The high school instructor knows how to give a lecture, but isn't very current about the latest technology in computer science. The IT professional is up-to-speed on computer science, but doesn't know how to create a lesson plan, or handle an unruly teenager in the classroom. Together, however, they are learning from one another.
"Pedagogy is what I am learning from them, while I'm bringing my IT skills, which they don't have, to them," says Devon Smith, 46, who spent more than 20 years working for Dow Jones & Co. as a software engineer, before leaving the company in 2006. "Everybody is helping everybody."
The three-year program, called Operation Reboot, is trying to help 30 IT professionals—10 each year—re-enter the workforce as high school computer science teachers. The program, run by the Georgia Institute of Technology's college of computing in collaboration with the Georgia Teacher Alternative Preparation Program (GaTAPP), pairs an IT worker with an existing computing teacher.
They co-teach at least two computing classes for one year, allowing the IT professional to learn the ins and outs of the classroom, and the teacher to get an education in information technology. The National Science Foundation is funding the program through $2.5 million in grant money, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
In Georgia, teachers need only a business certification to teach computer science. As a result, "a lot of people who teach computer science classes don't have any formal training in computer science," says Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech's college of computing. "So the idea was to match up people who have the knowledge and background in computer science, but don't necessarily know how to teach."
Each of the IT workers is taking courses with GaTAPP to obtain a teacher's certification. They have three years to finish. Georgia Tech pays the $5,000 in fees. Since there is no certification in computer sciences, the IT professionals concentrate on math, science or business. The IT workers and the teachers also attend classes at Georgia Tech, which provides courses on how to teach computer science.
Furthermore, the teachers and the IT workers both attend workshops once a month throughout the school year and week-long workshops in the summer. Each duo also is assigned a "mentor," an experienced computer science teacher, who meets with them periodically to talk about the issues they are encountering in their schools, and offers suggestions to enhance their computer teaching skills. The teachers receive new textbooks for their classes, and stipends totaling about $2,250 for attending the sessions.
"The idea is to get them both trained in better ways to teach computer science," Ericson says. "Sometimes, you're the only computer science teacher in the school, and it's hard to discuss things with anyone else at the school because nobody understands what you are talking about."
For the one-time computer professionals, "it's now a very different lifestyle," Ericson says. "School is different."
Smith, who teaches in an inner-city Atlanta high school, agrees. "It's been a little rough," he says. "Many of these students bring different issues into the classroom from day to day. But I'm committed to doing this."
With a homemaker wife and three children, one of them in college, he's happy to be using his skills in the workplace again. Each IT worker receives a monthly stipend of $3,410 for 11 months, and the use of a laptop while in the program. "It's been a good experience, "Smith says. "I'm making it work, and I get a lot of support."
He wishes, however, that the schools had newer, more up-to-date computer equipment for their students. "They're not the best," he says. "They're old. They definitely need some upgrading."
Still, "some of the kids really like computers. Their faces really light up when I take over. It's different from what they're used to," he says. "Initially, the kids didn't see where computers would help. I have to remind them that what they learn here will absolutely affect everything they will be doing, that, whatever it is, somehow a computer will be involved."
Ericson is troubled by teacher cutbacks in the state, although "we hear that many teachers are retiring and they are expecting to have a huge shortage of math and science teachers," she says. This will help ensure future jobs for their IT professionals, many of whom will be certified in math and science teaching when they finish their training.
Although computer science is not considered a "core subject," Ericson, like Smith, believes exposure to computer science will enhance future job prospects for their students.
Moreover, "one of our goals is to increase the amount and diversity of the students taking computer science," she says. "You often get a lot of white and Asian males who are interested in computers. Our hope is that we will also attract more women and under-represented minorities."
—Marlene Cimons, NSF
Follow U.S. News Science on Twitter.