by Reggie Goudeau
2022 National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell with First Lady Jill Biden and President Biden
[originally published May 9, 2022]
On April 19th, longtime Oberlin High School history teacher and basketball coach Kurt Russell was named the 2022 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. On Wednesday, April 27th, Russell traveled to Washington D.C. to be honored in a ceremony hosted by President Biden and the First Lady. While I may not have gotten to speak to him personally, I’m still very confident in Kurt Russell’s character and devotion to quality education. Two of my Rhetoric and Composition classes have shown videos of Mr. Russell speaking to media outlets about his methods and goals. In these clips he easily articulated himself, dodged press questions about controversial topics like Critical Race Theory, and generally came across as a good dude. You can see that he is passionate, dedicated to his students before anything else, and committed to giving them an accurate depiction of history. While this sounds like the bare minimum for any teacher, it clearly is a rare quality, as Mr. Russell was honored as the 2022 National Teacher of the Year. To get further insight into his teaching philosophy, I spoke to one of his former students: my partner Makayla Riggins.
I asked Makayla if Mr. Russell was always respected and loved at Oberlin High School, or if he had to work for the reputation he has garnered these past few months. They said that “from the entire time I was there, and when I knew people from the high school he’s always been like that. I’m not sure when he started at the school, but everyone who talked to me about him said something good. Even the 5th graders. I’m sure he had to work up to it at some point, but he already had it when I was there.” I found this very impressive since it even took me a few months of working with my former students at Langston Middle School to reach that level of popularity. He clearly must’ve done something right from the beginning of his time there to accomplish this feat.
Makayla’s only class with him was African American history. They maintained that “he seemed really passionate about the topic, especially because no one else was teaching anything like this in the district.” With the recent bills introduced across the country that aim to limit what parts of history are allowed in the curriculum, I’m thankful that teachers like Mr. Russell exist. I then asked Makayla what Mr. Russell’s class was like, and what made him so engaging as an educator. They claimed, “The information seemed like he did actual research on it because I’ve been in classes where they just Googled something beforehand and called it research. He just made it a fun class to be in.” I didn’t do much work with lesson planning during my time as a tutor, but I agree that my favorite classes are ones with informed and engaged educators. Finally, I asked what Mr. Russell did that other high school teachers or Oberlin professors should model. They said, “He inspired the students to put their own twist on things and think about what they were saying critically. Because in most other history classes they just tell you what happened and call it a day.”
I may not personally be an educator, but as a tutor who’s worked a lot with fellow college students and even some younger students, I feel that I understand the value of teaching. Almost no other feeling can replace that of getting someone to understand a concept that previously had them unsure. I’m glad that Mr. Russell still seems to recognize the value in that feeling and in teaching with integrity. Bills across the country are being passed attempting to rewrite history to maintain the status quo, and I support and commend Mr. Russell’s pushback against these issues. Children are the future, and they can’t mold that future without an accurate understanding of the past.