So You Want to be a CS Teacher? Part 1.

It is interesting to read various blogs on NYC’s proposal to have every student doing CS in 10 years.  Both Mark Guzdial and Mike Zamanski have comments worth reading on the subject.  As is pointed out the elephant in the room is the lack of CS teachers and CS Ed programs.  Qualified CS teachers, not two week wonders.  So how do you become a CS teacher?  Here is how I did it.

I was being interviewed for my first teaching job.  It was in Winifred MT.  One hundred kids K-12.  Out in the middle of nowhere.  They were interested in hiring married couples.  So my wife and I are getting the guided tour through the school.  The superintendent shows me the room I would be teaching in if I were hired.  Sitting along the wall were three Radio Shack TRS-80’s with the packing material still stacked next to them.  He asks me if I knew how to run “them things”.  Now in college I had had a math methods teacher who was into computers.  We had spent quite a bit of time with Apple IIe software and Apple Logo.  I had also take a FORTRAN course instead of the foreign language.  Since the wife and I needed jobs and me not being afraid of anything I said “Sure!”.  Ta Da!  I am a programming teacher!  Not really a CS teacher but close.  After 5 years of Winifred, TRS-80s and Apple IIes we moved back to the big city of Missoula.

The wife immediately gets hired to teach middle school.  Me, I get hired to tune skis and bicycles.  So I figure I will get my masters.  The VA was willing to pay and I got on as an adjunct instructor in the math department at the university.  (They were having a little problem with math adjuncts that had never taught or did not speak English.)  I got the masters done and was having fun being an adjunct and working on bikes.  I was still not paying tuition so I figured I would dabble in some CS classes and maybe get a minor.  I still wanted to get back into the high school so I figured a minor in CS Ed would be handy.  Imagine my surprise when U of M did not offer such!  So I wandered into the CS department chairman’s office and asked if he would offer one for me.  Imagine my surprise when he immediately agreed.  (Lots of surprises going on here.)  With three new classes (one designed by me) and previous course work I walked away with a CS Ed minor.  One of two given by U of M.

After ten years of adjuncting and bike mechanicing with a six month detour into the world of commercial software I had to get back to real teaching.  While at a friend’s wedding I was chatting with a guy I did not know.  He was the athletic director at Loyola, the local Catholic school.  Loyola HS wanted a math teacher who was interested in getting a CS program going.  There was an extreme shortage of CS “qualified” teachers for the job who were willing to accept private school pay (about one half public school pay).  Poof!  I am a full blown CS teacher.  Fifteen years later I am still trying to justify the full blown part.  I am still mostly in the “poof” stage.

So how do you become a CS teacher?  You do not wait for the local university to come up with a program and you do not do some online course work.  You do not spend a fortune getting a CS degree and an education degree.  (OK, so that is the best option but be real.)  What you do is you find a school that is interested and you find some students and you jump in feet first.  If the local university offers something, grab it.  If there is something online that looks worthwhile, do it.  But for heaven’s sake to not wait for magic to happen.

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2 Responses to “So You Want to be a CS Teacher? Part 1.”

  1. Mike Zamansky (@zamansky) Says:

    Love your story and thanks for the linkback (although it’s spelled Zamansky :-). I think I’ll have to write up my own history now.

  2. gflint Says:

    Opps, sorry Mike. We have a “ski” here so I did not even look.

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