What’s it like to be an IT professional volunteering with TEALS
I wrote a blog post recently, where I suggested that we in computing need to be careful that TEALS doesn’t end up diminishing demand for high school CS teachers. Kevin Wang, who runs TEALS, contacted me after that post and we had a useful phone conversation.
Kevin sees TEALS as primarily a professional development activity. TEALS provides IT professionals to teach computer science courses and to be a teacher-asssistant in these courses. TEALS goes into a school only if the school signs a contract with TEALS that (a) there is a teacher assigned to teaching computer science in that school, who will undertake professional development during the time that the course is being taught and (b) that teacher will take over the course after the engagement with TEALS ends. The professional development is really just the student sitting in on the class with the students — no pedagogical development, no teaching methods, no community with other teachers. For most schools, it’s a many-volunteer to one-school ratio — a couple of teachers, and some teaching assistants. TEALS is now experimenting with volunteers who provide the teaching via video at distance.
They don’t have a lot of data yet. TEALS doesn’t know yet how well the teachers learn, sitting in on the class alongside the students. They don’t know how yet how well the teachers like doing professional development like this — I wonder if teachers find it demeaning to their professionalism, to sit taking the class alongside the students, rather than in groups of their peers. TEALS doesn’t know yet much about how well the schools succeed teaching computer science after the professionals leave. They don’t know if students are learning overall (they have great results in some classes), or about how the students are doing with IT professionals who have little preparation for teaching, or if the TEALS classes are better or worse than others at engaging women and under-represented minorities.
The quote below is from a blog post that I highly recommend reading. It’s by one of the TEALS volunteers and his experience in teaching AP CS. The author, Dan Kasun, was a teaching assistant to an existing AP CS teacher. I don’t know how common that model is.
TEALS sounds like it’s trying to make computer science succeed for the long haul. Computing education reform can’t be about the students — or rather, it can’t be about the students here and now. It has to be about the long term. Yes, by providing a set of IT professionals to a school, one can help a class of 35 students to do remarkably well in AP CS. But if you develop a full-time CS teacher to be in multiple classes, and to improve over years, and to stay in that school for a decade or more (or even the five years that only half of STEM teachers last), you get to far more than 30 kids.
I want computer science to be in schools, long after TEALS runs out of volunteers. I believe that Kevin Wang wants that, too. I don’t know if TEALS is helping yet, but am interested to see what we learn from it.
I had the opportunity to support one of the local Loudoun County High Schools this year by volunteering to assist in AP Computer Science as part of the TEALS program (www.tealsk12.org). TEALS provides volunteers who can teach an entire computer science class for schools that do not have access to trained educators, and also provides teacher assistants (TAs) for schools that already have teachers, but would like additional support in their programs. Loudoun already had teachers, so I volunteered as a TA (which was fortunate, as my schedule wouldn’t have supported the responsibility of the full class).