Questions About Teaching Code

I’m certainly not someone who would love standing in front of a classroom on a daily basis, but I enjoy helping someone explore a new topic or deepen their knowledge. I’ve taught everything from avian husbandry (for real) to branding for the web, from to crocheting to introductory cello. But it is in teaching code that I started to see something a bit…strange.

First, the disclaimer. As a coordinator for the Code Like a Girl Python classes, I’ve become a TA. I am by no means a professional at Python, and in fact, I pretty much make sure that I stay a lesson or two ahead of the class. All the TAs are novices in Python and most do not have a background in development.

I’ve noticed a strange trend when it comes to teaching groups anything related to development. I’ve seen it in the Intro to html class that Girls in Tech put on last year, in simple templated website building classes, and I’ve seen it multiple times in the Python classes. There is a tendency for one or two people in the class to hit a snag early on and just stop. When asked if they need help, they’ll say no, but stay for the whole class.

These are people that are motivated to come to the class and obviously interested enough in learning about the topic to commit to spending a few hours on the topic at hand.

Part of me thinks that it might be due to that troublesome perception about web and software development, that some people can never pick it up or that it is too intimidating or that you are just dumb if you don’t get it right away.

I think this assumption is very real, and judging by comments I receive from people who are not working in the development space, it is rather deeply ingrained.

I worry that these students are getting intimidated and are afraid to ask questions, and I’m worried that they will leave with those incorrect assumptions reinforced.

In every development related class I’ve been part of, the instructor works to make it a welcoming and open environment for questions and tries to accommodate everyone, but they are teaching to the majority.

I will also say, this is very much a problem for introductory classes and not an issue for deeper classes. I think by then people are aware that questions are completely welcome and accepted. Either that or those in question stopped attending.

I guess I’m writing about this today because I think about this issue often and am looking for insight from the tech community as to how to remedy it. Is this a problem the other educators in the community experience? Is there a simple way to engage those students and increase their comfort level that I’m just not seeing? Have you ever been one of those students, and if so, what can I learn from you about that experience?

Our goal with Code Like a Girl is to make sure that everyone is comfortable, welcome and to create an atmosphere of learning without judgement. I think I can say that my goal remains the same for every topic I teach. I’m just really surprised to see such a consistent trend across topics in this general area, and, of course, as someone who often feels like a bit of an imposter in the tech world, I want to help others not feel that way.

I’m hoping to hear your thoughts on this topic.