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C'est la Z

A Critical Mass Of CS Teachers

A big difficulty with creating CS opportunities for all our students is the lack of CS teachers. New York City addressed this problem with their CS4All program - quick form PD to get teachers into CS classrooms in a hurry. One can debate if that was the best way to go but it enabled NYC to create a whole lot of CS classes in a very short period of time.

Of course, these teachers, by and large, only have that short form PD so I'd argue that this isn't a long term solution. I mean, you wouldn't want your entire language program taught by people who barely knew Spanish 1 or Math taught by teachers how don't know beyond the basics of Algebra.

A number of institutions, including Hunter are working on rectifying this via our CS Education programs. Some programs are legit, and some practically as superficial as the short form PD but the legit ones are trying to address the challenge.

I want to talk about why Hunter's Advanced Certificate program, a program, that I might add, is currently accepting applicants for this summer, is critical to the process.

Right now, you could place K12 CS teachers into one of the following buckets:

  • People with strong CS backgrounds. CS Majors or people with industry experience.
  • Hobbyists who learned some CS on their own and developed an interest or passion for the subject.
  • Volunteers who are game for the challenge who heard about CS4All and answered the call.
  • Teachers who were voluntold who are taking one for the team.

Most of the home-brew CS programs in the city started with teachers from the first two categories but currently the vast majority of teachers teaching CS are in the last two. Eventually, CS classes in NYC will all or mostly all be taught by qualified, certified CS teachers but how we get there will make a difference in terms of the community and culture we create.

Most of the approved certification programs in NY state award either a Bachelors degree or a Masters. That is, they're designed for new teachers just entering the profession. At Hunter we run a Masters program. Our first cohort had 3 students, our second 6 and right now there are 3 applicants for our third cohort. I haven't done any advertising or outreach but over time we'll get more and more applicants. It will be a slow process but eventually we'll have comparable numbers as for our math and science ed programs. I'd imagine that other programs across the state will have a similar growth curve. As these programs graduate teachers, the voluntolds and volunteers that aren't up to speed will return to their other subjects. Some will continue to teach a section or two of CS which is fine provided that by then their base of knowledge of CS and CS pedagogy is well beyond the canned training that DOE currently provides.

While eventually this will normalize, there is a problem. We're basically asking our new CS teachers to also be our master CS teachers, our CS teacher leaders. They'll have deep CS knowledge and they'll have studied the CS pedagogy so it'll all be on them.

The trouble is that it's hard enough surviving as a new teacher. Asking them to be the master teachers and the leaders at the same time is just not right.

That's where my Advanced Certificate program at Hunter comes in. Right now, we're the only such program in New York state. The program's an 18 credit masters level program that teaches the CS and the CS pedagogy but understands that the participants are already experienced teachers in some other subject area. It's a program that takes an teacher who's already experienced, albeit in another subject area and fills in the CS content and CS pedagogy gaps.

I mentioned earlier that I've done zero outreach for our masters program and that's because all my outreach has been for the Advanced Cert. I think it's vitally important that we build a critical mass of highly qualified CS teachers as soon as possible. Taking current, experienced teachers and bringing them up to speed in CS and teaching CS is the way to do this.

Other subjects already have their teacher leaders. In most schools, at least in larger schools, there will be one or two "go to" teachers. The ones that know the subject matter more deeply and how to teach it, the ones who are up on the latest and greatest in the field and in teaching, the ones who attend the conferences and bring back best practices. I'm working to jump start that for New York City.

Fortunately, I'm not alone and our friends at Gotham Gives and Google are supporting our program by providing scholarships to pay the tuition for qualified applicants.

Our first cohort graduated in May of 2021 and with that, New York City (and state) had it's first 21 certified computer science teacher. They'll be joined by 23 more two months from now. That's 44 teachers that have both the subject knowledge and the pedagogical knowledge to match in the system. Part of their scholarship agreement is for them to give back. Take part in CS education efforts in the city so they're already helping to shape the community and culture of K12 CS Education in New York.

I'm hoping for an even larger cohort this year. Imagine if we could get 60 or more into our program this summer. That would mean in three short years we'll have gone from zero to 100 qualified certified teachers and we'll be well on the way to that critical mass of teacher leaders.

As we get closer to that critical mass of qualified teachers, interest in programs like my certificate program will wane but at the same time, there will be more demand from teaching newcomers for our Masters program as there will be a career path for young CS minded teachers.

Once again it's the long game but that's what it takes.

So, if you're a New York City CS teacher and are looking for state certification, come join us. All the information can be found here.

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