“What personal experiences have brought you to be a CS teacher?”
I attended the Computer Science Teacher’s Association conference this summer in Baltimore. We grappled with this question in small groups for the session: Equity and Social Justice: AP Computer Science (CS) Principles and CS for All. We were groups of 4, each member had 30 seconds to reply, no prep other than 1 minute to think about it first.
It does say personal. Is this a trick question? Maybe I’m overthinking this. Do the session leaders really just want us to tell heart warming “Hello World” tales about the coding languages that allow us to “print” our messages and the endearing selfless teachers who supported us in doing so? Since I’ve never taken a formal CS class, I probably couldn’t do that, so it would have to be a personal story, but how personal should I get? 5-4-3-2-1, Despacito rang out from tiny phone speakers, announcing, the moment of truth is near. Should I take a risk, should I tell a story, could I do it?
“Your 1 minute is up. Person 1 goes first. We’ll set the timer for 30 seconds. After the buzzer goes off, we’ll reset the timer, then person 2 goes, throw that in a repeat loop, repeat it 4 times, and we’ll be done.”
So much for thinking and prepping. I was person number 2 so I had to shift into overdrive to come up with something. The next 5 minutes were a blur.
There’s a lot of chatter in EDU circles these days about taking risks and telling our stories. In a Voxer group I am in, about 6 months ago, there was a long discussion about what it means for educators to take risks, real risks. People often came down to 2 groups, those who think they take risks daily, and those who are skeptical of people who say they take risks daily.
People who think of themselves as risk takers tended to say things like, I wanted to try out this new iPad app, I didn’t tell my principal in advance, my students had never done it before, I wasn’t sure if the lesson would work, could I take a chance that they wouldn’t learn anything from it. Their critics often said that wasn’t risk, that was just good teaching, trying out new things, adjusting your lessons to make room for new stuff, reflecting after to determine if the lesson was a keeper. Even if the lesson was a failure, we can still learn from it, and do better tomorrow. The critics reserved the label risk, for something else.
What is risk, as applied to education? Is your risk confined to EDU contexts, or does it bleed unapologetically, into all other realms? Have you ever tried coloring inside the lines of a coloring book with a sharpie? Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, when you get closer to a line, the ink jaggedly dances across the line. My takeaway, real risk involved very real implications and/or consequences for the educator, not just the students. Could your risk result in getting you fired, dragged in front of your Board of Education by a parent to justify things done in the classroom, have every teacher at your site turning against you, result in you losing a coveted section, losing a publishing opportunity, etc? If you answered yes to any of those questions, that’s risk. If you answered no, too bad, you might have to accept just being a good teacher.
Telling our stories is buzzing about the EDU world as well, and it is seen as a way to authentically connect with our students, to reveal ourselves to them, to get them to see us as humans, rather than just their teachers, and to develop relationships. Sounds great, doesn’t sound too risky, why not try it?
Rafranz Davis recently tweeted “Stories…We should be careful not to trivialize this word. “Stories” are often messy, hard, pain, joy, funny…etc” and a conversation began.
Stories…We should be careful not to trivialize this word. “Stories” are often messy, hard, pain, joy, funny…etc. #WeirdEd
— Rafranz Davis (@RafranzDavis) July 13, 2017
Oh, there are stories, and there are “stories”. Does telling our stories encourage us to tell the whole story, the painful part, the messy part, the fail with no solution part, the socially unacceptable part, the dark secret part, the part that rips open wounds, the illegal part, the unethical part, the missing papers part, the part that invites risk, the part that unleashes unpredictable outcomes? That’s right, telling our stories isn’t always warm and fuzzy, shall we continue?
Did you know that when you workout with weights, you are tearing your muscle? In order for your muscle to grow you must tear it. The tearing needs to stop just short of injury. Then after, you eat, plenty of protein, your muscle will heal, and grow. If you do not work out hard enough, you will not tear your muscle, and the muscle will not grow. If any real growth is to occur as a result of telling our stories, we must insist, our stories must tear, tear something, something that resists tearing, something that doesn’t want to be disturbed, something that has found comfort in the hiding.
What are you willing to tear?
Back to my conference. I don’t remember what the first person shared exactly. It was related to having a nice CS teacher who took them under their wing. I was too busy doubting the wisdom of sharing the thing I wanted/did not want to share to remember details. I was cost benefit analyzing my confidence away. How much should I say, can I share this, or that, what about . . . I was not being a good group member, my story had taken over my mind and I was not listening to my group members, something to remember when we ask students to share stories and take risks. What torment might we be inflicting, even when we just ask them to think about taking a risk and sharing their stories? What impact does this have on our students, our classrooms, the climate and culture in our schools?
Most shared “In school . . .” types of stories, but I vowed to take a risk. I recounted an out of school “story”. My palms were cold and clammy, beads of sweat rolled down my back, my stomach tied itself into knots, and I engaged in a struggle to keep the day’s breakfast down. Person 1 finished, stopwatch was reset, all eyes were on me. I had 30 seconds, it was going to be a sprint.
“My husband has stage 4 lung and brain cancer, for which there is no cure. Finding a cure is not even in the treatment plan. Every stage of his treatment has been dependent upon technology. For example, he has had 4 brain surgeries, all performed by robots, in a room resembling the Starship Enterprise, led by a medical technologist and assisted by a neurosurgeon. I came back to teaching 3.5 years ago, when he was diagnosed. I want students to know that studying CS is about solving problems and can be about saving lives. Learning CS can impact your world, community, family, and be a vehicle to do good. Unfortunately, many adults, and students, think CS is about preparing for a career in Silicon Valley at the mighty giants like Google and Facebook, but let’s not overlook medical technology. It may not be as hip, but my husband would not be alive without it. That’s my story and that’s why I’m teaching CS”
There were no standing ovations, no hugs, no pats on the back, no glory, no nods of shared connection, no retweets, no trending hashtags, just fibers in my body tearing again. Fibers that will heal one day. Torn fibers that will eventually render me stronger. Fibers that will grow. Fibers that may have preferred a heartwarming, not heart wrenching, kind of story. Fibers that have torn nonetheless. We will see in which directions they decide to grow.Please follow and like us: