116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - For decades, Steve Russell's middle school students have pulled on hip-waders and walked into the creek outside Cedar Valley Christian School in Cedar Rapids. Standing in the shallow water, they learn how to check the rate of the current.
It's Russell's favorite time of year. During his biology unit, students are outside almost every day, identifying trees and flowers. Younger kids come up and ask him when they'll get to hop in the creek, too.
After 50 years teaching science, Russell is retiring at the end of this school year.
'I want to retire when I'm still a good teacher,” he said.
At 72, he continues to connect with students 60 years his junior. When students come in complaining about their mouths hurting, Russell knows they've been to the orthodontist - he himself has permanent braces. He ribs students during class readings. During a lesson about minerals last week, he jumped at the chance to smash a rock open with a hammer to show students the crystals inside.
'I want them to come out of science class liking science and having fun,” Russell said.
Russell also teaches using traditional classroom instruction, labs and - as a Christian schoolteacher - the Bible in his science courses.
'I try to mix it up so students all have successes at different times,” he said. 'God's given them all different gifts.”
As a science teacher at a Christian school, Russell said he teaches students both creationism and evolution - the latter because, he said, students will need to understand it should they go on to college.
'For some people, they think science and religion can't come together - they can,” Russell said. 'There's a lot of science in the Bible. ... God is a god of creation, and he wants us to study his creations.”
Russell has taught at Cedar Valley Christian School, 3636 Cottage Grove Ave SE, for 15 years. He earned his bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1967. He moved to Iowa with his wife, Kay, and earned a master's degree in science education from the University of Iowa in 1971. They have four children.
He previously taught at Harding Middle School in the Cedar Rapids Community School District.
One of his students at Harding Middle was Jeff Pospisil, who is now principal at Cedar Valley Christian. Pospisil interviewed Russell when he applied for his current position, though he admits he didn't have many questions.
'I knew he was a good teacher,” Pospisil said. 'He was one of my favorite science teachers.”
Replacing Russell, said Pospisil, is going to be a challenge. Science teachers are in short supply, he said, and even more so for a position at a religious school.
'He is just a solid, Godly man who is a great role model,” Pospisil added. 'Teaching middle school, especially, is a gift. Even just liking middle school kids is a gift, and he's got it - he's going to be a tough one to replace.”
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This is the final installment of the Teacher Feature - a series to spotlight educators in the Corridor - for this school year. We'll pick up again in the fall. To nominate someone to be featured, send an email to Molly Duffy, K-12 education reporter, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include information about the educator and why you think they stand out in their profession.