Why would you want to teach high school computer science?

Brian Scarbeau and I had an interesting conversation in Atlanta last week. Brian blogged about some of it. One of the concerns we both have is the shrinking pool of high school computer science teachers. A friend of ours just left teaching to take a job in industry. (of course I have done the same thing I admit.) Many of the computer science teachers we saw at the CS & IT symposium and that I saw at NECC last week are older. Not old really but a lot closer to retirement than to the beginning of their career. A good number of great teachers have retired in the last couple of years and that will only continue in the near future.

So who is going to take over for these teachers. In far too many cases no one is. There are schools where the computer science program has basically died after a teacher has retired because there was no one to replace them. We don't see a whole lot of young people moving in to take their places. There is a growing shortage of teachers in general of course. And high demand jobs like math and science teachers are leading the list of specialties in short supply.

Let's face it, if you really know your stuff in computer science you can make some good money in industry. But even if you feel a calling to teaching (and I feel it still and hope to get back to it some day) the system doesn't make it easy for you. There is no national standard for certifying computer science teachers. And in fact more states than not have a complete mess when it comes to certification for CS teachers. Often one has to be a either a math (ok close) or a business (what?) teacher to teach computer science. There is seldom a stand alone CS teacher certification. In fact if there is one I am not sure I know where it is. How do you even know what/how to prepare?

There are a bunch of problems here. At yet teaching high school and even middle school students (some people love teaching middle school others prefer other grades) computer science is a wonderful, enjoyable and rewarding career. But it is hard to communicate that in a society that keeps score based on income. We really need to find a solution here and not just for computer science education but for education in general.

Comments (10)

  1. Alfred asks why — well, one of my fellow "new" CS teachers in my district could probably tell you better. Yes, Alfred, we do have a young man — in his 20’s, I believe who is going to start his…

  2. Alfred asks why — well, one of my fellow "new" CS teachers in my district could probably tell you better. Yes, Alfred, we do have a young man — in his 20’s, I believe who is going to start his…

  3. Annie Evans says:

    I often read this blog, and thought on this occasion I would throw in my two cents.  I just graduated with a B.S. in CS this May and have taken a job teaching high school CS.  It has been a very difficult decision as I watch my peers take very high-paying industry jobs.  There also have been many hoops to jump through with certification.  Colorado has just introduced an endorsement in instructional technology, so that has made things a bit easier.  Any way that you look at it though, unless you really have a strong desire to teach its not a very tempting job when there are so many "better" opportunities.

  4. Jam says:

    Well I earned my Texas Certification in Secondary Computer Information Systems in 1997. I was 24 years old. Two years later I got my masters- I went job searching- no schools were willing to pay me for my masters and most schools were looking for multimedia or keyboarding rather than typical CS1/2. I was offered at CS position at a 5A high school in Texas-in 2000 and turned it down. I went to the Community College the same year- where I am still teaching. I do not regret to this day what I decided.

    Alfred other issue to address is that when there is a downturn in CS jobs- people rush to teach- because of job security-not because they desire to teach. We have had so many bad part time instructors- because they think teaching is easy- compared to industry…

  5. Baker says:

    27-year old H.S. CS teacher here…I’ve been teaching since I graduated from college…

    I have a lot to say on this issue.  I agree with most of what people have said above and would like to add another problem to the heap (no pun intended).

    I work for a very prestigious k-12 independent school that proports to be progressive.  I’ve been pushing and pushing and pushing for "real" computer science at this school, but no dice.  

    Here’s the crazy part: unlike most schools I know we actually have 3 people (out of 4) in the department with degrees in computer science.  We know what we’re talking about and we take education and pedagogy very seriously.  Our head of school though, sees no place for computer science in modern education – what he sees are bells and whistles (read: iMovies and podcasts) as the panacea of technology in education.  After an hour-long presentation to him and the division heads about our vision for k-12 CS education (a modified and spiffed up version of the ACM K12 model curriculum) it was clearly beyond him – blank stares.  

    The questions we often get about our curriculum are these:

    1. What are other schools doing?  – Response: NOTHING! That’s the point!  True, there are a few schools who do a good job, but we want to take part in leading the charge.  (How could a head of school not jump on the opportunity to have a willing and able department lead the charge to bring real computer science to the high school curriculum?)

    2. If we add CS what do we lose?  This is the damning question.  I don’t necessarily view it as a zero-sum game this way, but that doesn’t change people’s minds.  I’ll be the first to admit that at a competitive high school, the last thing our kids need are more curricular requirements to stress them out.  Even if the administration were for it, the rest of the faculty would balk in fear that they would lose time with their students.  I guess this is where you open the discussion about merging with Science.  But without adequate time focused on CS issues this would be doomed to fail.  It’s a toughy.  Thoughts?

  6. Rachel says:

    I’m a 24 year old woman teaching computer science at a private school in Florida. I decided to teach in my junior year of my bachelor degree – I didn’t want to sit at a desk all day, like I did in internships I picked up.

    So, when I graduated I found a job teaching at a private school in Florida. They hired me primarily to teach computer applications – microsoft office :p – but I’m going into my third year now and I’ve offered CS1 (intro to computers and programming in C#) and this year Web Design 1 (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Dreamweaver and at the end a little ASP.NET). If I stay, I’ll be teaching AP Computer Science in a year or two.

    There’s the rub: if I stay. My biggest problem at my school is that I’m teaching more keyboarding/office classes than actual CS, which is where my heart is. I’d like to make a move to teaching at a community college, like Jam is, at some point.

    Oh, and Florida does have a specific Computer Science certification, Alfred. I’m getting an alternative certification in it right now, and that will be the subject area I’m certified in.

  7. Baker, I have had a similar problem. I am lucky that I now have a fairly supportive principal, who sees a commitment to computer science as something that distinguishes our school. But it has been a hard path and every time someone comes up with another good idea for our students, the time comes out of computer science. I think the attitude of the administration makes a bigger difference than anything else.

    Alfred, have you read the book _Teachers Have It Easy_? It makes a strong case for paying teachers more. I haven’t finished it yet, but it definitely talks about the pressure on teachers who are "respected" yet expected not to want a living wage.

  8. Jam says:


    1. Get that masters degree.

    2. Adjunct teach first

    3. I teach Computer Applications and advanced programming- so I even at the CC level you cannot get away from teaching Office…

  9. You may not have noticed but I have been away on vacation the last two weeks. I was out of the country

  10. You may not have noticed but I have been away on vacation the last two weeks. I was out of the country

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