MANCHESTER, NH — Manchester Central High School English teacher Sean Russell has been named a Claes Nobel Educator of the Year by the National Society of High School Scholars. Russell became eligible for the award several years ago when a student member of the organization nominated him as an Educator of Distinction.
The award is named for Claes Nobel, a grand-nephew of Alfred Nobel who founded NSHSS in 2002. The Educator of the Year Award recognizes educators for their outstanding efforts in supporting and growing both the academic and personal successes of their students to make a positive impact in the global community and it comes with a $1,000 grant.
Russell came to Central High School as a student teacher from Rivier University in Nashua. He had graduated with a degree in philosophy and was considering law school. Instead, he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in teaching. He has been at Central since 2004. This year he is teaching sophomore honors American literature, college composition, and American literature.
While there is a lot of emphasis on STEM education, Russell believes that the Humanities still play an important role in educating young people.
“I don’t see STEM and Humanities as opposed to one another,” he said
In his role as an English teacher, he instructs students in the reading comprehension and writing skills they need to prepare for careers in STEM jobs, but he also believes in using fiction and non-fiction to explore various themes, morals, and ethics in literature.
He says, “It is an opportunity to build on whatever they are coming in with as their moral foundation.”
He also draws on his background in philosophy to guide students in learning how to think and be open to other ideas. He points to a handwritten poster hanging in the front of the room with a quote from the poet Robert Frost.
“Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.”
Russell says, “Teenagers have a lot of energy and it is important to help them learn to express their opinions in a setting where they feel comfortable and can hash it out”
His philosophy background also came up in a conversation with students one day in class. The students were interested in exploring some of the topics more deeply, but Central High School does not offer classes in philosophy. Russell suggested that they start a Philosophy Club and five years ago he and physics teacher Michael Patten formed the Central High School Philosophy Society.
Students would receive a reading on Tuesday or Wednesday and meet after school in Classical Hall for a circle discussion on the subject. Russell says students really embraced it. “There were times when we had upwards of 15 kids show up after school on a Friday afternoon just to discuss philosophical issues.”
Members have also participated in the annual HYPE (Hosting Young Philosophy Enthusiasts) gathering where high school students from around the state lead Socratic discussions on various topics.
In recent years Russell has taken on more responsibilities at school, serving on instructional committees and coaching the boys’ cross-country team. He also has gotten busier with activities his two daughters are involved in, so he has taken a step back from the Philosophy Society.
When asked what his classroom would look like in five years he responded, “I can’t imagine walking into my classroom and teaching the Scarlet Letter the way I teach it today.”
He is excited to see what Manchester Proud is going to have to offer. He believes it is time for change. In his own classroom, he’d like to find ways to use technology beyond just typing and research. Currently, he uses the English Department’s shared Chromebooks to offer real-time feedback on writing projects and have students edit each other’s work.
He’s also looking for ways to have students lead in the classroom. He calls them an untapped resource and believes that if they are able to contribute to the lessons in meaningful ways, they will be more invested.
Russell would like to see students publish their work and share it with their peers and the broader community. His most ambitious idea for using the grant money is to establish either a Central High School radio station or podcast center. This would give students the opportunity to build skills beyond public speaking. “They could learn to collaborate with each other, and develop programming and technology knowledge.” He acknowledges that $1,000 won’t cover the cost.
He is also considering using the funds to buy a set of new books. He teaches the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Ethan Fromme. He says it would be nice to add something from this century. Another idea that has been discussed in the English Department is to set up a writing center where students could meet with someone and talk about their writing, similar to the centers that are on college campuses.
About the award, Russell says that he works with some amazing people. He just got lucky with this opportunity. All the teachers he works with will go the extra mile for their students. It just happened that one student he reached out to nominated him for the award. “I just hope that I’ll be able to make the most of it.”
Editor’s Note: Due to human error the headline has been changed to reflect that Sean Russell was named Educator of the Year. We strive for accuracy and do our best to fix errors quickly.