« Share Your Ideas and Experiences at the CSTA Conference | Main | Confessions of an Elementary Computer Science Teacher »

Are The Girls in Your Class Being Bullied?

Perhaps many of you have read the recent Letter to my daughter's high school programming teacher, a blog post from an impassioned journalist whose daughter was bullied in computer science class by the males in the classroom. The girl's prior enthusiasm and interest in computer science was dimmed by her experience in that class. While the author used pretty harsh language to admonish the teacher, she brought up some good points that I think all teachers should consider.

She had seven suggestions: recruit students, set the tone, enforce an anti-harassment policy, don't be boring, pay attention, check in, and follow up. I thought the last three suggestions were especially important. We all know teaching is not an easy job. Often the classroom is chaotic, with students asking for help at every turn. It can be difficult to detect harassment if it is not overt. We do need to pay attention to the culture of the classroom and check in with our students to make sure everyone feels safe and encouraged. According to the daughter in an update to the original blog post, she had talked to the teacher about the harassment and there was some follow-up with the principal, but it fizzled out. The girl finished the class, but is now discouraged from taking another computer science class.

I consider the introductory computer science class I teach a distinct opportunity to turn kids on to computer science. The mother wrote in her blog: "Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming." We do have that one chance to grab the students, in their first computer science class. Creating a positive, welcoming environment in our classrooms is a powerful way to encourage and promote computer science as a field of study. Girls especially can feel threatened or intimidated when they are the minority in a class full of boys. I know I can do a better job of checking in individually with all my students. Although I have them journal during the class, face-to-face conversations can be a more effective way to really learn how students are faring.

What ways do you encourage a positive environment in your classroom?

Karen Lang
CSTA 9-12 Representative

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)