Robin Russell did not get into teaching to become a hero.
So you imagine her surprise on Tuesday afternoon when she was named a Symetra Hero in the Classroom during an assembly at Open Window School in Bellevue. Her reaction? Hands to face. Buckled knees. Close to tears.
“I’m just kind of overwhelmed. I didn’t know this was coming. They just said I needed to be here,” Russell, a fifth-grade Humanities teacher, said after all the hoopla had been completed. “I kind of just focus on the students and following my heart and doing what’s best for them. I’m not used to being recognized in the public sphere.”
With the honor came a $1,000 check for the school, a $350 gift certificate to Office Max to help her buy supplies for her classroom, two tickets to the Seahawks’ game against the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field on Sunday and a 12th Man jersey.
Oh, and an also-surprising visit from another Russell – Okung, the Seahawks’ left tackle.
After getting a Bieber-style reception as he made his way through the assembled 300-plus students, Okung told them how important his fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Mission Glen Elementary School in Houston were to him making it to Oklahoma State University and the Seahawks as a first-round draft choice in 2010.
“I was lucky enough to have two teachers – Mrs. Howell and Mrs. Cook – that truly believed in me,” Okung, who has been selected the Seahawks’ Man of the Year, said during his talk to the students. “Even when I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t always do the right thing. I would never pay attention in class and I was talking in class. A lot people would have given up on me.
“Those two teachers, they believed in me. They took me aside and they took that extra step to get me right. … They had a level of belief in me I didn’t have in myself.”
After the assembly, Okung said, “It was great to come out here and just show my appreciation for Mrs. Russell.”
Of all the teachers in all the schools in Seattle and King County, how is that Russell was among the 24 selected for Hero status?
First, she was nominated by a co-worker. Then, her nomination caught the eye of the selection committee.
“It was clear in the nomination process how passionate she is about opening the eyes of her students,” said Jim Pirak, senior vice president of corporate marketing for Symetra. “She really encourages the kids. She’s also a published author, and she uses that to challenge the kids to do a lot of reading. This was an easy choice.”
Actually, all Pirak had to do was check with niece, 11-year-old Abby Berman, who is a sixth-grader at Open Window and was in Russell’s class last year. When her uncle told her what the assembly was all about before it started, Berman said that Russell should be the choice.
“Because she’s really nice and really funny,” Berman said when asked why she thought Russell deserved Hero status. “I definitely think it’s a good choice.”
And how was the Hero feeling after it was all over?
“You know what? I guess with my students I do, I feel like a hero every day,” said Russell, who has been teaching at Open Widow for six years. “When you follow your bliss and you do your best, only good things will come.”