Learning to Teach, Teaching to Learn

Why am I writing

Today I have two compelling reasons to write. First, I want to keep track of what I’m learning for my own benefit and the benefit of those who hold this position after me. Second, I’m just really excited about what I’m up to and writing about it is an excellent way to enjoy that excitement.

What am I doing

I’m teaching at Code Tenderloin’s Code Ramp course. I’m “lead instructor,” which means I also organize the hoard of wonderful teaching and teaching assistant volunteers we have this cohort.

Code Tenderloin is an amazing organization that offers generous services to locals with employment barriers. Such barriers include but are not limited to homelessness, prior incarceration, prior substance abuse, or awkward employment gaps. “Program partners,” as they are called, receive a four-week job readiness training course. As needed, the program also provides food, housing, transportation, health, clothing and licensing fees.

Code Ramp is a six-week course that takes place after the job readiness course. The objective is to introduce our students to the basics of front end web development. We teach HTML, CSS and JavaScript. The students come in with varying degrees of familiarity with coding. Some of the students are borrowing computers from Code Tenderloin.

The curriculum is recycled from an old Hack Reactor prep course. It is very thorough, but a bit fast paced for our students. The previous cohort did not finish all the materials. I personally think that is sensible. It is better to provide a solid foundation in some concepts than to give a uselessly shallow overview of everything. If my students leave my class having mastered a few foundational concepts, they will find it easier to self-study later. Therefore, I plan to focus on quality over quantity, also striving to foster a healthy belief that the answer is out there, waiting to be found.

Truthfully, there is nothing technical we can teach them that they couldn’t find online. What a class environment provides can be harder to find online is human connection and empathy. Each volunteer had to, at some point, learn to code. Actually, as serious engineers, we are all continuing to learn all the time. That means each of us knows the anxiety and struggle of not quite grasping the concept yet. The way I see it, our number one duty is to be there when the students hit that first “Dear Lord, how is it I know so little?” moment. That is the crucial moment that I believe separates those who can from those who don’t. Notice I say “don’t,” not “can’t.” We can look our students in the eyes and say, “everyone has this moment, there is nothing wrong with you.” Our students seem like a resilient bunch, but no one is immune to that feeling of stupidity.

I am very excited to be there for our students as they learn new material and skills.

Who am I

Me, teaching

I’m a recent graduate of Hackbright Academy, an engineering boot camp for women. Like many boot campers, I hadn’t originally even considered the possibility of going into programming. I majored in Communications at SSU, didn’t quite know what to do with that degree and so worked as a graphic designer at my father’s startup. From there I began to look into web design, then front end, and pretty soon the desire to build ever more interesting things lead me to learning full stack at Hackbright.

I wouldn’t have thought myself ready to be lead instructor, except that at the time I took the position I didn’t see any other volunteers. So, I took the role and recruited others.

I’ve been getting good feedback on the job I’ve been doing. For the next few weeks, this blog will be about what I’m learning about myself, about teaching, about organizing. I hope to distill knowledge that I can take forward into my own career and leave behind for the next lead instructor of Code Ramp.