OHS’ Kurt Russell Receives 2022 National Teacher of the Year Award


Khadijah Halliday

Oberlin community members celebrated Kurt Russell’s appointment as National Teacher of the Year 2022 at an event held at Oberlin High School.

This week, the Council of Chief State School Officers named Oberlin High School history teacher Kurt Russell as the National Teacher of the Year 2022. To celebrate his accomplishment,  teachers, students, and state and local officials gathered at Oberlin High School yesterday for a series of speeches from students and officials.

This announcement came after CCSSO named Russell the Ohio Teacher of the Year last October. When asked about his experience winning these two titles, Russell remembered feeling disbelief at first.

“When I was first nominated as Ohio Teacher of the Year, I really thought it was a spam email,” he said.

According to Russell, in order to be considered for Ohio Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year, he had to give a keynote address, participate in a panel, and complete an interview. Russell is also a boys’ basketball coach at OHS, and he said he received the call that he was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year while at a basketball game.

Russell said he felt humbled, excited, and nervous when he first learned he was named National Teacher of the Year. After overcoming this initial wave of emotions, he began to focus on what message he wanted to communicate with his new title. Over the next year, Russell will have the opportunity to travel around the nation to share his wisdom and advocate for teachers and students. Often the National Teacher of Year will travel to over 150 places around the nation and even the world. 

“I really want to bring attention to diversity in schools and make sure that students receive the most equitable, diverse education possible,” he said. “That means having a diverse faculty and staff along with a diverse curriculum.”

Russell views teaching history as telling stories, and he wants students to see themselves represented in those stories.

“If I’m teaching about the Revolutionary War, I need to make sure that young women see themselves in the curriculum, that students of color see themselves in the curriculum, and that I engage those students as well,” he said. “That’s always been my philosophy: to make sure that every voice is heard and that the narrative encompasses all students.”

At the Thursday event, speakers included Ohio State Representative Joe Miller, Oberlin City Schools Superintendent Dr. David Hall, Interim Superintendent of Public Instruction Stephanie K. Siddens, and Oberlin Board of Education President Anne Schaum. Several special guests, including Russell’s family and public officials at both the local and state levels, were also in attendance.

“His teaching style is one that we can all learn from,” Miller said in his speech. “He connects the curriculum to the students’ own experiences and provides them with authentic learning outcomes. Mr. Russell gives a voice to the students and allows them to actively work through difficult topics while motivating them to question the past and have those tough conversations, which many today choose to ignore.”

Kurt Russell sits with his wife Donna Russell and sons at the celebration ceremony (Khadijah Halliday)

Russell stands out as a respected teacher, not just to students, but to Oberlin community members as well. We Are Oberlin mural organizer Tanya Rosen-Jones OC ’97 recalled that when brainstorming mural ideas with Oberlin High School students, they wanted Russell included in the mural. 

“We were asking [OHS students] for submissions about what makes Oberlin special,” Rosen-Jones said. “They started shouting things out, and somebody shouted out ‘Mr. Russell.’ He’s just the epitome of somebody that they’re proud of. Everyone respects him.” 

Rosen-Jones and others involved in the mural planning process turned this idea into reality and commemorated Russell’s service to the Oberlin community by featuring him in the mural.

When asked about his favorite part about teaching Oberlin High School students, Russell expressed his appreciation for their willingness to learn and said he enjoyed seeing their personal growth.

“Having conversations with students, seeing students grow, seeing students being responsible: that is the joy I have for teaching,” he said.

With the exception of the year 2020, the White House has recognized the CCSSO National Teacher of the Year annually since 1952. Russell said he looks forward to visiting the White House and speaking with other media outlets and school districts and sharing his message of the importance of diversity in teaching.