Why CS graduates don’t teach, but it’s not inherent to CS

July 9, 2012 at 2:52 am 7 comments

I mentioned that a UK survey of CS graduates found that fewer of them went into teaching than did other kinds of graduates.  The below blog piece tries to explain why that’s a case, and generally suggests that it’s not because of money.  In other countries, CS graduates do teach, e.g., Israeli CS teachers get a CS degree, first.  The problem is likely cultural to the region, not inherent to the discipline.  It is a real concern that computer scientists are not getting involved much in creating more high school teachers — computer scientists are not going to be happy with the result if we don’t participate and influence the preparation of the teachers and the definition of the curriculum.

I found that the Computer Science graduates from my course fitted into one of two categories. They either chose CS because they thought it could make them a lot of money, or because they were a  bit of a geek and they were into that kind of thing. The first group are lost already – you don’t earn anywhere near as much in teaching as you potentially could do in industry. The other group by their very nature are usually not particularly comfortable with social situations, and may find it their idea of hell to stand up in front of lots of people, let alone do it every day as a job. I’m not saying everyone shuffled around staring at the floor wearing 2 week old clothes and grunting for social interaction, but putting oneself on show in such a manner as teaching demands is not usually within a geek’s comfort zone – unless of course the room is filled with other geeks, which at school it definitely isn’t.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Nathan  |  July 9, 2012 at 9:38 am

    Maybe grads just aren’t aware that it’s an option as many haven’t seen CS in high school first-hand. Computer Science classes were never available to me during high school. In fact, only one of my peers in my undergraduate class had the option of taking a CS course in high school.

    My guess is that most of those that become educators do so because one of their educators inspired them. That was the case for me, but my inspiration came in college so I followed the path my professors did. Often times I find that k-6 teachers were inspired to become teachers from their days in elementary school… that HS math teachers were inspired to become HS math teachers from their time in high school. Perhaps the problem is that there are so few HS CS teachers out there to inspire students. It’s hard to imagine yourself being a high school CS teacher if you’ve never had one before.

  • 2. ǝɥʇooq ɹǝʇǝd (@pboothe)  |  July 10, 2012 at 12:27 am

    If you like teaching, and you like computer science, then many community colleges will hire you with a master’s degree. Teaching CS at the high school level requires someone who likes CS and specifically wants to teach high school. That’s a much smaller set than people who like CS and like teaching. I like CS and like teaching – so I teach at a 4 year liberal arts college. It’s wonderful!

    The environment at high schools seems to be getting worse (in terms of increased bureaucracy and decreased resources and academic freedom), teaching at the HS level is less prestigious, and schools frequently see CS as something extraneous. I think we may want to look at why anyone would want to be a high school teacher in a subject that is not part of the core curriculum, when they could be a professor at the local community college or an industry professional.

  • 3. Jack Toole  |  July 10, 2012 at 11:52 am

    As a recent CS graduate (May 2012) who loves teaching, I think that at the higher education level we have a general problem in this regard, not just in CS. (I’m not qualified to comment for in the high school regard, but I think Peter Boothe’s analysis holds merit – to teach CS in high school one would have to teach mostly math courses).

    I’ve been a course assistant for 5 semesters at UIUC, and enjoyed it so much (and was competent at it), that I am currently the instructor our CS2 / Data Structures course over the summer (which was a bit of a challenge to have happen at a large institution without an advanced degree). However, if I wanted to keep teaching at the university level, I would have to spend the next 5 years focusing on research, and being a TA on the side. While I love CS education and CS, I’m not sure if I want to spend the rest of my life researching (without being able to focus on teaching, at least for many years). To even start down that path I would have to get into a good graduate school, which could be challenging because the only small amount of undergraduate research I’ve done has been in CS education, not a “real” CS topic.

    Why don’t we have more CS graduates who teach? For the most part, there’s not any path set up to *let* those graduates teach.

  • 4. Cecily  |  July 13, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I think that the lack of a community of practice and career security are also major issues in CS education at the secondary level. Since CS is not required for high school graduation there is no real career security, and there are usually not enough other computing teachers to share computing problems with.

  • 5. rikkiprince  |  July 14, 2012 at 8:58 am

    In the UK, I’m certain this is because computing is barely taught at school. The revolution is happening now, so it might improve, but until this year UK schools only had to teach IT, which in essence meant “how to use Microsoft Office applications”. No real computer scientist is going to want to teach that.

    I certainly had a perception that many were in comp sci for the good job potential. However they are right; so much so that people coming out of physics and maths go into computing jobs. There are lots of them. There is also the perception here that people go into teaching as a last resort when they can’t find jobs. It’s a terrible shame if that is the case, but if it is true, then a job market as large and growing as the computing industry is unlikely to generate as many teachers! :-S

  • 6. Mark Sherman  |  July 15, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I believe a factor is that the demand in industry for quality computer scientists, especially those with sufficient social grace, is still high enough to preclude those people from considering teaching.

  • 7. dennisfrailey  |  July 20, 2012 at 6:59 am

    In my 40+ year career I worked mostly in industry (to make enough money to support my family) and taught part time in local universities (because I love teaching). I tried to teach at the high school level but was rebuffed because I lack some credentials related to knowing student psychology and other such things. I retired from industry at age 66 with enough money to pay for my retirement, but I still teach part time because I love it and do it well. In both industrial and academic settings I found that many CS people love to teach and make excellent teachers. So why don’t they/we teach more? Because we are in a field where the difference in pay can be very significant and also because teaching (at least in the US) is not as highly respected as many other fields. Even in the academic world teaching usually falls behind “research” (getting research grants) in importance. And at the K-12 level, you have to deal with a huge amount of bureaucracy and often poorly motivated students (although I’ve seen some excellent teachers there). Let’s face it: when you’re 45 years old and have a family to support, a typical teacher’s salary looks mighty paltry, especially considering the hours you put in.

    Another issue: where do we teach our CS colleagues how to teach? I learned more about teaching in industry than I ever did in my graduate CS program or in my 40+ years teaching in universities. In industry I was required to take courses in how to teach and to evaluate my teaching in ways well beyond the simple student evaluations common in the academic world. And I had to educate peers, supervisors, and even corporate executives who were well above me in the hierarchy, not students who were below me in the pecking order and thus less likely to criticize my failings or be able to do anything about them. (Example: in industry, failure to be able to speak clearly in English would doom one to failure whereas in academia it’s ignored – the students complain but the faculty members with heavy accents remain oblivious and their colleagues evaluate them on their research funding.)


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