Teaching has taken over my life

This semester I have been teaching a first-year course at the University of Toronto. (In case anyone happened to wonder why I have not been around much.)

This has been incredibly stressful, but one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

The course is CSC180 – Introduction to Computer Programming. I am teaching it with PhD student Brian Law, who has been an excellent colleague. We have both sort of been fumbling our way through this, learning as we go along. But, so far I think we have gotten much more right than we have gotten wrong.

Our fumbling is not the result of a lack of planning and preparation. We planned and prepared for months in advance. Teaching is just something that years of research does little to prepare one for. Knowing and delivering the lecture material is maybe 20% of the work. In addition, we write assignments and exams, prepare labs, manage 15 TAs who run labs and do marking for us, run office hours, deal with course administration, run a course web site, think up policies for things, enact these policies, help the students who reach out for help, and encourage others who are struggling to do so.

In the end, the thing above all that makes teaching worth it is knowing that I am helping these students learn such a fundamental and vital set of skills. We are not just teaching them the syntax of Python, we are hopefully helping them learn how to solve problems and think algorithmically. Well, one can hope. I am coming to realise that this is a skill that takes a lot of commitment and practice to master. It is easy to forget  how incomprehensible and esoteric it can all seem, when you are first starting out. I do remember, though, how much joy I got solving each new problem, and that thrill of seeing the first Java-drawn pixels of the Mandelbrot Set appear more than a decade ago.

Now I just need to figure out how to teach Python classes and object-oriented concepts.

2 Responses to “Teaching has taken over my life”

  1. Alex says:

    As much time it takes for you to prepare everything for us, and as slow as I (and maybe others) in our CSC180 class learn, we definitely appreciate everything you and Brian do and teach us.

    While I am probably not going into electrical or computer engineering, this class is easily one of the more fun classes in the EngSci course schedule!

    • admin says:

      Thanks Alex.

      It is nice to know that the hard work is appreciated.

      Whatever area you go into, programming will likely be involved in one way or another. So, hopefully we are providing a good intro.



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