Teacher of the Year 2022 Message to NEA Delegates: Have Hope

After a period of unprecedented stress and confusion for American educators, some are struggling to hold on to hope. But that’s exactly what educators need to do, said 2022 National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell in an inspiring speech to delegates at the NEA Representative Assembly in Chicago.

“The founding of this country and the greatness of this country begins with a teacher,” Russell said. “Teachers are hope personified.”

They bring hope to their students when they model empathy during difficult times; they bring hope when they put smiles on children’s faces.

“It’s the teachers who provide inspiration,” he said. “It is the teachers who give hope.”

After a series of horrific mass shootings, including the tragic loss of young and innocent lives in Uvalde, Texas, Russell said that, like many others, he experienced feelings of sadness and depression. He was left thinking: how can we protect our students and teachers?

teacher of the year 2022 quote graphic Kurt Russell: The foundation of our education system rests on the welfare of teachers.

But he refused to remain in a state of despair. Inspired by the words on a t-shirt a friend gave him, he shared those same words in a social media post: “I still have hope.”

“I have hope in the millions of students who are brave and bright and who will create a better world. I have hope in the millions of educators who bring love and normality to a cruel world. I am hopeful in the transformative power of education that can move the needle towards equity and justice.”

That is the job of an educator, he said, adding that education is a profession that understands the potential of students, schools and entire communities.

See also  Afghan women resist return of Taliban segregation

A popular history teacher who brings cultural relevance to all of his lessons, Kurt Russell is a strong advocate for students as an advisor to the Black Student Union (BSU) and as the head coach of the Oberlin High School varsity basketball team.

“For 25 years, like many educators, I have invested time and energy in creating a conducive learning environment for students,” he said. “I am that teacher who shows up early to prepare, attends sporting events for my students, and mentors clubs and activities to ensure students have a worthwhile school experience.”

A good school experience requires teachers to ensure that students feel a sense of belonging, that they are engaged in their schools and learning, and that they are socially and emotionally well.

It’s just as important, Russell said, that teachers feel supported and protected.

“For more than 150 years, NEA has been persistent in making sure teachers are supported,” he said. “With a rise in rhetoric, such as critical race theory and book bans, it has been the NEA that has fervently opposed these attacks. I can fly because of the trust I have in NEA. NEA reassures me and treats me like the professional I am, allowing me to be the expert in the classroom.”

In the classroom as a history teacher, Russell lays the groundwork for diverse learning. He tells stories of marginalized groups and leaders that students can relate to and be inspired by.

Stories like that of Alice Paul, an early 20th-century suffragette who demanded that women be given the right to vote. This inspired senior Ella Rylee to pursue a career advocating for equal rights for all.

See also  HSHS Illinois offers nursing scholarships up to $20,000 | Education

Or the story of Cesar Chavez, a Filipino farm worker who organized a farmers’ union. This inspired her student Ella, a first-generation American, to pursue a career in bilingual studies.

Stories about red lines, which segregated communities, prompted Caleb to pursue a career in urban studies.

“These examples validate the importance of a diverse curriculum, a curriculum that NEA publicly recognizes as vital and impactful for the 21st century learner,” said Russell.

Russell acknowledged that some believe that advocating for teachers’ rights means going against the needs of students. He knows there is a persistent mindset that when educators negotiate for higher wages or better health care they are being selfish, a mindset that is contrary to the basic principles of education, which is to provide for children.

“I think the opposite,” he said. “The foundation of our education system is based on the welfare of teachers. If teachers are fully supported and treated as experts in the classroom, the payoff is staggering. More bright young students will gravitate towards the teaching profession, bringing new ideas, enthusiasm and passion.”

Russell shared the example of another of his students, Sarah, who is a 2017 graduate of Oberlin High School. After completing her studies at Kent State and majoring in elementary education, Sarah accepted a position teaching fifth grade at Oberlin Elementary School.

When asked why Oberlin, Sarah said she was drawn to a school where educators were listened to and respected.

“This is the strength of NEA: to fight and push for fair contracts and compensation to recruit the best people in the profession,” said Russell.

See also  Chic E-Bikes and a guide to riding a bike in style - World Water Day

She thanked NEA for their hard work and diligence in promoting a more diverse teaching force, for recognizing the benefit of having more female STEM teachers, more teachers in the primary years, and more teachers of color who will continue to empower our students.

“Thank you, students, families, educational support professionals, and NEAs for providing hope and inspiration,” he said. “Thanks to your commitment, there are brighter days on the horizon. There is greatness in all of us.”

Read the full statements here