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Gov. Reynolds announces 2022 Iowa Teacher of the Year

Date: Thursday, October 14, 2021

BETTENDORF -- Sara Russell, a 19-year veteran teacher, is the Iowa Department of Education’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, Gov. Reynolds announced today at Pleasant Valley High School in eastern Iowa.

“I am proud of the amazing work Sara Russell is doing to make a difference in the lives of her students and the impact she is having on the education system in our state,” said Governor Reynolds. “Outstanding educators like Sara ensure our students are well prepared for careers and education beyond high school. Every day, she brings a positive and engaging approach to her students while helping them develop critical-thinking and team-building skills, which they'll take with them far beyond the classroom throughout their lives.”

“The Teacher of the Year award honors outstanding teachers who have made an impact on their students and colleagues,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said. “Sara is a teacher leader, mentor to first-year teachers and an advocate of collaborative learning environments. Her leadership and passion will help Iowa’s education system grow and expand opportunities for students.”

View additional photos of Sara in the classroom and from the announcement in our Flickr album.

Russell, 43, is a social studies teacher who leads student-centered, hands-on learning.

“I believe in the idea that you will never truly understand a concept or idea until you can apply it to your own life or the world around you,” she said. “While direct instruction is a necessary component of learning, I structure as much of my class time as possible around student activities that demand students to make their own meaning of concepts or ideas, usually in a cooperative environment. With all of the activities, I strive to have students discuss, defend, explain and apply their learning.”

Russell, her husband Ian, and their 13-year-old twin sons, Gavin and Aiden, live in Bettendorf.

The finalists for the 2022 Iowa Teacher of the Year are:

  • Dawn Arnold, a mathematics teacher from Benton Community High School, Van Horne.
  • Kelli Kovarik, language arts teacher at North Fayette Valley High School, West Union.
  • Elaine Menke, an instrumental music teacher at Lakewood Elementary, Norwalk.
  • Staci Mercado, an English teacher at Central DeWitt High School, DeWitt.

The Iowa Teacher of the Year award was established in 1958. The annual program is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa Legislature. Honorees serve as ambassadors to education and act as liaisons to schools, higher education, and organizations across the state.

View a video to get to know the 2022 Iowa Teacher of the Year better.