What My Students Taught Me This Summer

A few months ago, I realized that for the first time in a few years, I had absolutely nothing planned for the summer. This was most surprising because I’m one of those people that always likes to keep busy. Over the last few summers, I tried to expand my technical horizons as much as possible by working for companies or on open-source projects. This summer, I thought I would try something different.

Through the Don Mills Computer Resource Centre, I organized a course called “Introduction to Web Application Development.” The course just ended last week and so I wanted to take the time to create a list of the important lessons I gained from this experience:

  • There’s a difference between gratitude and kissing up. I’ve always been on the quiet side, and that stops me from doing things like approaching my professors and letting them know how great their class has been. But all those students that took the time to say thank you really gave me the strength to push forward when things got tough. If any of my students are reading this, I just want to thank you all for doing this!
  • Tests are not just for the teachers, they’re also for the students. When designing my curriculum, I made sure to replace the need for quizzes/tests with regular assignments and live coding sessions. I wanted to take away the pressure of tests from the students and I don’t necessarily believe in standardized testing. However, my views were changed by the responses from the students. Many of them felt that small regular tests would have been boosts of confidence for the students to evaluate themselves.
  • Everyone wants to learn. Before the class, I was afraid that many people would come just to come or because their parents had pushed them to. It was really nice to see the people that had a drive from within themselves to reach higher and learn more. It was also incredible to see my teaching assistants (who actually helped me teach some of the classes as well) had an incredible thirst for knowledge too. Although they’re the ones teaching the material, they very much agreed that teaching was one of the best ways to learn.
  • Syntax is difficult. To me, syntax has always just made sense. There’s a particular level of specificity that you have to adhere to in order to properly instruct a machine. I’ve always thought of it as a matter of discipline. But syntax is especially difficult for those that have never programmed before. It is a daunting and frightening concept that seems to go in one ear and out the ear.
  • Programming is not just for engineers anymore. The world is expanding and people from all sorts of disciplines are now diversifying their portfolio with the skill of application development. This skill is now applicable in every field and adds a great deal of power to the work being done in all fields.
  • Teaching is awesome, but also a lot of work. I’ve always thought of teaching as a profession that could be either very fun or very boring based on the attitude of the class. However, I found that even on the frustrating days, teaching was quite a lot of fun. But I also always thought that teachers tend to simply recycle their materials and not spend too much out-of-class time on their classes. However, I found myself racing around for the first month of my class trying to create proper class materials such as creating readings, presentations, assignments or just preparing for the next few classes.
  • Never underestimate the power of networking. There was one day on which I requested an early start to the class in order to conduct a review session. Unfortunately, there was an emergency on the way to the class which caused a delay in my arrival. Due to this, the building administrator that was opening the building for my class had to waste quite a bit of his time waiting. Although I apologized to him, my apology was brief as I had to continue to run around to get class setup. I debated whether or not to call him explicitly to provide a proper apology. Luckily, he was there for some business again two classes later and so I ended up apologizing to him properly. Turns out, he’s the Canadian Director of Oracle.
  • Take everything with a grain of salt. During the marketing for my course, I came across many people who told me “they didn’t need the course” or that “they were already programmers.” However, it was quite shocking to see how little most of them knew about any real development or anything to do with the web. — I also came across quite a few low-skilled programmers at the hackathons I have participated in.

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