Teacher Feature: For M’Lee Russell, career change grants family, professional gains

By April C. Honaker

When M’Lee Russell left a career in pharmacy for one in education, her background gave her a unique perspective—one that teachers who haven’t worked in other industries don’t have. 

Russell, who teaches ELA (English Language Arts) for Grades 6-7 at Simsboro School is extremely grateful for the time off and holidays that she gets to spend with her family.

“That in itself is immeasurable,” she said. 

This is a difficult time for teachers and the work is difficult, but Russell chooses not to complain. Instead she approaches each day with gratitude.

As a teacher, Russell is now able to attend her son Colby’s games, and because her daughter Emma is a National Guard recruiter, Russell crosses paths with her daughter at work.

“Being able to see my child working at her big-girl job is a wonderful thing,” she said. 

In addition to having experience in pharmacy, Russell worked previously for a poultry company and originally studied agricultural business at Louisiana Tech University. However, she left her studies only three classes shy of completing her degree. 

When her daughter Emma was preparing for college, Russell felt compelled to return to college and finish her degree, this time in English. Russell, who wanted to model a commitment to education for her children, graduated with her bachelor’s in May 2021, exactly one year before her daughter. She is now earning a master’s in English education, from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

“I felt like for a long-time God was pushing me in this direction,” she said. “I firmly believe that because this is where God wants me to be, it’s been an easy transition.”

She now laughs and tells people that she was destined to become an educator because her family is full of educators. At the same time, she admits she is better suited to the job at this point in her life because she’s able to bring more patience and life experience.

Russell loves that Simsboro is a small school because it allows her to be more involved in her students’ lives outside of class. In a small school, most of the students participate in sports, so Russell said she tries to attend as many games and sporting events as she can. 

“Building those relationships outside of class goes so far in building those relationships inside of class,” she said. “The more involved I am in their lives, the greater the impact I can have on their education.”

Russell’s favorite thing about teaching ELA is watching her students grow as writers throughout the year–watching them become more confident and skillful. One way that Russell motivates her students to work hard and grow is by rewarding them with a day on her parents’ farm during Thanksgiving break. 

As long as every student makes an A on a test before the break, they get to have a fun day riding horses and making s’mores. Last year, Russell’s students met their goal, and she is looking forward to showing her new students the farm this year. She’s also planning a glow-in-the-dark Easter egg hunt for the spring.

“My teaching is very intentional,” she said. “We have to build relationships more than ever before.” Because so many things are competing for students’ attention these days, it’s more difficult to make an impact, but Russell is determined to make hers a positive and lasting one. 

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