an enthusiasm for teaching that's contagious," said junior Haley Hurst, who said chemistry is her favorite class.
Mitchell said he tries to relate to his students and meet them where they are.
"I don't tell them I'm here to teach them chemistry," he said. "I say I'm here to help you learn chemistry."
And after 21 years of giving every day his best, the work and attention to his students has paid off.
"I never really gave myself a chance and then when they read my name," he said, "it became real."
Earlier this year, Mithcell won the secondary McGlothlin Award for Teaching Excellence and its $25,000 prize. He said he was shocked and humbled by the award, which stipulated he would the prize toward an international trip of his choice.
Mitchell knew exactly where he wanted to go.
"I've kinda always been drawn to the edge of places," he said. "And Antarctica is kinda the ultimate edge."
"Hello from Antarctica!" Mitchell said, greeting his students via his newly created Instagram, a giant ship and sheet of white in the background.
Mitchell spent two weeks with National Geographic, going on excursions, learning and meeting travelers from around the world.
Originally, he didn't think he'd be able to go, as the trip with National Geographic was almost twice the cost of his prize. But he said National Geographic called him back and told him they'd reduce his ticket to enable him to go.
He spent the says gazing at the ice desert from the ship, excursions on land, presentations with renowned scientists and making friends with people from around the world. It was his first time abroad.
It was a trip he'd only dreamed of.
"Just to be there and just to see you know Antarctica doing it's thing," he said, thinking of his favorite moments. "It was spectacular."
Hurst said the students were ecstatic for him.
"You best bet I check his twitter every day to see if he had any updates on the wildlife he was getting to see or any of the observations he was getting to make," she said. "And it sounds like the trip of a lifetime."
Hurst, who aspires to study chemistry in college, said Mitchell was deserving of the award.
"It also attests to the power of being helpful because that is entirely what this award that he got," she said. "You can base it all on his attitude in the classroom which is to be helpful and kind to all the students."
Mitchell shared pictures and videos of his travels so his students could follow along.
"It's bigger than you think, it's more remote than you can explain, there's more variety there than people think there are," he said. "I struggle with the words of how to describe what it's really like."
The award requires Mitchell to share his travels with his school and community. His first day back to school he spent his classes showing students pictures, sharing stories and answering their questions. Soon he'll be working with local third graders who are studying continents. He plans on allowing them to ask him many questions.
"Do I wish I could have brought everyone with me? Of course," he said. "But the next best thing is to bring the trip back home and you know the McGlothlin award let's me do that."
But Mitchell's overall message for his students is devoid of science.
"Just to inspire them to move around and explore and see new things and meet new people," Mitchell said. "And just because things are different doesn't mean that they're bad. Don't be afraid. Go out and experience the world."
His students are taking notice. Hurst said his accomplishment is a big deal for their small town.
"If you keep working for a goal, you can always attain it. No matter how seemingly far fetched, you can always put in the extra effort and go the extra mile," she said. "And you'll be able to get anything that you've ever dreamed of."