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Press Release

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Kurt Russell, National Teacher of the Year, to the 101th NEA Representative Assembly

Russell: Because of NEA I understand the importance of dignity and respect within this profession. And I believe that the foundation of this country; the greatness of this country, begins with a teacher
Published: July 5, 2022

Good afternoon

Thank you to NEA for inviting me to speak this afternoon. Thank-you to the leadership team and the thousands of hardworking members who strive to provide a holistic education for children throughout this country. The effort, planning and thoughtfulness that educators put into their classrooms does not go unnoticed. I am honored to be a proud member of NEA. Because of NEA I understand the importance of dignity and respect within this profession. And I believe that the foundation of this country; the greatness of this country, begins with a teacher. It’s teachers who model empathy during difficult times. It's the teachers, who place smiles on children’s faces. It’s the teachers who provide inspiration. And it's the teachers who give hope. 

Teachers are hope personified. Last week, a high school friend gifted my wife and I a t-shirt that read “I still have hope.” After the senseless, horrific murder of 19 innocent children and 2 amazing educators in Uvalde, Texas I felt, like so many others, a sense of sadness and depression. I was left wondering, how can we not protect our most precious gifts, our children and teachers? Yet, not wanting to stay in a space of despair, I wrote these words in a social media post: “I still have hope.” I have hope in the millions of students that are courageous and bright that will create a better world. I have hope in the millions of educators who provide love and normalcy to an unkind world. I have hope in the transformative power of education that can move the needle towards equity and justice. This isn’t just my message of healing and prosperity; it is our work together. We are a profession that understands potential. Potential in our students, schools, and community. 

For 25 years, like so many educators, I have invested time and energy into creating a conducive learning environment for students. I am that teacher who comes in early to prepare, attends sporting events for my students, and advises clubs and activities to ensure students have a worthwhile school experience. This is not done because someone asked me or because I would like to receive acknowledgement. It is done because this is what I believe good teaching represents. It requires teachers making sure students feel a sense of belonging, that they are invested in their schools and learning, and that they are socially and emotionally well. As teachers, it is important that we feel supported and protected. For over 150 years NEA has been persistent in making sure teachers are supported. With an increase of rhetoric such as CRT and book bannings, it has been NEA who fervently stood up against these attacks. I am able to soar because of the confidence I have in NEA. NEA assures and treats me like the professional that I am, allowing me to be the expert in the classroom. 

As a history teacher, I try to lay the groundwork for my students to become diverse learners. Telling stories of marginalized groups, for some adults, is uneasy, unnerving. Through my experience, students are craving these stories. Stories that resemble them, stories that resonate with their live experience. Stories such as Alice Paul, a suffragist in the early 20th century who demanded women receive the right to vote. This inspired Rylee, a senior, to pursue a career in advocating for equal rights for all. Stories such as Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American agricultural worker who organized a farmer’s union. This inspired Ella, first-generation American, to pursue a career in bilingual studies. Stories such as redlining, which segregated communities. This caused Caleb to pursue a career in urban studies. These examples validate the importance of a diverse curriculum. A curriculum that NEA publicly acknowledges as being vital and impactful to the 21st-century learner. 

Some believe advocating for teachers’ rights means going against students' needs. It’s the mindset that if educators bargain for more pay or better healthcare that’s selfish, and is contrary to the basic principles of education, which is to provide for children. I think otherwise. The foundation of our education system is predicated on the well-being of teachers. If teachers are fully supported and treated as experts in the classroom, the reward is astonishing. More young, bright students will gravitate towards the teaching profession, bringing new ideas, excitement, and passion. Sarah is an example. Sarah is a 2017 graduate of Oberlin High School, and a former student. After completing her studies at Kent State, majoring in elementary education, Sarah accepted a 5th-grade teaching position at Oberlin Elementary School. When asked why Oberlin, Sarah stated, “the desire to teach at a place where educators are heard and respected was attractive.” Sarah is an exceptional teacher. This is the strength of NEA. Fighting and pushing for fair contracts and compensation to recruit the best individuals into the profession. 

NEA, thank you for your hard work and diligence in promoting a more diverse teaching force. Your recognition of the benefit of having more women teachers in STEM, more men teachers in the primary years, and more teachers of color will continue to empower our students. Promoting equity has been a long-standing work of NEA. Let all of us improve on this commitment as, together, we can ensure the best opportunities for all. 

Thank you, students, families, ESPs and NEA, for providing hope and inspiration to students and teachers. Because of your commitment in promoting diversity, representation, and providing a safe space for all, brighter days are on the horizon!

Thank you.”

Media Contact

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.