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Kurt Russell speaks to BGSU education students during an address on Thursday, Feb. 29.

Empowering educators to empower students: Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell brings classroom insights to future teachers at BGSU

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Students hear from the best in their field during an inspirational appearance by the nationally recognized educator, sponsored by Project EDUCATE and NWO at the College of Education and Human Development

By Victoria Dugger

As one of Ohio’s largest producers of teacher education graduates, BGSU has long been regarded for the caliber of its education graduates, and on Thursday, future educators heard from one of the best in their field – 2022 National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell.

Russell, a high school history teacher in Oberlin, Ohio, was honored as the 2022 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). His commitment to creating an inclusive environment where every student feels welcome, regardless of their race, background, or ability, has earned him recognition as a passionate advocate for education and more importantly, earned him the devotion of hundreds of students he has taught.

Russell shared his experiences with BGSU students, celebrating the teaching profession and the power of public education as well as encouraging them to keep a student-centered focus as their North Star.

“There is unlimited potential in public education because there's unlimited potential in you,” Russell told students. “You all have made a choice to shape and to develop your mind. There is nothing like being an educator because it's the only profession that could change the trajectory of someone's life.”

Like many who choose to become educators, Russell was influenced by impactful teachers he encountered during his own education. He reflected on two teachers who shaped both his education and his outlook on teaching. He recalled the impression his kindergarten teacher, Miss Francine Toss, had on him in 1978, as she read a book to the class about a young Martin Luther King Jr., during which Russell saw someone who looked like him with every turn of the page.

“Remind yourself – Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, so it's only been 10 years after his assassination. He was not this iconic figure. We did not have a holiday named after Martin Luther King Jr.,” Russell said. “But this middle-aged white woman was intentional about the work. She said, ‘I have students of color in my classroom, and I need to be intentional to include them in the curriculum.’”

The first teacher from a minoritized group Russell encountered when he was a student was his eighth-grade math teacher, Larry Thomas, at Oberlin Middle School. It was the first time he had seen someone who looked like him in front of the classroom. Russell said he took cues from Thomas, who conducted his classroom with common kindness, connecting with and showing interest in each of his students.

“That's our job, everyone. That's our responsibility. Every single student that walks into your classroom needs to see an image of themselves. Every lesson that we teach must be inclusive,” Russell said to BGSU education students. “Miss Toss was working before the word ‘inclusivity’ became this buzzword, and before it became this educational pedagogy. Miss Toss was intentional about the work, and Miss Toss did not have to do it. In 1978 kindergarten, you didn't have to do that.

“With Mr. Thomas, what I took with me was how this gentleman treated me and how he treated every single student who walked through his door each and every day. Mr. Thomas looked like me and gave me the image of the possibility that I could become a teacher. That is possibility through representation.”

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Kurt Russell urged BGSU students to remember the passion that fueled them to be educators and revisit that throughout their careers.

Russell’s visit was sponsored by Project EDUCATE (Educators of Diversity; a Unified Collaborative to Aspire Teacher Education) and the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education at the BGSU College of Education and Human Development. The NWO also co-sponsors the Educators of Color Panel, which is held on the BGSU campus and invites local teachers to share their teaching experiences, addresses issues and challenges teachers of color face, and addresses how to support students and colleagues of color in classrooms, among other topics.

NWO partners with the Washington Local School District on the grant-funded Project EDUCATE, an educational model developed to increase and diversify the educator workforce. Russell also spoke during an assembly with Washington Local Schools students, educators and staff on Wednesday afternoon.

“It is vital to bring an inspiring teacher such as Mr. Russell to our campus as well as our partner school district, as he exemplifies passion for his profession, which we are hopeful will encourage more students to enter the education field, as there is a critical shortage of teachers, and especially teachers of color, in Ohio,” said Dr. Emilio Duran, the director of NWO and professor in the School of Inclusive Teacher Education. “The core of Project EDUCATE is guiding students as young as seventh and eighth grade to pathways to careers in education through, among other activities, exposure to the University’s unique attributes, which include Life Design, the Virtual Simulation laboratory, our excellent education faculty, and more importantly, our students.”

Beyond the classroom, Russell serves as head coach of the Oberlin High School varsity basketball team, giving him another avenue in which to interact with and positively influence students. One of his former students and basketball players, Trajen Chambers, is a BGSU student majoring in fashion and he said he couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear Russell speak on campus.

“I just knew that I had to come and support him at BGSU. And you know, I just stand for everything that he teaches and represents. He was my teacher and my coach,” Chambers said. 

Russell’s dedication to empowering students, promoting diversity, and fostering critical thinking exemplifies the qualities of an outstanding educator and he urged BGSU students to be resilient and remember their passion.

“You are taking courses here at Bowling Green University to better yourself as an educator. The passion you have - take that with you. The one thing that you cannot neglect in regard to your craft is the passion and the energy that you bring each and every day,” he said. “You always have to reflect upon your why. Your why has to be your North Star. Your why has to be your foundation. Your why is personal. It's your purpose. It's your guiding light and we are a guiding light as educators.”

About the College of Education and Human Development

Exterior of the BGSU Education Building

As one of the largest producers of teacher education graduates in Ohio, BGSU has been preparing impactful educators since its founding as a teaching college in 1910. Bowling Green State University ensures its pre-service teachers are prepared to provide the best education possible through formative and comprehensive experiences in K-12 classrooms.

The School of Inclusive Teacher Education in the BGSU College of Education and Human Development uses cutting-edge technology and research-based practices to prepare students to meet the needs of all learners.

The University’s teacher candidates log more than 500 hours of field classroom experience before student teaching, far exceeding the state's minimum requirement of 100 hours.

BGSU is also the only university in Ohio using a mixed reality platform called Mursion blending AI and human interaction that lets students practice their teaching skills in a simulated classroom environment, providing yet another level of preparation before entering a real classroom.

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349

Updated: 03/01/2024 01:42PM