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Oberlin High School's Kurt Russell honored as National Teacher of the Year during White House ceremony

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden described Russell as "someone who has answered their call with passion, persistence, and pride."
Credit: AP
President Joe Biden shakes hands with 2022 National Teacher of the Year Kurt Russell during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden honored 2022 National Teacher of the Year, Kurt Russell of Oberlin High School, during a ceremony at the White House on Wednesday. 

Russell, who serves as a history teacher and head boys basketball coach at Oberlin, was described by the First Lady as "someone who has answered their call with passion, persistence, and pride." 

During his speech, Russell paid tribute to the teachers who inspired him to take up the profession. One example was his 8th grade math teacher, Larry Thomas, who Russell noted was his first Black male teacher and always wore a shirt and tie to class. "When I looked at him, I saw a professional," Russell told the White House gathering. "In him, I could see myself."

Russell is the first Black male to be named Ohio Teacher of the Year in the nearly 60-year history of the program, according to the Ohio Education Association. He will take a sabbatical from Oberlin for the next year to speak at hundreds of events across the nation.

"As your 2022 National Teacher of the Year, I am committed to uplifting the wonderful work of educators," Russell added. "I am truly blessed to be a part of a profession that tranforms and legitimizes student voices."

You can watch Wednesday's event from the White House in the player below:

The National Teacher of the Year program is operated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is aimed at recognizing and honoring exceptional educators across the country.

Here is how CCSSO describes Russell’s achievement as national teacher of the year:

A 25-year veteran of the classroom, Kurt Russell was first inspired to become a teacher in middle school, when he encountered his first Black male teacher. Now as 2022 National Teacher of the Year, he plans to advocate for classrooms to better reflect the students within them — from a curriculum that reflects their backgrounds and identities to a more diverse teaching profession. 

Kurt teaches history at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Ohio, where he was born and raised; his classes include African American history, which he has taught since the late 1990s, and Race, Gender and Oppression, a class he developed. He also serves as faculty advisor for the student-led Black Student Union, whose work has led to positive impacts for students across racial groups.

In addition to his classroom and extracurricular duties, Kurt is the head coach for the school’s varsity basketball team. He sees basketball as an extension of the classroom, and a place where young people can learn about working together and how to handle both adversity and success.  

Kurt holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in history and a minor in Black studies from the College of Wooster and a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from Ashland University. He continues to take courses in child development at Oakland City University. 

He was previously recognized as teacher of the year by the Oberlin Heritage Center and the Oberlin chapter of the NAACP, and as Lorain County Basketball Association Coach of the Year and the Northeast Ohio Coach of the Year.  

Kurt lives with his wife, Donna, in Oberlin. They are the parents of two adult sons, Kurt Junior (KJ) and Korey. Kurt enjoys reading non-fiction and traveling.

Last week, a special celebration was held in Russell's honor inside Oberlin High School’s auditorium. You can watch the video below:

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