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‘A Small Part of a Larger Change’: He Was Inspired to Become an Educator After Meeting His First Black Male Teacher In Middle School, Now This Ohio Man Has Been Named 2022 National Teacher of The Year

An Ohio high school educator who teaches at the same school in Oberlin he attended when he was a teen, has been named the 2022 Teacher of the Year. He has dedicated his life to service, spending the past quarter century in the classroom.

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) bestowed on Kurt Russell, a high school history teacher at Oberlin High, the highest national honor a teacher can receive, Teacher of the Year.

Kurt Russell headshot (Credit: Council of Chief State School Officers headshot)

Russell, who teaches electives like African-American history and other courses around race, gender, and oppression, has served for 25 years at the Oberlin High School in Lorain County.

Each year since 1952, the organization has worked with state’s K-12 education leaders, state education agencies, and educators to identify exceptional educators across the country. Russell makes the 70th teacher hold this esteemed title.

After meeting his first Black male teacher, Larry Thomas, in middle school, Russell determined he wanted to become a teacher.

In an interview with Education Week, he believes that having Black male teachers, particularly in primary years, is important in developing well-rounded students. He also said other members of protected classes are important for youth to see while they are matriculating.

Russell said, “students deserve a diverse faculty and staff and a diverse curriculum within schools,” adding, “If I could be just a small part of a larger change it’ll mean so much to me.”

In unpacking diversity, he said it must go across the board including “making sure that we have women in STEM; making sure that we have men into the primary years; and of course, more teachers of color.”

He said, “Through my own experience, I have seen students grow tremendously because of having a more cultural relevant curriculum. Students have been able to handle discourse a little bit better tough conversations with respect and at the same time, I believe that students are able to really maneuver through our society” when they are exposed to different types of teachers.

On Thursday, April 21, Russell credited his hometown as being instrumental in his development as a teacher at a ceremony to celebrate the honor.

He said, “Oberlin provided that ethic of hard work, being nice to people, being considerate, listening, having an open ear. That’s who Oberlin is; that’s in our DNA.”

The Oberlin School Superintendent, David Hall saluted Russell for his ability to connect with students and how he encourages them to have “difficult conversations.” Even finding time to coach the boys’ basketball team at the school, helping the team finish the season with a 16-6 record and a Lorain County championship.

The greatest indicator of his teaching comes from those in the classroom. One of his students, Ryley Steggall, a graduating senior, said the way Russell teaches keeps students engaged.

“I walk into class and know I’m going to be taught a lesson that is full of passion and full of learning,” she said. 

“And it’s such an incredible environment to learn, and it’s really unlike anything I’ve experienced.”

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