For Darren Russell, the keys to a teaching career are the connections you make with students that last a lifetime.
“Running into former students and hearing their fond memories of school is personally very rewarding,” said Russell, one of this year’s Great Teachers selections who is in his third year as principal at Dunsmuir middle school. “Knowing you made a difference in someone’s life is why we do this job.”
The opportunity to coach volleyball with elementary students when he was in Grade 11 started Russell on a career that will span 30 years in September.
“I was motivated by my high school volleyball coach,” he explained. “That started my passion for connecting with young people and seeing them develop.”
Russell spent the early years of his career teaching physical education before adding social studies. “Teaching phys ed allowed me to be outdoors and involved in physical activity that’s different from the classroom,” he said. “Teaching social studies let me see both sides. It enabled me to explore ways to foster a lifelong love of learning in my students.”
Russell credits a year in a teachers exchange program in Perth, Australia for broadening his skills.
“It was an amazing experience that gave me insight into another education system,” he explained. “It was interesting to see the differences and similarities.”
Russell has been involved in administration as a vice-principal and principal for the past 10 years.
“Stepping from the classroom to the principal’s office is more about the greater community of the school as a whole,” he noted. “Part of what motivates me is that the biggest part of my job is the opportunity to build relationships with students, parents and the community. That’s first and foremost. It also allows me to visit classrooms and see first-hand the amazing work teachers do every day.”
Time with family is also key for Russell, who looks forward to his daily walks on the beach and in the woods with his wife, Kim, and their dog.
“She takes photos of anything heart-shaped, whether it’s rocks, puddles or clouds,” he said, adding that some of her photos are on display at the school. “It helps me to see the beauty in what’s around us and keeps me balanced, recharged and ready to go.”
Russell also enjoys watching his kids participate in community sports.
“Being part of a team fosters a sense of belonging, instills confidence and teaches the importance of working as a team,” he said. “It also forces you to be organized in order to get school work, practices and everything else done.”
Russell was humbled to be selected as one of the nominees for the Black Press Great Teachers feature. “I’d like to share this with everyone who has inspired me to do the job I do.”