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Getting and Keeping Computer Science Teachers in K-12

With the recent publication of the new CSTA report Bugs in the System: Computer Science Teacher Certification in the U.S. CSTA has shone another white hot spotlight on the systemic barriers that keep good teachers from becoming computer science teachers. Today, however, I've been thinking about what comes next and I"ve realized that there is almost no discussion about keeping the good teachers we have. When are we going to start dealing with the fact that we are driving great CS teachers away from our classrooms?

The U.S. is only one nation that is now grappling with how to entice people with computer science knowledge into teaching. In Britain, for example, the British Computer Society (BCS) is administering a government-funded program that will award a number of $38,000 grants to new computer science teachers. Those not successful with the BCS grants may still qualify for a grant of $30,000 if they have a strong computer science academic record.

Right now, we only dream of such a program in the U.S. But even if we had one, the sad truth is that we would lose far too many of the teachers we attracted. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years. In other words, half of the investment made in recruiting, training, and hiring new teachers is lost within the first five years.

And little wonder. Why would any smart person with a degree in computer science want to go into teaching? Who would want to be underpaid (many teachers must have a second job to earn a livable wage while computer scientists receive excellent starting salaries), under-supplied (on average teachers spend $1,200 per year buying basic supplies for their classrooms and many CS teachers spend a great deal more), and over-regulated (the paperwork is mind-numbing).

Some states have begun grappling with the challenge of keeping good teachers by offering incentive pay in “high-need” disciplines. I am not sure this is the answer. But I do know we have to do something. We need people with great minds and great hearts to prepare our students to thrive in a world in which computing is ubiquitous. We can no longer afford to chase good teachers away from our discipline by undervaluing and de-professionalizing them.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director


Thanks for the article Chris. I switched from a 24-year career in software engineering (Bell Labs, DEC, Mitre, Vignette, etc.) to teaching math and computer science. Math was a high need area in Maryland, so I was able to get into a special one-year program at UMD. I had a Masters in Computer Science already, and got my Masters in Secondary Math Education from UMD. I didn't do this for the money. In fact, my teaching salary started at less than 50% of my software engineering salary. I changed careers because I wanted to make a difference in the life of children. My work as a software engineer wasn't helping anyone except the CEOs and stock holders of the companies I worked for. One company gave a million dollar interest-free loan to a new VP, at the same time as they were laying off engineers. Now I laugh more each day and smile more than I ever did programming. I'm teaching computer science to students at a magnet high school. But the other side of it is, my wife and I can't afford to live in our some anymore, and will most likely have to move. Teaching just doesn't pay the bills. We had to sell our home last February because we couldn't afford the mortgage. I don't know how much longer we can afford for me to teach. But, for today, I get opportunities to make a difference in the life of a child. Ying and yang I suppose.

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