Nancy Reid is a computer science (CS) teacher at Lincoln High School in San Jose, California. Although she had a background in math and engineering, she had never taught CS before—until she was trained by TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), the Microsoft Philanthropies-run initiative to ensure CS is taught in every high school in the U.S. Nancy sees CS education as an issue of equality: Roughly 85 percent of students at Lincoln are Latino and other underrepresented groups in tech, yet only 38 percent of college CS majors were non-white in 2015-16. By training teachers like Nancy, TEALS is creating sustainable CS programs across the country—and helping narrow the diversity gap in the technology field.
I know the transformational power of STEM firsthand. When I was growing up, I loved math, but I didn’t really know what to do with it. My dad was a trucker and my mom was a cannery worker before staying at home with us kids—they didn’t have the resources to guide me. But I won a scholarship to study math and science in college, and after I graduated, I worked as an engineer in the tech field.
I later took time off to stay at home with my children, and when they got older, I wanted to change careers and become a teacher. I wanted to provide some of the guidance to young people that totally changed the trajectory of my own life.
When I looked around my community in San Jose, I saw we were in the midst of Silicon Valley—home to some of the most powerful and influential tech companies on the globe. Yet most of the students at Lincoln High, a good school filled with dedicated young people who also happen to be on the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum, didn’t have a way to get their foot in the door. At the same time, this region is becoming more expensive, and families are becoming priced out of their community.
On the other hand, companies here in Silicon Valley are hungry not only for people to fill an increasing number of openings that require computer science skills, they’re desperate for diversity. Computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the U.S., which means a lot for my students, many of whom come from families that struggle to meet their basic needs. I thought to myself, why can’t we home-grow young people who have the skills, confidence and leadership to compete for those well paying and challenging jobs?
So in addition to transitioning from being a stay-at-home mom to a teacher, I also began to learn to teach computer science through TEALS. The challenge was made less daunting because of the deep resources TEALS offers to teachers new to CS: I went through a free training program the initiative offered, I used already developed curriculum so I didn’t have to craft my own from the ground-up, and I relied on industry professionals to volunteer in my classroom and teach me the finer points of CS.
I’m now in my fifth year of teaching CS with TEALS. I teach both introductory and AP courses for more than 100 students each year. Industry volunteers from nearby tech companies still come into my classes to answer student questions (and give these young people role models to look up to).
I continue to learn, too: Not long ago, another teacher taught me to code for virtual reality so I could pass on that knowledge to my students, who ended up competing in a VR challenge. I also encouraged some students to try out cybersecurity, and they tested themselves against other high schoolers in a statewide competition. Several of my students have interned at LinkedIn, and I recently took ten young people to Washington, DC to meet with senators, representatives and their staff to lobby for CS education.
What do all of these opportunities have in common? The chance to become leaders.
To compete for the best jobs, and to help make their community an even stronger place, our young people need to step up. First, though, we have to help them gain the confidence to believe they have something worth saying, then offer them the opportunity to lead.
Young people their own best advocates. They encourage their friends to sign up for CS classes. They bring their younger siblings to robotics club. They share stories of how their lives are changed because of the skills they learn in CS.
The next generation is inheriting a whole world of challenges—and opportunities. It’s time we equip them with the skills and confidence to tackle them. Computer science is my way of helping my students become the leaders I know they can be.
The U.S. needs 10,000 additional education leaders to teach CS. Will you become one of them? We can help – just visit our Schools page to learn more.