HARDIN COUNTY, Ky. — After decades of pursuing a degree in teaching, Karen Russell, finally got a classroom of her own, but in a virtual setting. 

Graduating this past May from Western Kentucky University, at 52 years old, Russell never gave up on her dream of becoming a teacher. Going back and forth to school for education over the past several decades, she was months away from crossing the stage, when the pandemic hit. Having to transfer her student teaching experience from in-person to online, Russell said it helped for what was yet to come. Since she was helping her lead teacher with lesson plans the last few months of the school year, she had the skills and the tools to apply as an online teacher. She would be there for students who didn't feel comfortable coming back to school. 

Through all of her experience as a student, a mother, and a grandmother, Russell said, nothing can prepare you for your first, first day of school. 

“Nothing prepared me for the very first day when I put that earbud in and I had those kids in front of me. That's when you just kind of jump into mode and you just go with it,” said Russell. 

Russell works in an empty classroom, teaching writing and science to 5th-grade students. Due to COVID-19, Hardin County Schools offers an online learning academy for students to participate and learn in a virtual classroom setting. Learning and growing as a teacher, Russell said she’s already made some rookie mistakes like assigning all 150 of her students a personal essay, with the same due date. But whether it's a new trick with technology or learning to space out lesson plans, she said that she learns something new every day. 

The first-year teacher shares a classroom with another 5th grade online instructor. Kali Mabry is a fifth-grade social studies and science teacher, who is only in her second year of teaching. The two teachers are separated by towering shelves of books, but they share tips, laughs, and lessons across the room, throughout the day. Mabry said that embarking on this new journey as a teacher has its ups and downs, but working with Russell, continues to bring her the excitement of learning and teaching. 

“I think its infectious to see how excited she is and she kind of brings that new teacher energy in, even though I’m only in my second year, you can feel that burnout quick, especially doing online, and so I feel like she’s been great in just keeping us all excited for learning,” said Mabry. 

Returning from fall break this week, Russell is excited to continue out the semester with students, who she calls the "Russell Rookies." She said she got the name because even though they’ve been students before, they are all experiencing a new way of learning, together. Planning a socially distant school picture, and festive Halloween and Christmas goodie bags for parents to pick up, Russell said she’s grateful and excited to be teaching in front of a classroom of her very own, even every dayans staring at a computer screen. 

“I love my kids, I tell them everyday that I love them, and I truly do, they are really helping me live my dream,” said Russell. 

Russell said she is contracted through June with the Hardin County’s online learning academy and hopes to teach an in-person class of her own one day, before going to get her masters.