CHILDS, Md. — When an eighth-grade student is given the opportunity to talk about any of his teachers and he remembers all the way back to first grade, that teacher must be something special. And to Eli Landis, that eighth-grader at Mount Aviat Academy, Nadine Russell is that teacher.
Eli nominated Russell for The Dialog’s Teacher Feature, which recognizes educators in elementary and high schools for the positive impact they have left on their students. He said when he was struggling with a subject in first grade, Russell noticed and helped him figure things out.
“Out of all the class, we were all working, but she saw that I couldn’t write anything on the page. The fact that she pulled me back and helped me through it, it just stood out through the years,” he said.
Russell grew up in New Castle and is very familiar with Catholic education in the Diocese of Wilmington. She graduated from Our Lady of Fatima School and Saint Mark’s High School, Class of 1983, before matriculating at the University of Delaware. Although she flirted with the idea of studying physical therapy, she earned a degree in elementary education.
“I realized I didn’t like science that much,” she said. “So then it was like, ‘I think I like kids.’”
She returned to her alma mater, teaching at Fatima for 21 years until it closed.
After a year substituting in public schools, she moved to Mount Aviat and is in her ninth year there. It was a bit of a culture change from Our Lady of Fatima.
“Coming from Fatima to here, I do recall the very first week I was here, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there are hills. The kids are rolling down hills!’ It was like out of ‘The Sound of Music,’” she said.
But she has embraced Mount Aviat and makes the trip from north Wilmington every day. She has always taught first grade.
“I tell the parents this every year. First-graders are the best because they come in and they know some, but it’s that growth that you get to see. That’s what excites me. You can actually see the progress quickly,” she said.
Working in an environment like Mount Aviat allows her to more easily stay in touch with her students as they move through the grades. She watches them grow, and occasionally, students like Eli let her know what she means to them.
“When they do come back and say, ‘I still remember this in first grade,’ or, ‘You left this lasting impression on me,’ it’s very touching,” she said.
Russell describes her teaching style as being sort of an entertainer. She likes to sing, although she concedes that she is not the best singer. People walking down the hall near her classroom may see her standing on her desk to make a point.
“It gets them excited, and it keeps there attention more,” she said. “Being silly, it’s great for first-graders. It’s almost like I get to entertain all day long.”
She is dedicated to teaching the whole student and making sure they are well-rounded as they move into second grade. Classroom atmosphere is an important part of that, so Russell said she makes sure early in the school year that her students feel safe and comfortable, and that all are included in the class’ activities.
Russell met her husband, Eric, at Saint Mark’s, and their two daughters are Spartans as well. That is one area of difference between her and Eli, who is likely destined for Salesianum.
“We know a lot about Saint Mark’s,” Eli joked.
When not talking about her alma mater, Russell and her husband like to cheer on their Philadelphia pro sports teams, spend time with family and take walks. They also visit their daughters, one of whom lives in northern New Jersey and the other in Washington, D.C. They also get together for family dinners.
After three decades in the classroom, Russell still feels the desire to teach.
“It’s what I do. It’s my calling. I don’t teach for the money. I don’t teach to be rich. I’m rich here, inside,” she said, tapping her chest.