I read an interesting article on the BBC website this morning which quotes many recommendations from MP’s on the Commons Education Select Committee. Although this is a general article about all subjects, it explains precisely why the top Computer Science graduates are not taking up teaching jobs – or more colloquially, why geeks don’t teach!
Of the people who were on my degree course for Computer Science, only three that I know of besides me are now involved in education. Two are qualified teachers (although one does not work as a teacher), and one is not a teacher but is pretty heavily involved in school education, especially in Wales 😉 Obviously I haven’t kept tabs on absolutely everybody I went to uni with so there may be others, but I’d say that is a pretty poor conversion figure – two teachers out of perhaps ~200 people.
So why is it that top Computer Science graduates choose not to teach?
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.
“The MPs also say all applicants for teacher-training should be observed taking a class before being offered a place.”
If the Government want to encourage Computer Science graduates to teach, this idea is a disaster. As @mwclarkson points out, it essentially equates to saying “we don’t want people who can’t teach already on PGCE courses”. Then what are they there for? I’m not afraid to admit that my first PGCE lesson had a script. Yes, like a play. *facepalm* I’d like to think that the PGCE taught me how to impart my knowledge a bit more appropriately! I hope he won’t mind me mentioning this, but my friend @simonw ‘s first attempt to teach PHP to some other undergraduates did not go very smoothly at all – and yet he is a very highly regarded programmer and public speaker. (The teaching profession has missed out!) Not all CS graduates would make good teachers, but if you put off the ones who want to try with a hurdle such as this, you will never find the hidden gems.
“We are concerned that the pay system continues to reward low -performers at the same levels as their more successful peers”
At present, we have a workforce of ICT & Computing teachers of whom some are excellent and some of whom are frankly pretty shocking. It makes me cringe to receive flyers in the post from OCR advertising a “skills course” to “help you with some of the more difficult aspects of AS ICT coursework”. COME ON!! Seriously! If you were a Maths teacher and you had to go on a course to figure out how to do integration or something, you’d be laughed out of the Maths office. At the very least an ICT/Computing teacher should know how to Google “how to do X in program Y” if they don’t know. (Check out this XKCD comic for all of your ICT training needs.) So why would an outstanding Computer Science graduate choose to use their skills to teach (for less pay than they would probably receive in industry), and receive the same pay as someone who can’t even figure out how to do a vlookup?
“It is crucial that we have an educational system which celebrates great teachers, keeps more of them in the classroom, supports their development and gives them greater status and reward.”
Of course it is! Everyone wants to know they are doing a good job, and that they are advancing within their career and that they are respected by their peers. I realised the other day when I was talking to my friend who is a pharmacist, and who hangs out with pharmacists and doctors and the like, that they all seem to “get” each other. They all trained in the same area, because they are interested in the same kind of things. At school, no one “gets it”. The majority of people I work with see computers as “those annoying things that break all the time”, and not “an instrument of incredible coolness”. They do not appreciate how freaking cool it would be if Year 9 could write their own Android apps. They are not pleased that I have figured out the CSS to do gradients, or impressed that some primary school visitors programmed a Scratch animation in less than an hour. They do not see online gaming as a valid excuse for not going to the pub. They are the other half of the 10 types of people, the ones who don’t understand binary.
And yet…if you’re a teacher, you’re shunned by the real geeks too. Most of my uni friends are developers, and whilst we all started out with broadly comparable skills when we left uni, 6 years after graduation my skills are extremely out of date whilst they have years of developer experience under their belt. I don’t fit in any more, I’m not credible *because* I only just figured out the CSS to do gradients (that’s so last year). Why would you expose yourself to the geek version of social death?
So what can we do?
Well, it clearly is possible to be a geek and be a teacher at the same time – and I’m somewhat preaching to the converted, as many of the people who will read this are probably both geeks and teachers. However, specifically for investing in future Computer Science teaching, I’d consider the following things if I were an MP:
- Curriculum – the curriculum as KS3 & 4 is dire. Make it something people are excited to teach, and this will translate in students who are excited to learn
- Create a PGCE in Computing (unless one already exists, in which case I apologise)
- A better curriculum will mean more teachers will be needed in the Computing department, resulting in a higher concentration of geekery –> happier geeks
- Encourage students to try “teaching” at university as part of their CS degree. (I worked as a paid lab tutor, as well as founding the Computer Science Society where we as students ran our own courses to teach others about aspects of Computing we were interested in.)
- Acknowledge that the world of Computing is constantly changing, and provide money or time for teachers to keep up to date with their geek skills
- If you do implement the previous point, don’t make other teachers cover for the Computing department in order to facilitate this 😉