My Journey with the TEALS Program as a Microsoft MVP


Editor’s note: The following post was written by SharePoint MVP Chris Givens

My Journey with the TEALS Program as a Microsoft MVP

Earlier this year, our Community Program Mgr., Melissa Travers, sent out an email about a Microsoft program called TEALS to support this effort and recruit MVP volunteers. As a long time Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), and the fact my son Igor is in high school, I decided it might be something worth exploring, and being that it counts as a community contribution towards MVP Award, made it even more appealing as the Microsoft MVP Award program is one of the best in the industry!

What is TEALS?

TEALS stands for Technology Education and Literacy in Schools.  It is a program managed by Microsoft via their Corporate Citizenship initiatives to generate more skilled computer science graduates to fill the gap in the computer science job markets. (S. “Soma” Somasegar, Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President of the Developer Division is a big fan!) The program is targeted towards high schools that do not have a current computer science program due lack of funds or skilled staff to run such a program.  Through TEALS, Microsoft provides the instructors, (which are individuals like me who simply volunteer our time to teach), curriculum structure, and training to support the course. A goal of the initiative is to train one of the school’s teachers to be able to teach computer science down the road.

How does TEALS work and what do they teach?

TEALS works by sending volunteer individuals who work in the computer science field to high schools to teach students the basics of programming.  As of today, there are 2 curricula available: an intro course based on UC Berkeley’s The Beauty and Joy of Computing, and “Building Java Programs – A back to basics approach” 3rd Edition by Stuart Reges and Marty Stepp.  I know what you are thinking, why “Java” vs “.NET” since this is a Microsoft funded program?  The unfortunate thing is that most colleges are using Java in their Computer Science programs (as such was the case when I attended college at the University of Tulsa back in the day).  Java has been running on multiple devices and architectures for quite some time now so it makes sense to use it.  Additionally, and this is the more important part, the AP Computer Science exams are all in Java.

However, I’m confident that this will change moving forward with all the great announcements that the Microsoft .NET team made recently about changes in the C# language and making the .NET Core open source and the further collaboration with the awesome guys from the Mono and Xamarin projects!  As I mentioned in a tweet a few weeks ago, I really do think Microsoft put Java on life support but it will be a few years before the books and tests are rewritten using .NET.

Aside from the politics, both Java and .NET are object oriented languages. So the concepts around variables, methods, recursion, algorithms, abstraction and data structures all stay the same no matter what language is taught. J

 

Sounds interesting, how do I get started?

The first step, before you even contact the TEALS group, is to determine if you have the time to dedicate to the program.  In my case, our class is on a varying schedule.  Back in my high school days we had the same seven classes every day for a semester.  In some cases it still works like that, but in many I am finding that the Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tues-Thurs schedules have won out so as to prepare students for college schedules.  In addition, some schools switch the days every week.  So one week you will be Mon-Wed-Fri, the next, you will be Tues-Thur.  For my class, we switch the days every week, but I got lucky and the course starts at 7:40am every morning and runs until 9:40am.  As you can see, if you have a job that allows some flexibility, then TEALS is something to consider.

Ok, I have time, how do I get started?

I’m sure many of you reading this are going to have schedules that will allow you to participate in this amazing program, you just have to mentally make the decision!  If you are still reading, you must be really interested and that’s awesome!  The second step is to visit the TEALS website* and determine if there are any TEALS Partner Schools near you.  If not, you can start a program in your area and there are some opportunities for remote instruction.  If you would like to submit an application for your local school, then do it!  More details and an information recording can be found on the Schools page.

The first person I would suggest you talk to is Kevin Wang or one of his helpful team members such as Vichi Jagannathan or Brigham Hall via info@tealsk12.org .  Mr. Wang started the TEALS program and although I have yet had the opportunity to meet him in person, I know he’s a very cool individual.  As the founder of the program, I don’t think he knew just how big the initiative would grow or how successful and impactful it would become, but I give him a ton of kudos for creating this amazing program!

Once you get ahold of one of the TEALS team members, they can walk you through the process of signing up new schools.  This will include requirements for the program and how you should approach presenting it.  After getting all the details, the next step is to meet with the principal or vice-principal of the proposed school and see if they would like to come onboard.

Ok, I found/created a program, how do I sign up for TEALS?

Once you have found a program in your area, you will need to sign up with the TEALS group.  In most cases, you’ll be placed on a teaching team that includes several other volunteers.  Worry not, with my busy schedule I have found having more than two people to be a good thing in case something unexpected comes up. And being that life happens, you may find that you and your fellow TEALS volunteers could all be out on a particular day.  That’s ok too, as every TEALS course is paired with a local teacher who helps out in case none of us can make it to class.  It is also helpful (and legally required as I’m sure most of us do not have the respective state teaching certificates) as each school will differ, having someone who can help you with those policies and procedures is a good thing.  In terms of the legal aspects, a high school’s classroom has many more rules than an adult higher education or adult training center which I’ll point out below. 

Do I need any type of experience or training?

In my case, I already had several years of experience being in a classroom with adults as an MCT.  Though, TEALS would prefer that you have done some type of teaching in the past and have the applicable skills necessary to teach the materials.  That being said, there are resources that are designed to train you on how to approach teaching in a high school environment and tips and tricks for delivering the material.  Although I did not attend any of these, I hear they are really good, especially the surprises you will run into in a high school classroom.

Legally speaking…

Now comes the legal part.  High schools in the United States take the safety and security of their students very seriously. Schools generally require a criminal background check, and some schools may even insist on a drug screening.  The exact procedure varies by school district, but you will probably be required to work with the high school’s approved contractor for those services.  For those of you who know me, luckily my doppelganger and I have never done anything really bad, so they have let me in the classroom!

Great, I made it through the interview and legal, what can I expect?

You can expect the unexpected!  For many of us, it has been many years since high school J.  You will slowly remember how it felt to be back in school.  From driving onto campus, to walking into the administration building to get your “Staff” parking pass, to the meeting with the principal (no you’re not in trouble this time), to walking around the buildings to find your classroom.  Oh, and not to mention, getting your picture taken for your staff badge and the yearbook.  Yes, there are some unexpected perks.  Like getting to use the staff bathroom and not the student bathrooms!

The next set of memories include walking into the classroom.  The rows of chairs and computers on the desks.  Only, this classroom doesn’t have old Apple green screen terminals.  The warning bell rings and the students slowly file in and pick seats next to their friends.  Yep, the clicks and stereotypes are still there.  In my case, I had about 20 students to start off with.  The bell rings again and everyone quiets down.  My particular school system uses Blackboard and so we immediately start taking roll call and recording their seating positions in the system. 

Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?

It is refreshing to say, that we have five female students in the classroom.  And at this point in the school year, my top student in the class is one of them!  This really wasn’t the case many years ago, but I’ll be the first to say…the best managers and developers I have ever worked with in my life (pretty much the entire five years I spent at IBM) were all women.  Hopefully, you will see the same evolution in your classrooms.

How is a day broken up?

We break our days up into parts.  First, we start with a quiz from a reading assignment.  We do the quiz to ensure they understood the material.  For each student who answers a question, we throw out some candy.  I didn’t realize how important the candy was until I forgot to do it one day.  After the quiz, we grade their homework from the last section’s materials.  We do this by trading papers with their peers in the class so they get to see other peoples work.  After grading the homework, we go into technical news.  What happened in the last couple of days that had to do with technology?  After the news, we move into lecture.  The course book we use is fairly well defined in terms of sections so we typically do one section each day.  As you can imagine, just like adults, it is hard to keep their attention for any amount of time over 5 minutes.  Techniques that you learn as an instructor is to keep people engaged.  For high school students, this is a bit tricky but in the end it’s the same as anyone else.  Put it into something that relates to what they do every day.  “Healthy” arguments with parents is a good one.  Oh, and having a second or third person in the room to walk around to check they are not playing games on the computer helps too!

How are the students?

One of the first things you will realize, kids taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes tend to be very smart.  Way smarter than we were in high school.  They are taking Physics, Calculus and many other advanced topics such as Economics (micro and macro).  In most cases, they are there because they want to be, however, you will find some students are there because they have to be due to not taking enough electives.  The students, who don’t want to be there, tend to be the ones who need the most help.    I made it a point to analyze all my student’s grades and submitted homework to deduce why they were not doing well.  Those on the bottom half of the line, I have made it a goal to ensure that they know I am here to help them. 

What have I learned so far?

Lots of small things, but one major one.  The TEALS program sends out a helpful teaching resource guide that tries to get you up to speed on high school teaching techniques. Most of it I had already learned from my many years as an MCT, however some of it was directly applicable to situations you might encounter in a high school classroom.  One such bit of guidance is an unspoken rule in teaching high school.  Students are not friends.  This was one of the most valuable things I learned and absorbed before walking into the classroom.  The rule states that the moment they become friends, you will find that they will take advantage of that friendship. Once other students see that you have some kind of favoritism, the classroom dynamics quickly fall apart.  I have had a few students try to play this card, but I gently let them know that everyone has the same deadlines and if I do something for one person, I have to do it for everyone. 

Why do TEALS?

I absolutely know, without a doubt, that some of the kids in my class are going to go on to do some very amazing things.  As a successful business owner, a college grad and once a high school student myself, I know how important it was for me growing up to have someone who inspired me and gave me the tools to be successful today.  I could never have made it here (writing this blog post) without a similar program in my high school called Technology Students Association or my high school TechEd teacher Mr. Kent Barton.  Every day I walk into that classroom, I know that I am helping to drive these brilliant minds to succeed and reach their full potential.

High schools in the US need MVPs, veteran consultants, and business owners like us to show students what they can achieve with the right support.  We can use our experience and knowledge and propel the next generation to places we have never been before.

Join TEALS and make a difference in the future of humanity!

*Note:  The TEALS website will be updated in mid-December with information pertaining to the 2015/2016 academic year

About the author

 

Chris Givens is the co-founder and CEO of Architecting Connected Systems (ACS).  ACS is a courseware development company that builds SharePoint courseware for Microsoft that is then distributed to training centers around the world.  ACS titles include top courses in SharePoint Development and Business Intelligence but also materials that span every aspect of SharePoint.  In addition to courseware development, Chris has led, as Sr. Architect, many large upgrades and installations of SharePoint for large companies such as eBay and General Atomics.  He is co-founder and President of the San Diego SharePoint User Group (SanSpug.org); originally from Oklahoma; is a Computer Science major from the University of Tulsa; and currently resides in San Diego with his lovely wife Lidiya.  Follow him on Twitter

About MVP Mondays

The MVP Monday Series is created by Melissa Travers. In this series we work to provide readers with a guest post from an MVP every Monday. Melissa is a Community Program Manager, formerly known as MVP Lead, for Messaging and Collaboration (Exchange, Lync, Office 365 and SharePoint) and Microsoft Dynamics in the US. She began her career at Microsoft as an Exchange Support Engineer and has been working with the technical community in some capacity for almost a decade. In her spare time she enjoys going to the gym, shopping for handbags, watching period and fantasy dramas, and spending time with her children and miniature Dachshund. Melissa lives in North Carolina and works out of the Microsoft Charlotte office.

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