Computer Science Teacher at Atholton High School, Howard County
How did you get into CS?
I began my career teaching math. While I taught at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, I helped develop curriculum for a Cryptography class. My students at the school, where taking a computer science course is a graduation requirement, submitted answers in code so I had to learn some of these languages to grade their work. My math degree required me to take some computer science courses but that was not my major so there was a lot to learn. When I relocated to Maryland, the only position available for me was a computer science teaching position so I decided to give it a try. It seemed like a field that was growing in popularity and I was interested in it.
What are some successes and challenges you have experienced in getting to where you are now?
I struggled so much my first year. Just because I could program did not mean I could teach it. Also, there was a huge disparity between students' knowledge so I had to try a lot of different ways to teach, where I could help not just one group of students, but all students. I also noticed that it was the same demographic signing up for the computer science classes. These were students that had big parent involvement and have been programming for awhile before entering my classes. There was a stigma about how hard CS is and many would not even give it a try. Looking back to when I was in high school, I enjoyed the STEM fields and I took all AP math and science classes, but my counselor never recommended taking a computer science class. I knew that the class existed, but it was mostly boys taking the class so I didn’t think it was for me. Even when I took CS courses in college, I was not convinced that it was important and that I needed to learn it. As a teacher, this outlook on CS changed completely. With the creation of AP Computer Science Principles, and easy to understand and learn contents for all students, it made me realize how having this knowledge could open doors for so many students in so many different fields and most importantly, that all students can learn to program. If I had a teacher that convinced me how useful and important it is to know how to program, and that I could learn it too and be good at it, I would have chosen to learn it much earlier as a student.
What's working well?
I have completed more than a dozen courses and professional development opportunities because not only do I learn about different ways to teach my students, I get great resources for my students. I was lucky enough to be in a state where there are great resources for teachers to grow and have support so it definitely helped me get to where I am. I was able to flip my classrooms so I could help reach more students with diverse backgrounds. I am especially proud of my classes that have not only grown in size, but have become more diverse. I have about an equal number of girls taking CS courses as boys and the number of minorities taking CS courses have grown tremendously.
My teaching philosophy is that everyone can learn and some students just need a little bit of convincing. There is definitely a lot of hand holding initially and a lot of encouragement that needs to be given to students. But I also work on being autonomous so that they can start doing things independently starting second semester. One thing I don’t allow my students to do is giving up so I let them know frequently to persevere and having the knowledge that their teacher won’t give up on them has made my students work a bit harder. Many students have continued taking CS courses and by the time they are seniors, they get to choose their own independent projects where they create some amazing projects that are beyond me. If you just expect more out of them, it’s amazing how they are able to deliver.