Comments on retaining CS teachers

This post started as a comment to Alfred Thompson’s post on “How to Retain Computer Science Teachers” but it started to get a bit long and wordy.  Long and wordy is more suited to a post of its own, especially when it is one of those posts where I wave my hands above my head for effect.

This may sound a bit weird but could the problem be that the people being hired to teach CS know too much about CS and not enough about teaching CS?  The chemistry, biology, Earth Science teachers are not leaving education to work in industry, at least in those fields.  Could that be because they are not specialized enough in those fields to be chemists, biologists or petroleum engineers?  They are generalists specializing in teaching these subjects, not field experts that are teaching.  They know a little about a lot.  CS seems to be backwards in education.  We are getting CS majors with a lot of knowledge in the field, enough to actually work in the field, and turning them into teachers.  Unless CS is supposed to be job training the teachers do not need that level of knowledge for K-12.  It would be nice but not necessary.  CS for education needs to less specific.  When getting an Education degree with a Math emphasis a pre-service teacher takes a lot of low level math courses and courses on how to teach math.  They do not take a lot of 300 and 400 level math courses like a math major would.  Since there are so few paths to teaching CS CS teachers end up with CS degrees.  This sort of leaves them totally unprepared to teach 5th graders and prepared to look for higher paying and no 5th graders jobs in industry.  CS Ed should be training teachers to teach CS K-12 which is a completely different education than a CS major would get.

If sounds like I am saying to retain CS teachers that it is necessary to dumb down the education that CS teachers are getting. What I mean to say is if a person is going into education, they do not have time in a 4-year education program to reach the skill level to be qualified for industry.  A teacher actually looking for a teaching job has to diversify their education.  Someone coming out of college with a CS degree and an education certificate is going to be fairly unemployable in most schools.  There are not many schools that need a pure CS teacher.  In Montana there are NO full-time CS teachers.  They all teach one or two sections of programming and something else.  So in that 4 years a pre-service teacher better be looking at a couple of teaching minors so they are more marketable.  So much for the time to get that a CS degree that industry wants to hire.  A CS Ed teacher should also be fluent in some languages that are not too hot in industry; Scratch, Alice, Small Basic, RobotC, and so on.  More time out of that CS degree.

Alfred makes some excellent points on strategies to retain CS teachers.  As the school IT guy these are all on my priory list.  Keeping teachers happy keeps them teaching.  Removing the hassle out of their already insane day keeps them happy.  Happy teachers keep teaching.

My feeling is that the CS teachers that left for industry would have left the education field anyway.  They are not teachers but CS people who have a desire to work in their field (and incidentally make a lot more money).  This is not a good thing or a bad thing, it is a logical career choice.  Retaining teachers in any field is a problem.  The money is not great and there is quite a bit of stress.  If we want to retain CS teachers we must have CS Ed programs that train teachers first and CS qualified teachers second.  And maybe biggest of all is let teachers teach.  Eliminate the paperwork overload.  IEPs, daily progress reports, constant disciple issues, and working with teachers that are in the field for the 3 months of summer.  (Do not get me started on tenure).

I better quit.  When I start waving my hands above my head I cannot type very well.

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One Response to “Comments on retaining CS teachers”

  1. cycomachead Says:

    Are we really trying that hard to get software engineers into the classrooom? That hasn’t been my experience. Sure, there’s Microsoft TEALS, but I think most people see this as a stopgap, and a way to train existing teachers. TEALS is interesting because they’re doing a good job achieving a balance between pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge. Mostly because each classroom has two bodies. I think the long term goal is for TEALS teachers to become experts after a few rounds and then the engineers move onto new classrooms.

    This past summer’s PD efforts with Infosys and CSTA have been focused on people who are teachers but not CS teachers. The real challenge of summer PD is that the time constraints are so great that even highly accomplished teachers often feel like the don’t have a good grasp on the content they’re teaching.

    All this to say: I agree it’s critical that people teaching CS be good teachers first.

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