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C'est la Z

If you build programs, teachers will come

It's been a month since my last post. In fact it seems that most of the usual CS Ed bloggers are down in frequency this year. For me it's probably been Covid fatigue and the resulting funk but I'm going to see if I can force myself to write more frequently.

So, the other day someone was asking about CS certification in NY state on Facebook. One comment caught my eye. It was about Michigan dropping all requirements to teach CS because, and I'm paraphrasing here, nobody who knows enough CS to go into industry will ever become a teacher.

I both resent and resemble that remark as do a handful of my colleagues.

I've heard this argument many times. A particularly disgusting version goes "if we teach CS teachers too much CS they'll leave for industry."

I don't buy it. That's just an excuse and it'll keep our students from getting the teachers they both need and deserve. Why don't I buy it? Math and Science. CS is the hot subject these days and, at least in theory, with a strong tech background you can "easily" get a high paying job but CS wasn't always the be all and end all. There were and are other fields that pay well and can pull from our pool of potential teachers.

Let's dig a little deeper. Nowadays you can become certified in math or science in New York state by completing an "approved program," taking some state exams and jumping through a few hoops. This has led programs in "math education." Some of these programs provide teachers with a solid foundation in math but some, not so much. Back before no child left behind, at least in New York City, you had to actually know your math. You needed legit math credits as opposed to math-ed (which can be legit or lame) and you had to get through the "board of examiners" where you had to face a panel of teachers and assistant principals who could grill you on all manner of content.

Where am I going with this?

Well, a math teacher who knows their math, at least in NY has plenty of alternatives. Accounting has always been a mainstay but for the big bucks we have wall street. How is it we have math teachers that know math when wall street and those big bonuses beckon? Same thing with some of the sciences - we've got big pharma right across the river.

The truth is that some people are good in their subject area and actually want to become teachers. This might not be the majority of CS people, math people etc. but there are some. Math and science might be shortage areas in schools over time but somehow schools manage to find teachers.

The problem with CS is that there was never a career path. If you knew CS you couldn't get certification so you had to go in through math or some other subject. Then you had to find a school where you could teach CS and of course, for seniority and job retention you were always lumped in with another discipline.

Now, a career path is developing. We've got programs like mine at Hunter through which a prospective teacher can become certified and we have schools starting to offer CS and they'll want to hire those CS teachers.

It'll just take time.

Our first Masters cohort at Hunter has four students in it. Our second, which will start in the Fall looks like it will have around 6. These are small but from what I'm told, pretty good sizes for a new program, particularly when there was zero advertising and outreach. I've also started to get questions from undergraduate CS students.

We're not going to solve K12 CS education over night. We've got to play the long game. Positions that need certified CS teachers are starting to appear as are pathways to certification. There will be people who want to teach and want to teach CS. If we give them the pathway they will come.

As a final thought though, knowledgeable CS teachers do have a choice. So do knowledgable math and science teachers. If they're leaving teaching or not even entering the profession it's not because of CS, math, or science. It's because we've made teaching as a profession so undesireable and those teachers have options. That's why I found that version of the argument I mentioned up at the top so disgusting. People who don't want CS teachers to know real CS are really saying that the only way they can get and keep teachers is to in fact keep them uneducated.

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