From business education to computer science, local teacher Jamie Key has proven that obstacles are really just opportunities -- and she hopes to pass that lesson on to her students.
It has been seven years since Key, currently a computer science teacher at Enterprise Career and Technology Center, started her teaching career. In 2012, things were a little different.
“My first year was at Daleville (in 2012),” Key said. “I’ve been in Enterprise ever since. Computer science was offered for the first time four years ago. One of the former administrators -- Danny Long -- came to me before that school year and told me he thought I would be a good fit to teach it. I was afraid it was a little over my head.”
Key said she had taught web design using HTML and CSS coding.
“I guess because I had a little bit of a background (I got the opportunity),” she said. “(HTML and CSS) are a little different, though. A lot of true programmers don’t consider that a programming language.”
Knowledge of that sort is something that Key has been expanding on as she has taken part in numerous professional development workshops. Most recently, she was one of 100 teachers selected nationally to attend the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles National Teachers Summit at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
Geographically, that’s near San Francisco.
Last fall, Key said she got an email encouraging her to apply. She did so and was one of just three Alabama teachers in attendance alongside Rhonda Guillory of Mountain Brook High School and Justin Kelley of Shades Valley High School, both of which she had met at prior trainings.
Key was accompanied by her husband (Steve Key) -- they paid his way -- and the two were able to tour San Francisco, eat dinner at Palo Atlo and stay at a hotel in Redwood City. Steve, who enjoys photography, was able to snap a few memorable shots of The Golden Gate Bridge after battling some fog.
Perhaps those are minor details to some, but Key said they were part of an enjoyable experience.
“Just being able to visit (was my favorite part),” she said. “I’d never been to California before. I’d been as far as Arizona, but I’d never been one more state over. Just getting to explore and see the West Coast.”
As far as the Facebook-sponsored summit itself, the most important thing Key found was being able to bring back information about future careers for her students after attending numerous workshops and seminars.
“We heard from many different Facebook employees while we were there, and they would explain to us their background and how they got into the positon they were in and what their daily tasks consist of,” according to Key. “We also heard from a panel of Facebook interns who were current college students preparing for a future in any tech company.
“That was one big thing. Their instructor over the interns advised us that they’re not just trying to prepare them for work at Facebook, but in any technical field or company. They teach them skills of the trade while focusing on collaboration and everybody just working together. One thing that really impressed me with Facebook was they really seem to care about building a sense of community. They say there’s a place for everyone.”
A place for everyone -- that’s a message that Key has been trying to deliver to students as the computer science program has grown, just as she has in her transition from business education to computer science.
“There are not really many computer science teachers out there,” she said. “The State Department of Education has just created a Praxis (test) for computer science. There are a lot of us that were math teachers, business teachers, science teachers. I think if you had either of those backgrounds, they allowed you to go through training. I have gone to numerous professional developments to prepare.
“The very first one I ever went to was a week-long training in Atlanta, Georgia one summer. They call it TeacherCon, and it was just amazing. From that first professional development opportunity, I just fell in love with it. I was scared and intimidated by it, but after that training I felt better.”
Key said there are plenty of development opportunities and jobs waiting for those willing to overcome the obstacles of the field, regardless of their background.
“(How important this is) wasn’t anything I thought about before, but through these trainings I’ve been to and the statistics I’ve seen, I know that no matter what field students are going into there’s going to be computers involved in some way,” Key said. “I think it’s beneficial for anybody, no matter what career field. There are so many unfilled jobs in computer science right now. We just don’t have the qualified workforce.
“A big emphasis is in trying to recruit especially females and minorities. They’re very underrepresented in the field, and there are so many opportunities out there right now. I really try to get that through to my students.”
This year, Key teaches classes in AP Computer Science Principles, AP Computer Science A and Introduction to Computer Science, which she said has boosted the program for students who may be intimidated by the AP tag.
She also has the “best ratio” of girls to boys she’s had in one of her classes.
“I’ve got one class with nine girls in it and 17 boys,” she said. “I’ve had a few classes where I’ve just had one girl and all boys.”
Key relates her initial experience of computer science to those girls and minorities that may feel intimidated by the field.
“They might just assume it’s not for them or they’re not capable because they don’t see people that look like them in the field,” Key said. “That’s something we’re trying to change. We’re looking for any local people that would be willing to come in and talk to help with that. I think it makes people feel more comfortable if they see people that look like them in the careers they want to go into.”
Overall, Key wants to convey to her students that she’s learning alongside them, but if she keeps motivating her students to overcome obstacles, the computer science program should keep growing.
“I always tell them that there’s a still a lot I need to learn, because I don’t have a CS degree,” said Key. “I’m learning with the students as I’m teaching them. There’s so many resources -- so much available to learn from it’s almost overwhelming trying to narrow it down and find the right thing. I try to think of myself as the lead learner and make them feel comfortable and let them know it may seem scary, some of those big words and terms they’re not familiar with, but by the end of the course hopefully they will have fallen in love with it as well.”