He didn’t have teaching or coaching experience. But Sammy Clough ’20, a communication studies graduate, landed a position doing both at Augusta Christian Schools in Georgia in the same year COVID-19 upended just about every industry.
At ACS, Clough teaches digital media communications to sixth- through eigth-graders and leads students in producing a twice-weekly news program, “Lions Den News,” where students become executive producers, cameramen and women, lighting experts, new anchors and scriptwriters.
Clough’s segue into teaching developed organically. “I never thought I was going to be a teacher,” he said.
He was enjoying his communications coursework at Furman, but as a Young Life leader at Greenville’s Eastside High all four years at the university, he wasn’t quite ready to give up working with younger kids. That’s when he started applying to various private Christian schools where he could secure teacher certification on the job.
He arrived at ACS after staff members there took a second look at his credentials. He had originally interviewed for a Bible teacher position.
This past May, shortly before graduation, Clough received a follow-up call from the school at his home in Suwanee, Georgia. Staff at ACS said they thought he’d be perfect for teaching a middle school computer class. And what excited him most about the prospect was the cart blanche ACS gave him for creating the course.
“That fired me up right away because I took broadcast communication my freshman year with (Associate Professor of Communication Studies) John Armstrong, and I absolutely loved it, and later I was a teaching assistant for him for the same class,” Clough said.
After a successful interview and teaching job in hand, Clough began piecing the class together. He decided he wanted to do a combination of digicom – digital communications – and broadcast communication.
The summer before in-person teaching began at ACS, Clough reviewed class structure and content with his mentor, Armstrong, who is now retired. “I honestly stole a lot of his ideas and have been using those in my class this semester,” said Clough.
One of the challenges in creating the course was scaling a college-level class for secondary education, when kids are often just learning to sign into their email for the first time, Clough said.
After laying the groundwork for the course, Clough spent the fall semester teaching kids about various media outlets, experimenting with blog writing, podcasting and producing fun, YouTube-worthy videos. Then he introduced them to Lions Den News, where students take on a new job description every week to produce two news shows for broadcasting at school and on YouTube.
But Clough is imparting more than broadcast journalism skills. He’s shaping young lives on a deeper level.
“I’m trying to teach them how to communicate in a workplace. There’s a lot of accountability among them – they want the product to be good,” he said. “So they’re learning about personal responsibility and how their individual choices affect other people.”
Apart from instilling accountability, the class has also helped students understand who they are and fostered a sense of belonging.
Clough remembered one girl who came to him early on in the semester.
“She was really in her shell, lacked confidence, and told me she didn’t feel like she belonged,” he said.
“But she’s found that doing the news show, getting herself out there and being a talent – just like all the other guys – that she not only can hold her own, but she’s really talented, reading scripts, carrying herself online – and she’s been a great scriptwriter for us. So I’ve definitely been touched by her willingness to jump into something that gives her confidence when a lot of times she feels like she’s different.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic has taught lessons to teachers and students alike.
For Clough, it’s patience and adaptability – not just for dealing with his passel of middle schoolers, but for himself and his future.
Reflecting on his journey that led to the job at ACS, he said, “I’m learning to have patience with myself – trusting my abilities and the kind of cachet a Furman degree holds.”
Keeping middle schoolers in their masks has been a struggle at times, but Clough said his sixth- through eighth-graders are taking COVID-19 in stride. “I think they know this is our current reality – they are making the best of it.”
And for Clough, there’s little time to be overly occupied by the pandemic in his day-to-day. As head coach of three middle school sports at ACS – cross-country, girls’ basketball, and track and field – he is busy. But that’s his wheelhouse.
In high school, he was a three-sport athlete. At Furman, he worked as equipment manager for the women’s basketball program, he wrote for The Paladin newspaper and was a Young Life leader.
“I’ve come in willing to do whatever at ACS,” said Clough. “I decided to throw myself into each one of those sports and the communications class, and so far, it’s worked out. I haven’t been too overwhelmed yet.”