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I Can't Cook, But I Can Teach CS

Almost everyone I know can cook. And what I mean by cooking, is that they can make themselves some semblance of a balanced meal that tastes good. I, on the other hand, am completely useless in the kitchen. I think cooking is an art and that some people are naturally gifted in this area. I don't believe I have this gift. Many friends and colleagues have scoffed at my claim that I'm unable to learn and think that I haven't really tried. Believe me, I've tried. I've followed a countless number of recipes just to make creations that were tasteless or overcooked. Trying to teach myself just hasn't worked. Clearly I need formal lessons and support, despite what others may think.

Many school system officials and school administrators think that teaching CS is like cooking; anyone can do it if they just try. Since there isn't a nationally accepted test for a licensure in computer science, states and districts have widely varying criteria for letting teachers teach computer science courses. I worked in a place where first a math certification was required, then they switched the requirement to a business certification, and then they said any secondary school certification was sufficient. In all three situations, no proof of any knowledge of computer science was required in order to teach any of the computing courses, though I was forced to take the Business Praxis exam at one point in order to continue teaching a course I had been teaching for several years. (Hooray, I'm now credentialed to teach accounting, economics, and marketing, even though I've had no formal training!) How many of you work in places with similar situations?

Just this week, I discovered that in order to teach a financial literacy course in my county, certified math teachers have to attend a six-hour training, complete an online course, and pass a test in order to be deemed knowledgeable enough to teach this course. These same math teachers can teach computer science without any such training or demonstration that their college coursework included computer science courses. The message that I'm hearing is that anyone can teach themselves what is necessary to teach computer science, but teachers need additional support in order to teach finance. This is crazy! We need to be recognized as a rigorous subject that requires teachers to be knowledgeable in both content and pedagogy. If we really wish to increase the number of teachers in our country to 10,000 by 2015, we have to have school system officials and administrators recognize us as a subject of rigor and one that requires training and support.

Ria Galanos
9-12 Teacher Representative

Comments

I think the issue Ria identifies bespeaks a more fundamental problem in k-12 CS education: Most people have no idea what computer science is. When administrators do recognize the need for the subject to be taught at all, many assume that anyone who "knows about computers" can manage. And as Ria's experience shows, state and school systems can work themselves in knots trying to figure out where CS "fits."

Perhaps the reason is that CS belongs everywhere. If computer literacy is one of the most important competencies for the contemporary student, why aren't ALL teachers being urged to incorporate the basics of computational thinking into their classes? Such a move wouldn't immediately solve the problem of nurturing effective CS teachers, but it would at least enable schools and school systems to recognize its CS needs, and it would better position us to create a long-term approach to CS education than the current "we-need-a-warm-body" model. Until more teachers and administrators understand what CS education means, CS will continue to be thought of as something you've either got or you don't - thought of, somewhat ironically, as more art than science.

It may very well be that "anyone" can teach CS, but no one who tries to teach it can do it without continual support and guidance. More important, everyone involved in k-12 education needs to recognize and understand the discipline.

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