Special to The Times-Tribune
Cynthia Carter, a social studies teacher at G.R. Hampton Elementary, Jason Jordan, a social studies teacher at the Knox County Middle School, and Debbie Stewart, a social studies teacher at Lynn Camp High School, are among the 130-plus teachers selected as recipients of the annual Excellence in Teaching Awards presented by Campbellsville University.
The Excellence in Teaching Awards program, in partnership with Lexington’s CBS-affiliate, WKYT-TV, was established to recognize the quality teaching in the schools of the state of Kentucky and to strengthen the field of education.
Teachers are nominated by committees from their local school systems. The committees may consist of the PTSO chair, principals, instructional supervisors, superintendents, or faculty members.
Through the awards program, Campbellsville University presents awards to teachers in each grade level (elementary P-5, middle 6-8, and high school 9-12) as selected by their school districts. Since the program’s inception, nearly 2,400 teachers have been honored by their colleagues.
The award ceremony for the 23rd Annual Campbellsville University Excellence in Teaching Awards Program will be held in May on the college’s campus. The Knox County Board of Education also plans to honor the teachers at its April 28th meeting in Barbourville.
Cynthia Carter, in her 14th year at G.R. Hampton and 20th year in education, has one of the most colorful and informative social studies classrooms this reporter has ever visited. The walls are filled with banners, posters, and charts listing achievements and facts about U.S. history and world geography to inspire and jog the memories of her students.
It’s an exciting place to be, and student learning and achievement appear to follow. Asked about her students’ well-known success in past years on annual state tests, Mrs. Carter suggests there are multiple reasons for this beyond her colorful classroom.
“We have good kids at G.R; that’s a big part of it,” she said. “They’re well prepared before they ever get to me in fifth grade; so it’s not just me, it’s all the teachers here that have prepared them all the way up.
“I think consistency is a big key. They know what to expect from you. And you stick to what you say you’re going to do. I try to get them excited about history— what’s happened in wars and things in our country’s past. I try to get them to like history, and I think that helps. I do a lot of review. I’m big on review. I’m more or less an old-fashioned teacher.”
Choosing to be a teacher was not hard for Mrs. Carter. She had an excellent role model in her mother, Joyce McKeehan, who taught for many years and ended her career by serving Lay Elementary as librarian. Joyce and Don McKeehan also have another daughter, Sherry McHargue, who went into teaching as well.
“I always wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a little girl,” Mrs. Carter said. “I played school in my room. I’ve always loved kids. That’s been my choice.” This also spills over into her volunteer work at the First Baptist Church of Barbourville, where she is a Sunday school teacher.
Asked if she has any advice to pass along to young, incoming teachers, Mrs. Carter said, “I think what I said before about consistency. I really think that’s the key to having a good classroom. The children, from day one, they know what to expect. I think that makes them feel safe. They know the rules, they know what will happen, they know what to expect from you, that you’re not erratic, doing one thing one day and another the next...and I think they need to know you care about them. There’s a fine line there: you can’t be a buddy to them; you have to be a teacher. They have to know you care about their progress.”
A native of Knox County, she attended Lay Elementary and graduated from Knox Central in 1986. She earned her bachelors, masters and Rank I from Union College.
At G.R. Hampton Elementary, she has served on the school’s discipline and curriculum committees. At the District level, she’s served on social studies curriculum committees several different times.
Cynthia Carter and husband, Tim Carter, have three children, two of whom attend G.R. Hampton: Tate, who is a fifth grader, and Trey, a third grader. An older son, Ty, is a freshman at Barbourville Independent.
Jason Jordan, who, interestedly, did his early involvement observation in Mrs. Carter’s class while attending Union College, is only in his sixth year of teaching. However, he has already achieved an excellent reputation at the Knox County Middle School where he teaches social studies to seventh graders.
“He’s an excellent teacher,” said his principal, Kelly Sprinkles. “He’s not just a teacher though, he’s a leader in the building. He works with our Professional Learning Community (PLC) process; he’s one of our facilitators.”
Sprinkles noted that anytime there was talk at the school about instructional strategies that work and which staff members really liked, “Very quickly, you can go into his classroom and you’ll see him implementing; so he’s very open to try new things.
“He also makes his class fun for his kids,” Sprinkles added. “He has great rapport with the kids and has no discipline problems. He’s just a team player...He’s always positive; he’s always upbeat. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a negative thing come out of his mouth.”
During a recent visit to his classroom, a reporter observed this “rapport” with students. The lesson was on protagonists and antagonists, “round” and “flat” characters, and the teacher and students never stopped interacting. Mr. Jordan made his points with characters from his favorite TV series, “Andy Griffith,” while the kids cited the movie “Twilight” and TV series “Sponge Bob.”
“I love learning but also the teaching part,” Mr. Jordan said afterwards. “Being able to see a kid’s eyes light up when they’ve wondered about something, and you’re the one that kind of gets that going a little bit more and gets them interested . . .Just being able to help, to know that you’re doing something that you can see a change… see them grasp something or get the idea behind something, just being able to really help them to become better students and better people.”
He recalls numerous teachers that had this effect on him over the years – teachers such as Mr. and Mrs. Gregory, Mrs. Kinningham, and Bertie Mills at Dewitt and Tommy Smith, his track coach, and Kim Merida at Knox Central. He said there were numerous others as well.
Interestedly, one of his former teachers at Dewitt, his 7th-8th grade teacher, Tommy Mills, is one of his friends now. The two hunt together.
The son of J.T. and Sherry Jordan, Jason Jordan was raised in and still lives, along with his wife Leann, in the Dewitt area, where he attended grade school. A 2000 graduate of Knox Central, he did his student-teaching while attending Union College in the fall of 2003 and took a teaching job back at Dewitt Elementary in spring 2004. He then switched to Knox County Middle School when it opened three years ago.
He’s had no regrets. About the middle school students, he said, “They’re unique. Everyday they’ll surprise you by what they know and questions they come up with. If you can center it and get it going, they’re ready.”
At the same time, he still enjoys working with younger students. He is part of the after-school tutoring program called “BEST” at Dewitt a couple of afternoons a week. He helps the students with reading during the academic block and archery during the enrichment block. “I love it,” he said. “It’s voluntary on their part, so the kids that come want to be there.”
Mr. Jordan is part of the Knox County Middle School’s 7-3 team that includes science teacher Brian Frederick, language arts teacher Tipperi Broughton, math teacher Selina Dunaway and special education teacher Brittney Lockard.
Debbie Stewart, in her 27th year of teaching at Lynn Camp and 29th year in education, is also a native of Dewitt. However, she became a teacher after beginning her career in the social services field working with adults.
"I changed my career so I could teach youth," Mrs. Stewart recalled in a recent interview. "I realized that's what I wanted to do with my life."
After earning her teaching certificate from Union College, she began teaching at Artemus Elementary. Her first assignment was a self-contained split 7th/8th grade. Halfway through the year, the janitor, Alvin Giles, came up to her and said he owed her an apology. "He said, 'When I saw you walk through that door, I said she'll never be able to handle those kids, but you've proved me wrong.' "
The next year she got what she calls "a promotion." She taught a self-contained eighth grade classroom. Then to be closer to where she lived in the Corbin area, she took a job at Lynn Camp where she has remained since. The majority of the time, she taught seventh and eighth grade mathematics; however, for the past eight years, she has taught social studies in high school.
Asked what she likes most about teaching, Mrs. Stewart said, "The most rewarding part is working with the students and seeing the progress that they make, particularly with high school students, when they graduate and go on to college and come back to visit you and tell you how well they're doing. In last three weeks, I've had three students come back to see me. . . .
"After they graduate, down the road, they see how tough life is, and I try to emphasize to them that they're so close to being on the other side of that wall and what are you going to do tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that?
"Today an education is much more important than it was each generation before," said Mrs. Stewart. "You're not going to be able to survive without an education, and although I would like to see all of them to attend college, I know it's not for every child. But there's some type of training they need to go into to be prepared."
Not only has Mrs. Stewart been active in the classroom, she's been an integral part of the Lynn Camp administrative team on so many different fronts. She has served on the Lynn Camp SBDM Council since 2001. She has been the ESS building coordinator and teacher since the program began.
Mrs. Stewart has served on the school's budget committee since 2000 and been its chairman since 2002. She has been senior class sponsor since 2003 and assistant high school academic coach since 2007.
After 9/11 occurred in 2001, she organized the highly successful Veteran's Day Program at Lynn Camp "so that our students could honor all veterans for their service to our country."
In 2003, one of her students, Nicole McDaniel, nominated her for the Kentucky Education Citizenship Education Teacher of the Year Award given by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "I was overwhelmed by Nicole's letter of recognition about me as a teacher. It was truly an honor to receive this award, but even more special to know that it came from one of your students."
Mrs. Stewart is married to William Stewart, retired from the Kentucky State Police and now employed by the Kentucky Attorney General's Office. Her parents are the late Ulys and Beatrice Bingham. Several of Debbie Stewart's siblings are or were educators, including brothers Gerald Bingham, a current teacher at Knox Central High School, and Don Bingham, a former teacher and highly successful basketball coach at Knox Central; and sister Sharon of Jeffersonville, Ind., who also is retired.