When school and work collide – a winning combination

SACO – The first week of school is nearly finished and as tired as I might be, I’m encouraged and excited about my classes and my new students. For the first time in a long time, I am teaching something that I held near and dear for many years, computer programming.

As I have been heard to say on the first day of classes, most of my working life, I was not a teacher. I owned a small data processing and software firm that, amongst other things, provided proprietary and customized software solutions to banks and credit unions across the country.

Many of those solutions and services included software of one form or another that sprang to life out of the systems housed in our office. I loved the creativity, the problem solving and the look on our customer’s face when we provide the right product for the right business problem.

Now fast forward more than a decade. for the most part I have been teaching English (really, storytelling) to high school students and helping them see the beauty and majesty of well written tale. Along the way, I’ve indulged myself and written more than a few stories.

This past year, there was an opening in our department for someone to teach introductory and intermediate programming principles. I volunteered.

Now, I alternate between teaching English and technology. I couldn’t be happier and to tell the truth, both sides of my brain seem to like the complementary curriculum.

But back to my students. My programming classes are a mixture of students ages 14-18. Some are still trying to figure out what it means to be in high school and some are counting the minutes until they can leave and as they say, “start life.”

A few of them have been exposed to programming, but many of them are not sure what to expect. All they see to know is that for some reason it helps to be a good math student or problem solver.

Well after the first week, I’ve taught them that Java is not just a slang term for coffee and that the first words for many programmers are, “Hello, World.” I have even mentioned to them that yes, it is grammatically correct to put the comma after the word hello.

Next  week, I hope to teach them how to make the computers ask them questions and how to make the computers store their responses. With any kind of luck, they will also learn how to a write a snippet of code (don’t you just love that word – snippet) that causes the computer to make the right decision based on those answers.

I think our class time will be divided into two distinct parts. The first part of class is discussion, review, and direct instruction. The second part is dedicated lab time (we are fortunate and have an Apple desktop for each student in the class).

This is the part of class I enjoy the most. I get to walk from student to student and help them with their coding projects, and through this direct contact, I get to know them better.

Today, I had to smile when one of the students, a junior boy, left the room and I heard him talking to one of his friends from across the hall. He said, “I didn’t know what this would be, but it’s pretty cool. I think I’m gonna like it.”

So far, so good, but it has only been a few days.


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David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. I am a teacher and writer and my first novel, "Homecoming: A Soldier's Story of Loyalty, Courage, and Redemption" is available now at www.BrysonTaylorPublishing.com