What makes a good school? Is it the teachers?

When I look back on my childhood education, I cannot really say much about the school itself. Most of the things I remember relate to other children and not at all to what I learned (children can be cruel). 

I do remember a few things though and they all relate to making me as a student be seen and recognizing me as an individual and not as just one among many. When I was in lower grade school (age 7-9), I would come early to school before all the other children and stand outside the window of my classroom until the teacher (she was there early preparing each morning) saw me and invited me into the classroom where I usually did math calculations. I do not remember anything we talked about or even who she was (I wonder if she still is alive and if she would remember me?). 

Another memory is from the final years in compulsory school (age 13-15). We had a big drive in Sweden for computing in school and just like Bill Gates (as mentioned in an earlier part of this course) I had access to my own room of computers (as the teachers did not know how to use them). Ps. Did you know that Sweden invented its own computer, called Compis just for learning in schools? Anyhow, I and another student got our own key to the computer room, and we could spend as much free time as we like in there. This together with having two parents working with computers (this was in the 80s) cemented my interest in learning programming. What has this to do with if it was a good school or not? Well, I think it was a question of trust where the teacher trusted us with our own key and that we would not break anything. 

If we take this to my own students (I am professor in computer science and I teach mostly software engineering in larger projects on advanced level) at Luleå University of Technology, I think a key part of making a good school (university in this case) is to make the students be seen and not just see the students as a big mass of bodies. I try to connect with as many as I can, and I do this by engaging early with them. E.g., I do guest lectures for our new students, meet many of them before they even come to university as part of recruitment events, I engage in their online channels (earlier Facebook and now Discord) where I try to help when I can. 

I have also experimented with several different efforts to help and support the students. I started a mentorship program for first year students where the students were divided up into groups of about 5 and got assigned to another engaged teacher for regular meetings outside of their normal schedule. This was fully voluntary for the students and the idea was to support those that needed it with not only schoolwork but also with social issues. The outcome was not that good as it in the end turned out that those students that needed the extra help did not show up for the meetings. 

Another effort that is much more successful and is still ongoing, is my project #include with the goal to support our female students within the CS area and help them continue and conclude the studies. This started in 2014 and we have done many events together, like social dinners, study evenings, mentorship programs, alumni gatherings and just creating a feeling of togetherness to support them during their time at the university.     

To conclude, I think it is important to make the students be seen but at the same time we have reality around us. We as teachers have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of energy to spend on our work. At university level it is a bit different from compulsory and secondary school level, where I am just a part time teacher while others are full time teachers. Around us we all have budget issues, teachers moving between jobs (and many leaving the teachers jobs all together), other mean students and it might be hard to get a continuation as a student with just one teacher. 

So, what makes a good school comes back to what makes a good teacher. Without good teachers, we cannot have good schools. This is an ongoing process where we as teachers must make an extra effort and help the students be seen. It is our responsibility to make that extra effort to make the student be seen!

/Peter, just another teacher trying to do his best. 

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