The Giant Machines LEARN team (formerly Upperline Code) couldn’t be more excited to announce the opening of our application for the Summer Teaching Fellowship program this December. For over six years, our Teacher Fellowship has created an opportunity for educators to develop their skills as computer science (CS) instructors. Fellows learn how to code and how to teach computer science, and then get to put it all into practice by teaching summer courses to underrepresented students in the tech space. In addition to being compensated, fellows also get the opportunity to be coached by our master teachers, all of whom are former fellows and rockstar CS instructors. You can learn more about the program by visiting our website.
To give you a better sense of the program and whether it might be a good fit for you, we wanted to give you a chance to hear from our former fellows. We sat down with Kiki, a software engineer who runs her own coding bootcamp; Lauren, a K-8 Media Arts teacher; and Jorge, a high school physics and chemistry teacher. Collectively, the three of them have 5 years of experience working with us. Read on to learn about their experience in the Fellowship, the challenges they’ve faced, and how they’ve seen themselves grow as CS educators during their time with us.
What prompted you to apply for the Teacher Fellowship?
Kiki: I wanted to find something where I would learn how to teach CS in a way that would allow me to put my content knowledge to good use. I was already teaching at a bootcamp here in Boston, mainly working with adults, but I was really interested in learning how to teach kids. So, when I came across the Teacher Fellowship, I was sold! It was perfect for me because I was trying to find something where I could learn from other instructors and dig deep into the teaching aspect of it.
Jorge: I took an AP CS course in high school and got a D. I didn’t feel successful and wanted to prove to myself, as an adult, that I could take on the challenge of relearning CS. Someone in my school suggested this program, and that’s how I became aware of it. But the main reason I applied had to do more with my students. I love chemistry and physics, but I also feel like those degrees are becoming less and less flexible as time goes on. I noticed that many of my friends progressed through college and decided to learn CS, and now they’re making high incomes and enjoying a stable work-life balance. I thought that this is the opportunity I want for my students, and for me to be able to offer that opportunity, I would need to learn CS myself.
How has your experience in the Fellowship given you the confidence to teach computer science?
Kiki: I think the most important thing I realized is that I don’t need to go so deep into content for students to learn. The most important thing is getting them interested in learning about the material and what is available to them. Building curiosity for the content is a skill that all developers need and is essential for teaching.
Lauren: So you learn how to code and how to teach coding, but there’s something about teaching the 1 or 2-week courses multiple times that makes you more aware of your teaching. You become much better at anticipating student misconceptions and learn so much from everyone around you. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn by observing others teach, and you will pick up so many different teaching tips and tricks from everyone around you.
Jorge: First off, there’s so much support from day one. I remember it was peak pandemic when I did the Fellowship, and I felt anxious about the required pre-work. The support I received from my coach and the rest of the community was tremendous. Then, once we started teaching, I felt like I had cemented the concepts I learned during pre-work. Every time I teach a course, I always take away something new and build a better understanding of CS.
What was the most challenging part of the Teacher Fellowship?
Kiki: The biggest challenge was learning to “undercook the steak” when I teach. I remember thinking, “Is it really possible to teach a concept in 15–20 minutes?” The answer is yes, it is possible! I realized that my role isn’t to teach every concept in detail, but rather give students a sneak peek of what they can do and help them develop the skill and confidence to look things up.
Lauren: I knew it would be a lot of work, especially in the months leading up to the summer, but I was prepared for it. I don’t think anything was necessarily hard, you just have to be on top of your pre-work.
Jorge: The pre-work was definitely the biggest challenge. Being in front of a classroom feels very natural to me. It was really tough sitting by myself, working on pre-work, and getting to a place where I have 14 Google searches opened, and nothing that I’m plugging into my code seems to be working. Looking back now, I overcomplicated my pre-work because I was always too embarrassed to ask for help despite always being encouraged to do otherwise.
What keeps you coming back?
Kiki: Every person I’ve met through this program and in this organization has been wonderful to work with. Everyone here is so welcoming and always in a positive mood. I feel like I’m always learning something new. It’s great to be with an organization with people who truly care about the mission in such a positive, uplifting way.
Jorge: The opportunity to continue learning. You also get paid to learn, which is phenomenal. As a teacher, where do you ever get paid to learn? Also, getting to work with kids who for the most part are really excited to learn. It feels so different from my traditional classroom, where whether or not a student wants to be in chemistry, they’re going to be in chemistry. I also love how short the classes are. Every hour has been specifically dedicated to picking up a skill so that you get a functioning project at the end. And lastly, it’s the people. I’ve had really excellent experiences with everyone I’ve worked with. I’ve gotten the chance to learn from so many of them. It’s made me a better teacher because I pick up things that other people are doing in their schools that I bring back to my school.
What would you say to someone who’s considering applying for the Fellowship?
Kiki: If you’re interested in doing it, go for it, because you will learn so much. Even if you don’t come from a traditional teaching background, you will walk away knowing how to teach it to other people and teach it well.
Lauren: Definitely do it. It changed my teaching so much. You can’t imagine going into it how much you’re going to get out of it.
Jorge: It’s an amazing opportunity to work with some excellent educators doing exciting things outside the scope of their schools. It’s also an incredibly restorative experience — it’s so lovely to work in short bursts with kids who are super interested in what you’re teaching.
We couldn’t be more grateful to Kiki, Lauren, and Jorge for sharing their experiences and for all the work they’ve done over the years to contribute to the success of our programs. Our Fellows come from diverse experiences and backgrounds, but share a common passion for empowering students with code. We encourage applicants from different professional backgrounds who share this passion to apply to this year’s Fellowship.