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Teacher changed jobs to push for state's new certification of computer science
Source: Matthew Flamm




When the Board of Regents approved the certification of computer science for K-12 teachers last month, Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson—a longtime advocate for computer science schooling—gave credit to Mike Zamansky. The onetime Stuyvesant High School teacher, whose former students now populate tech companies on both coasts, jumped to Hunter College two years ago to develop a curriculum for K-12 instruction at its School of Education. Zamansky’s work helped Hunter President Jennifer Raab push Albany to make computer science a state-sanctioned teaching subject.

Right now high school computer science teachers are generally math teachers with some computer science training. What’s wrong with that?
One of the issues is that kids come in at different levels. There’s a smorgasbord of curricula out there and very little consistency.

Certification will change that?   
It’s a game changer. We’re going to be able to create really good teachers. And they’re going to be career jobs like in any other certification. My biggest frustration at Stuyvesant was we were never a computer science department; we were always considered math teachers, and we didn’t have a seat at the table.

But in the past two years, the city has created a thousand computer science teachers under the mayor’s Computer Science for All program.
What the city is doing is wonderful. But you can’t really prepare a teacher with a couple of weeks of summer training. They’re doing the best they can, but it’s not the same as what we’re developing at Hunter, where computer science teachers will really know their content and really know how to teach it.

Will it be hard to attract computer science graduates to teaching?
People say, “You’re never going to get teachers because of the [high] salaries in the tech industry.” I don’t agree. Math teachers could all go to Wall Street, and yet we still have math teachers. There are people who want to go into education who love computer science—like me. I loved being a teacher.

How did you end up becoming a teacher?
In the late ’80s in New York City, computer scientists either did niche consulting or worked for one of the banks. I ended up as a programmer at Goldman Sachs. It just didn’t do it for me. My mom and my grandma were teachers. My dad died when I was 11, and some of my male role models were my junior high and high school teachers. I got a job teaching math at Seward Park High School.

How was it?
I had no idea how hard it would be. Wall Street is a walk in the park [by comparison]. You’re giving five different presentations every day to what I jokingly call a hostile captive audience. Fortunately, we had a great faculty, and the other teachers took me under their wing. I would not have survived without them.

For years you were trying to get computer science recognized as a certified subject. Then you met Jennifer Raab.
I was thinking of leaving Stuyvesant, and she was telling me what she wanted to do. And I thought, These people are going to be talking to Albany. And Hunter produces 10% of New York’s teachers. Maybe an institution that is so important for preparing teachers—maybe that can make the difference. And maybe I can be part of that.

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