[cross posted from CACM blog]
On Friday the "Look to the Future" conference for Scottish computing educators took place at Heriot-Watt University. I had been planning this event for about a year so it was a huge buzz to see it come together. We were sponsored by Google CS4HS, and it simply wouldn't have been possible without their support. The money enabled us to invite excellent international keynote speakers on gender and CS (Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher) and the Scratch novice programming environment (Karen Brennan). We also had Keri Facer chair a panel on internet safety in the classroom, as well as a workshop from her on the Beyond Current Horizons project, an update on the new computing qualifications from the Scottish Qualifications Authority, talks on cutting edge academic research and a panel from industry on " a day in the life of a software developer". There were also workshops on game making and university/school links with input from teachers.
The teachers I spoke to seemed to enjoy their day. They don't have much of a chance to escape from the classroom and talk to each other throughout the year so this was a time to share experiences and find out about new developments. In my view, ,it is particularly important to hear about what happens in other countries because the Scots have a tendency to be insular. (I can say that because I am one; others nationalities should be careful about such remarks about us! )
Almost more important than the networking opportunities and the quality of the content was the aim of making the teachers feel valued for the excellent work they do under rather difficult circumstances. I was aware that teachers' jobs are under threat because of fewer pupils choosing to study the subject at high school, because of budget cuts, because of constraints imposed by the examination system, and because of ignorance of senior managers about the difference between using a word processor and being a computer scientist. So I decided to set up a Best Practice award for teachers with a very a attractive prize sponsored by industry. I got the idea from a literacy award for teachers which had some fantastic entries last year. Sadly, we had only one entry. Yes, only one. Such is the nature of the Scottish teacher that telling others of one's achievements is almost taboo. It doesn't do to "blow your own trumpet", the teachers tell me. Creating a video of a class project and putting it forward for an award seems presumptuous. On reflection, this could be a trait of computing teachers rather than Scottish teachers- would anyone care to comment from their experience?
But on the day of the conference, I realised that there are other ways of valuing what teachers do, as captured in this story: one of the first teachers I met on the morning of the conference was my old high school teacher Mr Gladstone. Without him I would not be where I am today. He taught me to program. What could be more important in the development of a computer scientist? When I made the opening remarks at the conference I naturally pointed out Mr Gladstone to the audience and explained how he had inspired me. This got a spontaneous round of applause from the other teachers. They were pleased to be reminded of how important teachers are and what an impact they have on people's lives. My Phd supervisor was there too, and some of my own students as well as teachers I have trained. This set me thinking about the little tendrils which connect teachers to learners to teachers, binding them together through a shared love of the subject. This is what teaching is all about and the reason we persevere with it even in difficult times. So why not take a moment to look up that teacher who inspired you to study CS? Drop them a line. Tell them what they do matters.