A Lynn Camp teacher and Teach for America alumni took some time to discuss the challenges he and his students have faced during the coronavirus pandemic.
Jonathan Stephens just finished up his second year as a chemistry at Lynn Camp High School. He originally hails from the town of Clearfield, Pennsylvania; a town he described as being similar to Corbin. Stephens came to Lynn Camp with Teach for America after graduating from Penn State University.
With no immediate family in the area, Stephens spoke highly of the support he’s received from his “adoptive family.” He attends Trinity Methodist Church in Corbin where he said the congregation has been very good to him. He also spoke highly of his coworkers who’ve made sure to check in with him throughout. Stephens recently submitted his final grades for the year and stated work has kept him occupied during the lockdown.
Stephens echoed many of the same challenges as other teachers during the coronavirus pandemic, describing the situation as “tricky.” He stated it was easier to teach students in person or even in close proximity compared to the virtual learning schools were forced to adopt.
Access to students was a major issue Stephens faced even as he stated he was “lucky to only have two students without internet.” Internet availability has been a recurring theme for teachers across the county. Stephens also spoke to the difficulty of not being able to assist students with projects face-to-face and that having the students potentially working on projects at different times was an added challenge itself. Stephens added that the district did a good job with preparation and having information posted online as well as available for pickup at the schools.
Stephens says his biggest challenge as a teacher of juniors and seniors was students working more. “Obviously if you’re working you can try to make time for school work…but it’s pretty tough,” he stated. Stephens has worked hard to reach out to those students, some he says working 40 hours a week and sometimes the only income in the household during the shutdown. The big question he asks is “what can I do to help.”
Stephens says the best-case scenario with working students has been students simply trying their best despite being busy. “I have students that work a lot but they still turn in quite a bit,” he said. Stephens worked with these students, giving them flexibility with due dates as much as possible; he added Knox County Schools was encouraging with extending students grace to get things done.
Stephens said that some students did have difficulty getting back to him even when he reached out. “There’s not a whole lot that can be done,” he said regarding getting some or any response at times. He continued that he understands the challenge those students faced and that they often simply didn’t have the time. He also added he understood students may have other stuff to deal with on-top of employment.
Stephens says he appreciates the effort his students put in during the pandemic. “There’s been a lot of positive interaction,” he said regarding virtual connection methods like Google Classroom and Zoom. “I hope they can take something from all the work they had to do,” he added.
Stephens concluded by summarizing the lesson of his experience. That schools will have to compete with employment in regards to older students when all learning takes place in a virtual setting. He believes having some time back in the school building will give these students time they need to learn. “While this was good for finishing out the year, I hope that we can do some kind of schedule where we’re on campus with students.