Thursday, July 06, 2017

Computer Science Teacher or Teacher of Computer Science

In some respects we have an identity problem in computer science education. Some of us think of ourselves as computer science teachers. Generally that means we identify as teaching computer science first. Maybe that is all we teach. Other times it is not the only thing we teach but what we want to teach the most. Either way “computer science teacher” is how we self identify.

Other people see themselves as teachers who also teach some computer science. Some of these teachers see themselves as math teachers, science teachers, gym teachers, or art teachers who also teach some computer science. Others are K-6 or middle school teachers who teach several things or “everything” and computer science is just part of what they do. But many of these teachers feel like they are not in the same category as “real computer science teachers.”

This really shouldn’t be a problem as we all have computer science in common but sometimes it can be. It’s a problem when teachers who teach some computer science think that professional development for computer science teachers isn’t for them. It is though! When I look around the CSTA Annual Conference (which starts in a couple of days) I see all kinds of people who teach computer science and there is something for all of them there. No one asks if people teach something else at a CS PD event unless it is casual conversation or if they want to talk about cross curricula teaching. Many members of the Computer Science Teachers Association have membership in other subject matter associations of teachers and that is great!

I guess it can be a problem if someone really doesn’t want to teach CS and want to be purely some other sort of teacher. As much as I love CS and teaching CS I understand that some people have other priorities. There is only so much time in a teacher’s life for professional development.

Teachers of CS who want to learn more CS  shouldn’t hesitate to jump into things with people they see as computer science (specialist) teachers. As we in our society work to bring computer science to more and more (hopefully all) students there are going to be many more teachers who teach computer science along with other subjects. I hope we can mix CS with more subjects as well. It will make everything more interesting and relevant to teachers and students alike.

So computer science teacher or teacher of computer science – however you see yourself join CSTA, come to chapter meetings, come to our annual conference and know that we’re all in this together.


Mike Zamansky said...

We're all in this together as long as we're all working to get better.

If you're coming from a CS background you should be working hard at becoming the best teacher you can be (while also keeping up on CS) and if you're coming from a non-CS teaching background you should be working to gain the needed CS knowledge which to me means something deeper and wider than the most advanced stuff you'll teach so if you're a high school teacher that's depth and breadth beyond a first course in major (APCS-A).

I've met plenty of people who do this and I respect them greatly (and very much like many of them).

I've also met many in the NYCDOE who still after years of being involved in high school CS that couldn't tell the difference between a quicksort and a quick-e-mart. This is after years. You can't walk five block in NYC without tripping over a college or university so how hard is it to take CS101 and 102 and an elective or two over half a decade.

I know a CS teacher who came in from math. He struggled at first but he took some courses and got up to speed and now he's terrific. He's not a "CS person" - more of a math teacher but he learned everything he had to learn.

On the other side, when I see pure CS people who are reluctant to learn how to teach, they frequently fizzle out or are relegated to the stack of the bad teachers in general.

So, I agree, we're all in this together but if you look closely there are plenty of people who haven't been putting the time and effort to be all in.

This may sound harsh but I worked hard to learn my content and learn to teach and I'm still working hard to get better at both. Many teachers do the same (and more). Some, however, do not.

Garth said...

It is interesting on how this discussion can be influenced by location. In my area it is not possible to take some courses. Yes, the local university does have a CS department but anything that might be relevant to a high school teacher is offered during the day, when that high school teacher is working. There is nothing offered during the summer. As a result we (Montana and probably most high school CS) do not teach CS, we teach programming. It is possible to learn programming with on-line assets. It is possible to find summer programming seminars for teachers. CS programs to teach teachers things like quicksort (and the hundred or so other topics for a true CS program) simply do not exist in most places. And many teachers simply do not have the time to learn true CS on their own. If there is a good on-line program to teach teachers CS I cannot find it, and I have been looking for a long time. The great thing is it is never boring, there is always something to learn.

Mike Zamansky said...

Garth - Yes - I'm sure geography is a big player but here in NY between the community colleges, public and private colleges and universities it seems to be pretty easy to take either a summer CS1 and or CS2 and also to do it in the evenings.

I'd imagine this would be similar in most urban settings or areas with a strong CC presence.

Mike Zamansky said...

And to follow up - the people I'm critical here are NY area people who haven't done anything to up their CS skills.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the main problem when it comes to teaching CS to younger students is the lack of teachers who want to understand the CS they are teaching. Many teachers are teaching multiple subjects and aren’t given the resources they need to be competent in CS. Teachers who aren’t qualified may do harm to students by passing on misunderstandings and bad practices. I liked your idea of combining subjects that you brought up at the end, in and of itself programming can often seem overwhelming, but by combining subjects and teaching students to solve specific problems, teachers can do a better job of teaching students and can help to incorporate their passions. Also, teachers should ask for help from both others, and in some cases students. It isn’t necessarily a weakness to not know the answer to every single question, but instead, it is important for them to be honest with what they know, and know where to get answers from when they are unknown. Thanks for your article I found it quite interesting, and it brought up some concepts I haven’t necessarily considered before.