Most people have probably seen the guy in the hallway by the gym who always stands outside of his classroom waiting for his students. Who am I kidding, most people have actually HAD this guy as their teacher! For the few of you who don’t know who I’m talking about, this guy is Mr. Russo. With a constant smile on his face, this man has managed to make students embrace and love technology for years. As a former student and fan of Mr. Russo, I decided to interview him to learn a little more about the teacher so dearly loved in Manhasset.
Mr. Russo has been a teacher for nine years, spending his first two years at Commack and the last seven years here at Manhasset. From a rather early age, Mr. Russo fell in love with technology. I’m not talking about the cell phones, iPads, and computers of today’s time; rather, he fell in love with building objects. He has always enjoyed working with his hands and crafting new things from nothing, which is the very essence of the new and innovative technologies that we use today. Interestingly enough, Mr. Russo always found himself spending time in his school’s technology room (not much different from me!).
Mr. Russo says that he became a teacher because he has always loved kids. This was evident even as I was conducting the interview. All around me, I saw seventh graders with big smiles on their faces, enjoying the wonders that technology provided them. And I saw Mr. Russo’s face as well: an expression that showed that he so clearly loved what he did and enjoyed the students he worked with very much.
Mr. Russo’s favorite topic to teach is robotics, which is why Mr. Russo is delighted with the new coding-based curriculum of the Technology department. For those of you who aren’t aware of this new curriculum, the Science department has recently revamped the old Technology curriculum and has gradually infused a more coding-based curriculum. In my discussion with Mr. Russo about this new curriculum, his favorite aspect of it is that students begin thinking in new and innovative ways. In most core classes, students are often simply presented the answers and asked to regurgitate that information on tests. The new Technology curriculum, however, demands student innovation and ingenious solutions. Once the students figure out that Mr. Russo won’t simply supply them with the answer, they realize that they must fend for themselves and start solving their own problems. Seeing students problem solve their own problems has pleased Mr. Russo.
When I asked Mr. Russo what the funniest thing that had ever happened in his classroom was, he began to talk about a student he had when he taught in Commack. This child, he said, was a dwarf and was called “Steve O” by his classmates. Every single day, before class began, “Steve O” would hide in the cabinets and make Mr. Russo find him. He was a bit of a clown, if you couldn’t tell! Mr. Russo loved it! Outside of school, Mr. Russo enjoys spending time with his wife and three children (two girls and a boy). To my delight, Mr. Russo also enjoys playing golf in his spare time. Mr. Russo also loves woodworking (no surprise here) and fishing.
To kids interested in studying and possibly teaching Technology, Mr. Russo wants them to know that teaching technology is not just lecturing on material learned in school. Rather, it is preaching your passion and enjoying every minute of it. In particular, Mr. Russo said that technology teachers must enjoy kids. This might seem rather silly: this technically isn’t a part of a teacher’s job. Yet, Mr. Russo stated that enjoying kids is key to successfully teaching Technology. He believes that kids will only respond to those who respond to them. Mr. Russo feels that Technology teachers who are able to adapt to different personalities and embrace each student for who he/she really is will more effectively be able to teach his passion.
Personally, I was curious to know what exactly the key was to Mr. Russo’s success as a teacher. Anyone who knows Mr. Russo can testify that they have come back to see him, or have said “hi” in the hallway to him, at LEAST one time since they had him. Mr. Russo was dumbfounded by this question, which I thought was rather significant. It suddenly hit me that he was just being himself. He attributed his success as a teacher to his patience and his sense of humor (and we all know Mr. Russo’s phenomenal sense of humor). In his opinion, he considers himself a “new school” teacher. “Old school” teachers are the epitome of the old-time teachers that we read about in classics in English. They are the ones with the ruler, the ones that evoke terror in the hearts of their students, the ones that demand respect and receive it in fear. Mr. Russo states that this is not the optimal way of teaching. Teachers who are too strict tend to lose their children and aren’t able to effectively communicate their passion to students. Therefore, Mr. Russo employs a strategy that he calls “strict but fair,” a Middle Way in a sense. Even while I was interviewing him, Mr. Russo made sure that his students were not doing anything that could endanger them or others, yet at the same time was joking around with them and making them feel at home.
While I expected to only stay for about 10 minutes to conduct this interview, I actually ended up staying the whole period. While this information might seem superfluous, it is in reality a testament to Mr. Russo’s one-in-a-million personality that just makes everyone love him. We started talking as if we were best friends recollecting on old memories and it was truly an enjoyable experience. I asked Mr. Russo one final question: “Is there anything that you would like to say to your students who are reading this article right now?” His response was an aphorism that has resonated in today’s society: “Don’t ever give up.” Words of wisdom indeed!