I’m not sure I’d call myself an expert in anything. I’ve switched jobs a lot. Technology has changed a lot. I am still learning things, and I still make mistakes. But, I’ve been an educator now for over 20 years. I pay attention to research, both general educational research, and research specific to my field. So I know a thing or two. Still, I’m uncomfortable putting myself out there and saying, this is what I think and I think this because I’ve got experience and knowledge. In other words, you should listen to me. It feels somehow aggressive, and what if I’m wrong.
But I’m starting to think that now is the time to be an expert. I have to be okay with being wrong, but in order to be wrong, I have to have an opinion. My field is sort of notorious for promoting “the right way” to do something. In Computer Science, everyone thinks they know just the right language to start with or just the right approach. Often they’re evidence for this is, “It’s what I use or how I was taught.” Not good enough. I’m perfectly okay with saying, I use Python because it’s what I know. I wouldn’t use it if it weren’t a good language to teach CS in, but I’ve read the research that says it’s a good language to start with.
I’ve also read the research that says that abstraction is a difficult concept for most high school students, so teaching certain CS concepts that require abstraction is a challenge. I tread carefully there.
Many HS CS teachers I run into know this as well. They’re very thoughtful about their approaches to teaching, and they have the same challenge I do. They’re trying to teach CS in an “appropriate” way, according to good educational research, but they’re also trying to attract students, especially women and minorities, to their classes. So the classes have to be educationally sound *and* fun *and* sensitive to gender and racial issues.
Many college professors, sadly, are not so thoughtful. They’re not required to take the educational courses that HS (and Middle and elementary) teachers do. They don’t know constructivism or who John Dewey even is. Some know Papert. Most think educational research is not important. And college professors, I’m sorry to say, are often also the ones most loudly touting language x or language y or book x (often theirs) or book y (a colleague’s). They are experts in their field, though. And they want us listen to them.
But this is field specific, and it’s not the only thing I’ve been thinking about when it comes to expertise. It’s also a little about leadership. Being an expert can sometimes mean being a leader, and that means doing something with your expertise. And I think that’s what I find particularly challenging. What do you do? Write a book? Maintain a blog? Start a nonprofit? Move up the ladder at your institution so you can have influence? It’s funny because I tend to be, as my college roommate used to say, “all hat and no cattle.” That is, a cowboy who wears a big hat, but has no actual cows. All talk, no action. That’s not entirely true, but it is a little bit. And I think it’s fear that holds me back. My fear is typical impostor syndrome stuff, fear that I’m wrong, fear of conflict, etc. And worry. When I was writing my dissertation, everything else fell by the wayside except the essentials. And what went first, mostly, was my family, because they’re awesome and supportive and I sort of took it for granted. The outcome of that was not good, for me or my family. And I worry about doing that again. If I took on a book project or started something big, even taking on something else at work, I’d have to put them on the back burner again. And I think I can’t do that.
It’s not like there’s any particular opportunity I’m faced with, but I see a lot of little ones. I see people not stepping up to do things, and so I do. Because I care. And I feel like I have something to contribute. I understand better now what those contributions are, but I also understand better where I have to draw the line. I think I’m doing pretty well. I’m grateful for summer when the schedule allows me some flexibility: longer amounts of time for contributing and longer amounts of time with family. Such a great benefit!