In March of 2020, teachers and students across the nation were forced to transition to a new setting of learning. Zoom became the classroom—an unfamiliar territory for most. Tensions were high as everyone learned to navigate the change.
Jonte Lee, A chemistry teacher from Calvin Coolidge High in Washington D.C., wanted to make that transition easier for his 35 students from the get-go. When he first got notice of the change, Lee took to his dismantle some of the decoration and supplies from his classroom and bring them home. His goal was to create a familiar environment for his students to learn in, as a familiar environment decreases anxiety and increases learning.
Jonte Lee in his kitchen classroom.
“Anything I can do to support the learning, I am willing to do,” Jonte Lee says.
He chose the kitchen as his set-up location because the kitchen is the location in the house where chemistry most often occurs. With all the heat, acid, salt, and more right at one’s fingertips, Lee was able to create demonstrations his students can easily replicate in their own home.
To engage with students after Zoom lessons, Lee posted some lessons on Instagram Live. His students immediately took to this alternative, so it was something he vowed to keep up. Slowly, he built an audience much larger than his 35 students in Washington D.C. They told their friends about Mr. Lee’s Instagram lessons, and those friends told theirs, and suddenly people as far as San Francisco were joining Mr. Lee’s virtual classes.
Though this wasn’t the intention, Mr. Lee is thrilled by the response.
“This is my dream because I want to be a community teacher and not a teacher limited by four walls,” he says.
Word reached so far that executives at Amazon picked up the story. In hopes of honoring essential workers across the country, the Amazon Prime streaming service developed a docuseries titled, “Regular Heroes.” Upon hearing about what Jonte Lee was doing to educate people across the country, producers reached out to him in hopes of profiling the teacher.
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CBS Feature on Jonte Jones.
“I was like, ‘who, me?’” Lee says, “because I’d never thought of myself as a hero. But this has been a fantastic, incredible experience.”
What Jonte Lee hadn’t expected, however, was to have one of his classes Zoom-bombed by comedian Kevin Hart. Jones and his students alike were pleasantly surprised by the sudden intrusion, and even more so when Hart announced why he was there.
To honor Lee, Hart bought Calvin Coolidge High all new chemistry equipment. With how schools across the nation struggle with funding, this was a donation that floored Lee. But Hart wasn’t done there. He went on to provide Lee’s students college scholarships—“an amazing gift,” Lee says.
Though more and more schools across the nation are beginning to return to in-person learning, Jonte Lee vows that as long as there is a student willing to learn, he is willing to continue these lessons. He understands just how important a quality educator is, and wants to be that educator for students across the globe.
“I could not be where I am today without my teachers,” Lee says. “I just wouldn’t be here.”
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