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MSPnet Blog: “A CS teacher’s blog”

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posted February 16, 2016 – by Brian Drayton

I have continued my stroll through other science education blogs, and came across “Garth’s CS Education Blog,” here, which perhaps not all of you will know about.  Garth teaches at a Catholic high school in Montana, and computer science and programming have been among his subjects for many years.  He sometimes comes across as struggling with the content, with the role of “technical wizard” for the school (which he does not feel he deserves), and with all the blind-alleys, curve-balls, and brick-walls that technology can present — but he also clearly loves the constant need and opportunity to learn and grow along with his students.

For example, the first post I read (from Feb 4), “Programming software for beginners” constitutes a review of several languages or environments for new programmers, by one of his students.  I was pleased by the openness of his report:

She had no experience programming in any of these languages/environments.  She is more of a hardware/systems specialist and is just getting in to programming.  I am going to cut and paste her document.  I provided her with nothing but a list of apps and a computer.  It is an interesting read from a novice’s prospective.  I did not edit the following, it is all her.  I have a new aide this semester.  Another smart freshman.  I am going to give him the same list and form and see how they compare.

Garth covers a big range of topics, which of course makes for a great blog – the best ones allow the writers to give you a glimpse of the whole range of their interests, experiences, reactions, ethics, amusements….He also provides plentiful glimpses into the life of one CS teacher, and I’d be very interested to know if he reminds you of the  CS teachers you know.

A workday vignette:

One of the teachers cannot log in to the grading software.  I tried with my account and still no-go.  The stated error is an internet issue.  Her internet works.  I tested the speed.  She is getting one sixth of what she should be.  That might be the problem.  Then again it might not.  My project for this afternoon is to find the missing five sixths.  It appears to be missing in the whole elementary school building.  Bad switch?  Bad radio connection to my main building?  People claim the building is haunted so maybe it is an angry ghost.  Do not laugh.  It is on my list of things I have solutions for.  Remember this is a Catholic school.  I have access to holy water and it is not illegal to use it.

In September of 2015, Garth wrote a couple of posts entitled “So you want to be a CS teacher?”  in which he explores his pathway to his current teaching life.  He’s written other posts  about qualifications and preparation for a K-12 CS teacher, and you will be interested to follow the links to those.  I found his summary of what it feels like to be him-as-CS-teacher to be eloquent, amusing, and thought-provoking.  I excerpt it here, but you really need to go read the whole thing:

To be a CS teacher you have to realize CS is not like teaching any other subject.  It simply evolves too rapidly for a high school teacher to be an expert.  You spend hours and hours cruising the internet looking for things you understand enough to teach…

You must realize that being the CS teacher means you know everything, and I mean everything there is to know about computers and servers and cell phones and projectors and copiers and Smart boards and, in my case, the #$%&* school bells. …To become a CS teacher you have to spend a ridiculous number hours debugging some little program in a language you are learning so the kids will get a chance to see something new…

To be a CS teacher you have to realize there are going to be kids that are just smarter at this than you are.  Live with it.  You have to pick their brains.  You make them teach you and the rest of the class…later when that kid comes by with the job of designing VR software for a company you never heard of and is making more in a month than you make in a year you do get to take all the credit.

A CS teacher has to realize there are no jobs in CS teaching, at least compared to everything else the average high school offers….As a CS teacher you have to know you are in competition with every other elective in the school….So my advice if you want to be a CS teacher is to forget it…There is the little detail that teaching CS can be more fun than anything else you might teach and may be the most immediately useful subject to a high school graduate but does that really count?

When I read about STEM standards, or funding, or policy, I think of how the world they envision will be inhabited by teachers — not generic teachers, like my father, a junior high science teacher in a not-too-well-off Maine town, or many specific teachers I’ve worked with over the years, who let me into their classrooms, and told me why they taught the way they did. Few of them were educational ideologues, though most of them were very thoughtful about their work.  I enjoy coming across blogs that have an authentic voice.  Garth’s is one.


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Ha! :)

posted by: George Reese on 2/22/2016 2:08 pm

Thanks Brian,

This (Garth's CS Education Blog) is a great resource for the authentic voice.

."..there are going to be kids that are just smarter at this than you are. Live with it. You have to pick their brains."

George Reese