Thursday, May 1, 2014

What it Takes to Make a Computer Science Teacher

I've had this conversation 5 or 6 times over the last few months. Always with teachers, always centered around respect.

And mostly about computer science education.

So I'm going to go ahead and put this in writing. A good teacher can teach computer science. Not every computer scientist can teach.

I'm not just pulling this from thin air. For the last 5 years I've been deeply embedded in the process of training new computer science teachers. I ran a program of 30 new AP Computer Science programs across Virginia. Some teachers had programmed, some had not.

I also have a decade of experience running extracurricular programs in computer science. We've had some wonderful and knowledgeable volunteers.

I trained math and history teachers, business teachers, turfgrass teachers. And yes, turfgrasses a real subject.

So what does it take to make a good computer science teacher?

First and foremost is command of the classroom. Someone who can get kids engaged in great learning activities. Teaching is an art, one that has to be developed just like any other skill set.

But we can't stop there. Too many teachers have been thrown into computer science class rooms without the base knowledge they need in order to teach the subject.

This sets the teacher and students up for frustration and ultimately, failure. Its not that experienced teacher can't do computer science, it's that they don't know computer science.

Computer science is the only high school subject I know of where we take people who have never even taken a class in the subject and say to you gotta go teach this. Can you imagine a calculus or physics, or art teacher that had never taken the subject at college?

And in an era where are professional evaluations are very closely tied to student test scores, it's a wonder anybody would take that risk.

So what does it take to be a good computer science teacher?

The bottom line is content. With a good classroom teacher and solid curriculum you create a situation where a teacher can succeed, which is the base of all student success.

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