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Leaving high school teaching (for now)

2011 July 15
by Hélène Martin

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.

8 Responses leave one →
  1. Grant permalink
    July 15, 2011

    Ms. Martin,
    As someone that had you for three semesters, I can say that you have not only changed my life, but changed the lives of many around me. Through your dedication, you have created a program from nothing. Many people have told me that they signed up for CS courses because you were the teacher. Even as you leave, the next teacher will be fantastic, and please remember that you are the reason this exists.
    Thank you (and don’t forget to visit!).

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      July 20, 2011

      When adults express skepticism in future generations` ability to be thoughtful, productive residents of this planet, I can point to you and friends and colleagues as clear evidence that we shouldn`t worry too much. Of course I`ll visit — you guys are my 150 children!

  2. July 15, 2011

    Congratulations. I hope you will continue to blog your new experience.

  3. July 27, 2011

    Does this mean UW has a teacher education program in CS for high school teachers or just the usual CS for industry?

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      July 28, 2011

      There is no teacher education program. I will be working with instructors who are already in the classroom. In Washington state, they must have a Career and Technical Education certificate to teach CS. That means they have some prior industry experience but not necessarily much teaching experience.

      • July 29, 2011

        Bummer. I guess you had better get to work designing one while you are there. Make it a summer program and I will be there.

  4. Quincy permalink
    August 27, 2011

    Late as I may be I still believe it to be important to leave a note here,

    At first I was disappointed to find out (just earlier) that you left GHS, but was linked here and after reading that I just wanted to say you are one of my favorite and most inspiring teachers Ms. Martin. Although I don’t attend GHS anymore I’m sure students who haven’t had you as a teacher wish they did, but at the same time I’m sure all the students support your decision completely to work at UW (it sounds much too good to turn down).

    So I just wanted to say congratulations and good luck on what you choose to do in the future.
    (all speaking sincerely from the perspective of a former student)

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      August 31, 2011

      Quincy, thanks so much. You don’t know how much your message means to me. Good luck with everything and keep in touch!! (that’s for all students)

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