Loving What You Teach

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Loving What You Teach

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Do you write computer programs for fun? Many of the best teachers I have known “do what they teach” for fun and not just because it is part of their job. I knew a math teacher who factored Prime numbers in his head and really got a kick out of the fact that his license plate was a six digit Prime. Just about every art teacher I have ever known spent a lot of their free time creating art. You probably know an English teacher who is working on the next great American novel or a collection of poetry in their spare time. And what about the History teacher who spends their summer vacation visiting historical sites? I know a science teacher who moonlights as a professional meteorologist. Their love of their discipline makes what they teach more than just a job. Do you think this enthusiasm is noticed by their students? Of course it is. It’s part of what makes them great teachers.

My friend Tom Indelicato is a great high school computer science teacher who happens to really like to write code. And he’s good at it too. He writes about a recent project at his blog. There was a need for some software at his school. Not a particularly complicated piece of software but it had to be easy to use, reliable and meet the needs of the business of the school. The school had tried a trial version of some software that almost met their needs. Tom could have just suggested that the school buy a full version of the software and things would have been ok. Not great but OK. And Tom would not have had to do any work on the project at all. But Tom likes to write code so he wrote a program that really meets the schools needs. A case study he can use with his students? Possibly. But clearly the process he went though as he developed this program in his spare time can easily serve as an example to his students. But more than that Tom’s students can see the love he has for the field.

BTW Tom also likes to write game programs in his spare time. He’s my kind of teacher.

Do your students see your love for the subject in you? How?

  • I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, because another teacher suggested to me that being a software developer in one's free time is an important way to be a better CS teacher.

    I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I agree with you about sharing our passion for the subject with our students, which means experiencing the passion! I also think it brings something of value to the classroom when we can commiserate with students. A frustrated, bug-hunting girl is always impressed when I tell her about spending 45 minutes looking for a missing semicolon once. (A cautionary tale about the value of peers if there ever was one!) And I can empathize with students better when I've gone through the same development (and learning) process more recently rather than years ago.

    That said, I think having outside interests might be even more important than continuing to practice the craft. We all have limited spare time and have to think carefully about how to allocate it. Developing interests outside of computing - and sharing those interests with students - can help them see us as well-rounded people. Especially for reluctant computer scientists, the perception that you can be a smart geek AND be a normal person is really important. Sharing non-computer pursuits with students allows me to bond with kids who aren't necessarily interested in my class - and possibly help them get interested. In my case, I hold a knitting club, but I know a very popular CS teacher who plays ultimate frisbee every Friday on the school lawn.

    To strictly answer your question, my students see my love for CS because I embody it every day when I walk through the door. Who else do they know who exclaims over how cool binary is and whose second-favorite word is "algorithm"?
  • I completely agree with the need for outside interests. I'm not suggesting that CS teachers need to spend all of their time coding or that they need to take on additional jobs developing code. Rather I think it is helpful if one is the type of person who would still write code now and again for the fun of it and not see it just as a chore.
  • At our school since I teach and maintain computers I have written everything from Excel spreadsheets to Access databases and all of the reporting that goes with them.

    I also have a business on the side (that I started before I got into teaching) that creates and designs website.  (More maintenance now than content creation.)  They know I love the topic.

    Like the small town doctor here, I am the small town computer guru.  I have literally been at a funeral and had someone lean over and ask me a computer question.  People also sit by me at weddings to ask questions and stop me in the grocery store.

    I think that is the only drawback so I have to make sure I "get out of Dodge" in the summers.  I also enjoy my edublogging so very much.  I can receive feedback from people who understand the topics I teach and pus me to the very edge of learning.  So many people who know so much more than me.  Edublogging is so refreshing!  

    This is a great post!
  • Ah, now I understand. I can completely get behind the idea of the occasional programming project to rediscover the joy!

    Some of the CS teachers I meet are profoundly geeky. I end up feeling inferior in a "not geeky enough" kind of way. It is the difference between "Don't you think it enhances your teaching to write the occasional program?" vs. "I don't think you can be a good CS teacher if you don't spend your free time writing programs." It is good, as you did, to encourage people to do better.
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