Leaving high school teaching (for now)
I know I should have posted this earlier and especially before the by the numbers post but it’s been hard to find the words.
I will be lecturing for the introductory computer science courses at UW in the fall. The wonderful Earl Bergquist, after years of experience at Amazon, will be continuing to build the Garfield computer science program. I will be providing as much support as I can to local teachers and hope to be back at Garfield frequently as a volunteer.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible students at Garfield: students who not only embrace learning about complex new ideas but also have incredible personalities and diverse interests. I can’t wait to see what they end up doing and hope that my short stint with them will have had some positive impact on their lives. I learned so much with them and from them.
I came into high school teaching thinking I’d do it for a long time. For one, I love teaching, and working with that age group is particularly appealing — the students are finding themselves, they’re full of energy and there are so many opportunities to get to know them well. On top of that, I was determined to demonstrate that young, energetic people with a computer science background were the right teachers to get to build K-12 computer science programs. Leaving after only two years is made particularly difficult by that desire. I tell myself that I’ll still be having an impact in high school CS and that the UW opportunity was too good to pass up but I do feel guilty.
I wish I could say that I was entirely happy teaching at a public high school but it certainly had its challenges. Everyone knows that public funds have been tight in the past few years but I’m not sure how many understand how that has affected many teachers’ lives. So much uncertainty around budgets and personnel has caused a lot of anxiety and grimness. I felt like many people in the system were way too busy putting out fires and fighting for their little piece of turf to look at the big picture, celebrate successes or encourage innovation. It’s hard to consistently be putting in >60-hour weeks with very little guidance or oversight. Freedom is certainly nice but encouragement and mentoring are important, too, and especially in the creation of something new.
Perhaps the hardest part of the gig was the isolation. I was lucky to be in a school with several incredibly bright and inspirational instructors. Unfortunately, they are spread across other departments and located far away in the building so I rarely got to see them and never worked with them. I really hope that in my new role I can help computer science teachers from across the district be in productive and frequent collaboration.
Though the transition is bittersweet, I look forward to continuing to share my excitement for computer science and programming.