Learning to Teach

I’ve been teaching web development for a few weeks at a local web dev boot camp. It has been, in a single phrase, awesome. Not only does this reflect well on my resume, I also get to grow a very different set of soft skills while still retaining my connection to the software development world. The cherry on top is the satisfaction of helping individuals learn and move toward more fulfilling careers themselves. After a long day, it’s that satisfaction that keeps me smiling.

I went to college with the intention of becoming a high school math teacher. I had had some great and some terrible teachers who both influenced me to be a positive force in others’ educations. (Perhaps if I had attended a city school with a modern curriculum, I would have known that software development was a far better career for me, but I went to a rural school that only went so far as to teach typing and Microsoft Word.) But because of my slow start I felt forced to abandon the Bachelor’s curriculum in mathematics. At the same time, the siren song of money was drawing me to a more lucrative career. I abandoned the idea of becoming a professional teacher and pursued programming, but my desire to be a great educator never disappeared. And now my teaching job marries those two paths: the career that was and the career that could have been.

In my current role, I interact with learners all day. Exercising my soft skills is both the most beneficial and the most difficult part of this venture. As a Teaching Assistant I perform technical and administrative tasks (the programming work, the handling of homework submissions and class logistics), which are no problem. The interesting stuff is the management-oriented, like gauging and upholding class morale and counseling individual students who are particularly advanced, particularly struggling, or particularly discouraged. And since each class has several dozen students, there are a variety of personalities, situations, and challenges to consider. This is the sort of work that I was never able to do in my past coding positions, and the sort of work that I’ll need to perform well in order to advance my career in the direction I want.

Teaching is not exactly easy or comfortable. The desire to be an effective educator is entirely there, but I need to push myself to be an encouraging educator. The workplace isn’t comfortable compared to a normal job with flexible hours and an office with a door to keep the germs out (classrooms are great Petri dishes for incubating and transmitting seasonal sicknesses. I probably picked up this cold from a student, and I probably passed it on to a few others). But the biggest downside isn’t the lack of comfort. Just the opposite: I miss solving difficult challenges. Teaching is satisfying, but there’s a far better satisfaction from overcoming difficult commercial problems with deadlines and technical limitations in an open-ended world. I guess what I’m trying to say is: I want to create things again.

And that’s why I want to continue teaching, but not as my only job. My goal is to get a solid position in my current city and land a part-time instructor position before 2018 is over. Let’s see if I can make it happen.