Tuesday, August 08, 2017

How To Retain Computer Science Teachers

One of the big topics around computer science education is the shortage of teachers with enough CS knowledge to properly teach the subject. One fear is that anyone well enough versed in computer science to teach it is likely to leave teaching for industry. Mike Zamansky addressed this a bit recently with his post On Retaining Teachers. And earlier in Will we lose CS teachers to industry? This sort of discussion comes up a lot. The typical "answer" advanced is higher pay. Sounds great but not really practical.

Union rules in most public school systems prohibit paying premiums for different subject teachers. Where rules don't often custom or a systemic view of fairness (all teachers do the same job regardless of subject) prevent different salaries. If that is out, how does a school or school system retain teachers.

Mike Zamansky in his posts suggests non financial benefits for teachers. New electives for example. Letting teachers teach courses they enjoy is a good incentive. In the case of computer science teachers I can think of other incentives. Of course everyone is different and is motivated in different ways. So what seems good to me may not make everyone happy enough to stay. But I think they'll appeal to many.

Really things boil down to treating computer science teachers with trust and respect as well as giving them the tools to do their job better. For example, do computer science teachers have administrative privileges on the computers in their lab? If not, why not? One would expect that a well prepared CS teacher should be able to safely handle that responsibility. In fact it is often necessary for them to experiment with new tools and teaching techniques. Keeping administrative access from them shows a lack of respect and trust. That will make anyone feel less valued.

How about keeping teaching labs up to date? Yes it costs money but if you want students to be current then the equipment they learn on should be current. Plus making CS teachers find work around and hacks to deal with inadequate computers leads to frustration and discouragement. And by the way, the CS teachers should be consulted on decisions about computers and software for their labs. Believe it or not stories of teachers returning from summer break to find that PCs have been replaced by Apple Macs or Google Chromebooks are far to common. This is incredibly disruptive and makes for serious stress and aggravation for teachers.

Professional development is another area where CS teachers can use some support. While most systems have some money for professional development but teachers are not always encouraged to apply for it. With CS constantly moving regular PD is really necessary. Unfortunately it is not always close or inexpensive. Conferences like CSTA are wonderful but often districts are unwilling to pay the full cost (transportation and housing are the big costs.) These events are great for teachers but not all teacher can afford to pick up the slack on their own. Not on a teacher salary. Schools need to invest in CS teachers.

Related to both professional development and new electives (there are huge opportunities for CS electives that appeal to teachers and students alike) is some funding for new equipment for teaching. Not just the previously mentioned lab computers but things like Micro:bits, robots, quadcopters, and other electronics that can make CS more interesting and even more cross curricula. Different teachers have different interests and encouraging them to follow those interests and bring them to their teaching can be very motivating. And help with retention.

So that's my bit of brainstorming on the subject. What do you think? If you teach CS what sorts of thing motivate you to stay teaching and stay are your present school? What sorts of things make you want to leave? Maybe we can help our administrators out with some ideas.


Garth said...

I got wordy so:

Alfred Thompson said...

Wordy is good. Blog posts as replies to blog posts are great. They are what makes things really work well in blogging. I had some of the same thoughts you expressed BTW. Great minds and all that. :-)

Unknown said...

Interesting post. With over 25 years in edtech consulting and implementation, I have found, especially in K-8, that hiring a computer friendly teacher, training that person how to be a CS teacher, and providing them with a well laid out technology curriculum, will yield the greatest results, most of the time.

Working with student still comes down to classroom management and pedagogy. A well written curriculum in the hands of a capable teacher usually solves the problem.

Now in HS, where things should get a little more specialized (coding, graphic design, network admin), you may have better results with a CS focused person. Just my 2 cents. #btek12