Herbert A. Simon Award for Teaching Excellence 2023
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)
Taming self-doubtMichael D. Taylor
Setting the scene
Despite their differences, one of the most common traits among our students is the frequent specter of self-doubt when faced with the rigor and speed of 15-112 and CMU as a whole. Many student meetings begin with some variation of the following: "I don't have any prior experience and my friends just seem to already know what they're doing, and solving problems just seems to take me so much longer than everyone else." Even those who do have some prior programming experience often find that they're still extremely challenged by this course, and they conclude (very incorrectly) that the majority of students are somehow breezing through it. Why is this? Why do so many students doubt their strengths, and especially their ability to grow and thrive?
I think it all starts with the fact that they're good people ... and good people see the best parts of those around them, and they acknowledge the accomplishments of their peers before seeing their failures and struggles. When they look inward, the opposite is true. A student might attend my office hours every week for the whole semester, and they'll view themselves as weak for asking for help. Meanwhile, they perceive another student doing the exact same thing as displaying resilience and dedication. Perhaps one student envies the algebraic fluency of another, oblivious to the fact that the other student can't stop wondering if they will ever match the artistic creativity the first student casually doodles in the margins of their notebook.
And every Tuesday and Thursday, I'm nervously reviewing my notes, and wondering if I'll ever be able to light up their eyes like I've seen my co-instructors do. And ... gosh, they seem to do it so effortlessly. How many of my students wish I was someone else? How many of them are wondering how the department decided to put me in front of 1000 of the world's best students every year? How long do I have left before they find out I don't know what I'm doing?
How do we stop tearing ourselves down?
My first semester was pretty rough around the edges, to put it lightly, but I know I've gotten more confident in the 12 iterations of 15-112 since then. Those worries are still there in the back of my head, though, and I've just gotten better at quieting them down before I turn on the microphone. Part of the reason I'm open with my students is because I'm at my best when I'm simply being my whole self, and I always hope that maybe my students and TAs and I can tame those negative feelings by coming together and refusing to be isolated by them. Here are a few of the things I mention:
What's the short version?
14 May 2023
Return to: SCS Faculty Awards