It’s been about a year since I have been volunteering with Girl Develop It Austin, and in this year, I have learned a lot about what it’s like to be a good learner in this industry, but also what it means to be a good teacher.
Being a good learner:
1. Know how to Google
We don’t all know everything, but we’ve been doing this long enough that we know how to search for answers. Students don’t always feel like it’s okay to Google how to solve for something, or how to code a certain thing. They feel like they should know how to write everything.
You’re not going to remember how to write everything from memory, right from the get-go. It takes time. If you have to Google something repeatedly until it sticks, it’s okay.
You may also encounter situations in which you don’t know how to solve something. Google it! Really. For example, we had a weird situation in one of our classes, in which one of the students what’s getting a really weird error installing something. She had been trying to find the answer for a while, until I said “have you searched for the error message?” She hadn’t. Voila! Once we searched for the exact error message she was getting, we found the answer right away. Knowing how to Google, or what to search for, can be just as important.
2. We don’t all know everything
I think this is one of the major things students take away from class.
Students come in, feeling like they should know more, or feeling that coding is really hard, and look up to our instructors like they are Gods.
But then they realize that our instructors are people, too. They are people who had to learn and start from the bottom, just like everyone else.
Your instructors won’t know everything. They just know more because they’ve been doing this longer. But there will be times when you ask a question that your instructor won’t really know the answer to. That’s okay. They probably know someone else that can answer that. That’s how we all get by!
What I end up seeing is students are, at first, taken aback that their instructor said “you know, that’s a good question and I don’t really know the answer.” But after a little while, I see that students feel empowered to go find out for themselves and share their findings with class. I think it makes them realize that there is no magic recipe. There is just asking, learning, searching for answers… and continually you get better. But there is no magic wand.
No one is above asking a question in this industry. If you’re not collaborating, asking questions, or answering someone else’s questions, you’re doing it wrong.
3. You never stop learning
You will never be able to learn everything there is to know about web development. Ever. The technology is constantly changing, and what was considered a best practice 6 months ago can very quickly get updated. In this industry, you have to have a hunger to continue to learn, and if you’re not into that, you’re in the wrong place.
But that is what makes the tech industry so great — things change so quickly that if you catch a wave at just the right time, you may find yourself being the expert in a certain field. The trick is to continue to learn and stay up-to-date. You can’t stop for a little while and rest, or you’ll get rusty.
Being a good teacher:
1. Some students like to learn on their own
There are times when students are too shy to play around with the code during class. I can tell they just want to go home and play around with the code when they’re by themselves. At first, this can be a little disconcerting for an instructor, because you want to be able to answer questions and provide the most value you can during class (especially for paid classes). This may be true especially in classes that are not very vocal, or classes in which no one asked a question.
In the end, you have to trust that students will get as much, or as little, from class as they want. At this point in our lives and careers, we’re all adults. And if a student decides they don’t want to participate much in class, that is their choice. We have to trust our students to be adults.
2. There are multiple answers to questions
This comes up repeatedly. A student asks a question, and you give them answer. But then they Google it and get a different answer. Or maybe another instructor suggests an alternate method.
There are so many ways of tackling issues. Sometimes, things boil down to personal preference or a very specific use-case. There are always going to be multiple ways to solve for something, and as a teacher, you have to select what you think will be a better lesson for your students, while at the same time letting them know that there may be other ways to do it.
As a side note, the same can be said to students. Students will need to realize there are multiple solutions out there, and that their teacher is presenting them with one out of many options. Trust that your teacher has a reason for including this solution in their curriculum.
3. You can’t teach people to care, but you can nurture talent early on
I’ve witnessed students who come in late for a class, and leave early. We sit there, scratching our heads, and wondering why someone would take a class to only show up for a portion of it. But you can’t teach people to care.
What you can do, however, is nurture the people who do show an interest. And a great way to empower a student is to let them teach. You will likely see some bright stars rise up from your class, some of which may show up to other classes or events you put together. So believe in them, and give them a chance early on to share what they know, you’ll be surprised how empowering that can be for someone early in their career.