Bringing Coding to the Classroom: A Conversation with Jake Taylor of TEALS

TEALS is a Microsoft Philanthropies program that seeks to build the capacity of teachers to lead computer science courses in high schools. We sat down with Jake Taylor, Regional Manager for TEALS in Northeast Ohio to discuss the importance of bringing coding into high school classrooms and the impact that these courses are having on students.

Erin: Jake, I’m really excited to learn more about TEALS and the impact that bringing computer science courses into the classroom has made on students. But before we get started, for folks who don’t know you, could you give your name, title and what TEALS is seeking to accomplish?

Jake: My name is Jake Taylor. I’m the Regional Manager for TEALS in Northeast Ohio; TEALS is an acronym and stands for Technology, Education, and Literacy in Schools. It is a Microsoft Philanthropies program, with local support from the Cleveland Foundation, focused on building the capacity of teachers to teach computer science classes.

Most schools don’t have computer science programs because they don’t have someone who can teach the classes. It’s not because people think it’s not important—it’s 2019. Most of the principals I meet with say, “We know we should be offering computer science courses, but we don’t have anyone in our building who can lead these classes.”

To give you an example, in 2016, Ohio did not graduate one person prepared to lead a high school computer science courses – so the need is there.

Erin: Wow, that’s a startling statistic that I’m sure most people were not aware of! Could you speak to how TEALS develops qualified computer science teachers?

Jake: At TEALS, we understand we aren’t going to get thousands of software developers to quit their jobs and become teachers.

In our model, volunteer software developers team teach computer science classes with the classroom teacher until the teacher feels comfortable instructing on their own.

Erin:  Jake, I can hear your passion for teaching as you describe the work that TEALS is doing. Could you speak to your background? Were you always involved in the classroom?

Jake: I have a random background. I grew up in Elyria. I thought I wanted to work on Wall Street. I studied finance in college and eventually worked at Morgan Stanley in New York, but I realized it wasn’t for me. At the time, I was also volunteering at a middle school in Spanish Harlem on Saturdays. I was tutoring a small group of students and I fell in love with the community and the kids; I went to the principal and asked him how I could do this full-time.  

An opportunity arose when the math teacher at the school left for California. I finished my analyst program and started teaching. It was the best decision I ever made. I taught for three years in New York and then wanted to move home to Cleveland.

In Cleveland, I taught math at E-Prep Middle School on 93rd and Union. In 2015, I left the classroom to pursue a graduate degree in public policy where I focused on the intersections between cities and education. While I planned to become a principal after grad school, someone reached out to me with a different kind of opportunity. They shared the disparities around access to computer science nationally and specifically to Cleveland. Once I heard there was a way to change these statistics, I said, “Yes, I’ll do it.”

Erin: Keeping your passion and experience in mind, what is your specific role with TEALS?

Jake: My role as Regional Manager has three functions. First, I identify schools that don’t have a computer science program. I meet with principals and superintendents and explain how TEALS can support them in their effort to get a computer science course in their schools. Second, I find amazing software developers who are willing and able to volunteer their time, coming in at least two mornings a week. Three, I train and support our volunteers and teachers throughout the school year through coaching and monthly meetups.

To prepare our volunteers, we run a 40-hour training program during the summer which consists of 20 hours of in-person training (helping volunteers learn how to teach) and 20 hours of online training focused on completing the course projects.

Erin: So we’ve talked about the TEALS mission, the training volunteers undergo and the support that teachers receive. Why is it so important to expose students at the high school level to these courses and what impact do they make in the classroom?

Jake:   There are over 13,000 open computer science jobs in Ohio, with computer science jobs averaging $85,000 across the State. While there are really great jobs out there, if you don’t have the skills or even know computer science is an option in life, you certainly aren’t going to have access to those jobs.

The other side of it, and I think this may be the math teacher in me, is watching the programming piece. I really like watching how much the kids enjoy programming and the mindset and skills they develop as they’re learning to code.

Computer science is this beautiful space where the expectation is not that you’d type up code and it’s perfect. The expectation is, you try to your best, run your code and spend your time trying to resolve your errors.

Our TEALS volunteers are always telling the students it’s not about being perfect but your willingness to work through your errors to find a solution.  

Erin: Jake, how can folks who are interested in getting more information or want to help, get in touch with you?

Jake: I can be reached via email at jake@tealsk12.org. 

Right now, people can help by signing up to volunteer. Currently, we have 62 volunteers supporting 26 classes. Next year, we’re going to have 30 to 35 classes so I’m going to need close to 100 volunteers. Over the next four weeks I will be looking for software developers who are available support a class two mornings a week next school. If anyone is interested and would like to support a teacher and their student next year, they can visit our website, tealsk12.org/volunteers, and click on the “Volunteer” button.

If you’re interested in bringing computer science courses to your school, or you would like to volunteer in the classroom, please reach out to Jake at jake@tealsk12.org.