Even when it’s hard, it’s fun

I have had quite a few moments in my job where things are hard.  Dealing with the roller coaster of middle school emotions is one area that’s hard.  Figuring out that delicate balance between encouragement and discipline is also hard.  And, as I indicated a bit in my last post, dealing with society’s crazy gender expectations as they play out for my discipline is also hard.  I was starting to feel particularly discouraged by this until the last couple of days.  We have a special week just before spring break where each faculty member offers what is essentially a three-day-long course in an area they’re interested in–sometimes it’s a tangent to their actual subject area–a science teacher does infectious disease, for example.  And sometimes it’s completely unrelated–cooking.  I’m doing e-textiles.  And though I tried to make it sound as sexy as possible, I knew it couldn’t beat out the pastry making course.  I was hoping at least a couple of students ended up there, as their second choice.

And then, a student came up to me and said, “Ms. Blankenship, I hope I get into your course.  I put it as my first choice.”  And then later, another student told me she’d also put it first, but wondered if we could make horses instead of elephants.  Sure thing, I said.  To be fair, one of my homeroom students said it sounded cool, but she put it 4th.  At least she liked it.

The day before, a couple of rising seniors approached me to ask if there was any web design in my CS course.  Not really, I said.  They asked if I’d do it as an independent study.  Sure, I said.  Even though I knew that it would be extra work (It’s a course I’ll be offering after next year anyway.)

This morning, a student taking a Java course online sent me two programs she’d written that were failing to run.  My Java experience is 3 weeks sitting in on a class (it’s on my list of things to learn).  She’d come to me for help before and we talked in abstract terms about how to code the solutions–she needed nested loops.  I saw her programs and could tell they weren’t right, but couldn’t figure out exactly how because I didn’t know the Java syntax.  So I coded up how I would solve them in Python, went back to her Java, and figured out what was wrong (lack of initialized variables in one case and just a poor use of if statements in another).  I’m not sure yet if it helped her, but I was happy to provide some direction nonetheless.

As that last example clearly indicates, I’m often right at the edge of what I know when I’m teaching.  I haven’t been in this situation since my first couple of years of grad school.  Yes, it’s hard, but I like it.  I like having to push myself to figure something out, to learn something new.  Mr. Geeky said the other day after I was relating some other story to him, these girls will sure keep you on your toes.  Indeed they will.

6 Replies to “Even when it’s hard, it’s fun”

  1. The Java/Python thing strikes me as a fantastic example of teaching towards literacy rather than towards a set body of knowledge about something. E.g., you were demonstrating a conceptual literacy with programming languages and how that has a payoff that’s greater than just mastery of a single language.

  2. Indeed, Tim! And that’s what many CS educators are trying to focus on, but everyone *still* seems to get caught up in the language itself. I have quite a few parents who program and who mention their language–no two have been the same yet. I haven’t had a conversation with them yet about teaching conceptually, but once I get more into the curriculum, I’m guessing someone will ask why I’m not teaching x language.

  3. You know, I have similar feelings about the literature I teach–I don’t know these books inside and out, and I don’t remember exactly which chapter Holden met up with Carl Luce, and I have no idea how to improve my students’ vocabulary or give them a better understanding of commas. I’m finishing my fourth year, and I feel simultaneously like I have come so far and still have so far to go. It’s part what I love about teaching the K-12 years, but also part of what can be exhausting.

  4. Jackie, I sense that I’ll be feeling the same way 4 or 5 years from now. Teaching just keeps things challenging constantly.

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