Inspiring Success: How I Empower Students Through Innovative Teaching

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Text reads 2023 changemaker": teacher Dr. Alissa Russell. Woman smiling

Meet Dr. Alissa Russell, a master teacher and math department head at Life High School Oak Cliff in Dallas, TX. This National Charter Schools Week, Dr. Russell is being honored as a 2023 Changemaker. 

Dr. Russell has been teaching for 13 years, and she inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn using Socratic Seminar, differentiated group modeling, and peer partnership grouping as innovative instructional practices to meet her students’ differentiated needs. Dr. Russell was recently appointed to an advisory council convened by Texas Senator Royce West and has served on a Texas Education Agency think tank.  

The National Alliance connected with Dr. Alissa Russell for a Q&A about her experience as a teacher and in a charter school: 

How has working at a charter school shaped your career as an educator?

Working at a charter school requires all teachers to teach all Texas Standards; however, charter schools allow me the autonomy to teach my students in a manner that is appropriate for them and meets their individual needs, instead of “teaching to the test.” This opportunity has helped to shape my career in such a way that I know and believe my current teaching methods are successful and have helped me achieve 100% passing rates with State tests, as well as with my graduating seniors.  

Tell us one of your favorite anecdotes from being a teacher that showcases why you do this work. 

One year, I had a student in the 5th grade who had never passed her state math exam. One day we were working on review problems and she was still struggling to attain the concept. I gave her extra examples using suckers as the noun and she immediately understood the problem and got it right. As we continued working, I used suckers as the nouns whenever she needed more clarification. She would suddenly get the problem right. I have no idea what it was about suckers, but I immediately had her start substituting suckers as the noun in her problems when she would get stuck. On the actual test day, she marked out the nouns and wrote suckers in her test booklet. When the scores came in, she had passed her first state math test. Helping a child love education who previously did not is why I do this work.  

What do you love about being a teacher?

I love playing a factor in shaping the future generation for success. My favorite moment, hands down, is when the lightbulb clicks on in a child’s mind. The way the lesson progresses at this point is always very rewarding. I also love the connections I make with my students that goes beyond the classroom. Being a positive role model for the next generation is a love I will always cherish.  

What made you decide to be a teacher?  

After graduating high school and going to college, I knew (or thought I knew) that I was not going to be a teacher, because most of my family were teachers and I wanted to be different. It wasn’t until I was working full time that the firm I worked for partnered with a local school for volunteer opportunities. Although, it was only 1 hour per week, I fell in love with the teaching profession and realized I was destined to join in the family business (teaching). I have not looked back nor regretted my decision at all.  

What makes you most excited about the future of public education or what opportunities do you see?

I am most excited at parents being empowered to choose among more great options, including charter schools. I see this as a way for schools to push each other to improve and meet the needs of more families. I believe education should not be determined by a child’s socioeconomic status, and I am fed up with the way our local school district disservices children. I ran for the State Board of Education; and, although I was unsuccessful in winning the election, it has fueled my passion to continue being an advocate for charter schools even more because I believe charter schools set all students up for success.  

Meet more teacher 2023 Changemakers and join the National Charter Schools Week celebration!