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Education Station: Oberlin teacher chosen as finalist for National Teacher of the Year

Kurt Russell won 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year. The history teacher is now one of four finalists competing to win one of the nation's top teaching honors.

OBERLIN, Ohio — He was named Ohio's Teacher of the Year, now an Oberlin High School history teacher - with an oddly famous name - is one of only 4 educators in the entire country chosen to compete for National Teacher of the Year. 

To hear “Kurt Russell” is in the running for the honor might give you pause. 

"I get teased about my name all the time. 'Where's Goldie Hawn?' 'Oh, you finally escaped from New York, eh?' I have a good time with it though," says Russell.

But “Russ," as his students affectionately call him, certainly isn’t teased about his passion for teaching.

"If you’ve had him or you haven’t had him, everybody knows how great Russ is," says Caleb Peterson, a senior at Oberlin High School.

After winning 2022 Ohio Teacher of the Year, Russell is now one of 4 finalists chosen for one of the highest honors an educator can receive – National Teacher of the Year. He found out while doing something else he’s passionate about – coaching.

"I’m a varsity basketball coach as well, and we [were] playing on a Friday. I’m sitting on the bench, and my phone rang. I never pick up my phone during the game. I check my message. My heart stopped," said Russell.

Despite winning Teacher of the Year awards from the Oberlin Heritage Center in 2009 and the Oberlin Chapter of the NAACP in 2019, and winning Lorain County Basketball Association’s and Northeast Ohio’s Coach of the Year, "Russ" didn’t expect to be chosen for this newest honor.

"I was just thinking about 'Why me?' All these great teachers out there; why me?" said Russell.

National Association of State Boards of Education President Paolo DeMaria says Russell was the obvious choice.

"He was really influenced by one of his own teachers, a math teacher who was African-American, who really inspired him. You can tell, talking with his students, how much they respect him, value him, love him," said DeMaria.

Russell has taught various subjects, including African American History, U.S. History, History of the Americas, and a course on race, gender and oppression.

"He has this ability to just say something and it just sticks with you. I’m just so happy for him that he’s finally getting the recognition that he truly deserves," said Peterson.

But Russell remains humble through it all.

"It’s been so enjoyable. Like I said, I’m just getting to meet so many great people out there. The experience alone is winning to me," said Russell.

The four National Teacher of the Year finalists have a series of interviews to complete before the winner is chosen at the end of April. If Russell were to win, he would spend a year away from teaching and serve as a spokesman and advocate for educators. The state and district would continue to pay his teaching salary. 

Good luck, Russ!

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