Posted by Cate Sauer on May 18, 2021
Headshot of Jen Smith
Jen Smith is a computer science teacher, new teacher mentor, curriculum writer, and professional development facilitator. She currently serves as the vice president for the Maryland Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, working tirelessly to promote a sense of community among computer science educators in Maryland.

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Jen Smith is a computer science teacher, new teacher mentor, curriculum writer, and professional development facilitator. She currently serves as the vice president for the Maryland Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, working tirelessly to promote a sense of community among computer science educators in Maryland. Jen helps to increase diversity in the computing field by providing computing education opportunities to under-resourced youth. Connect with her at or via her LinkedIn.

What does a productive environment look like for you?

I play several roles as a teacher, team lead, mentor, and mom, and with those roles my day is packed from start to finish. My classes start at 8:30 a.m. and go through 1:30 p.m. and are followed up by team meetings and coaching afterward. I start my day at around 4:30 a.m., where I can work uninterrupted on lesson planning and grading. If my time isn’t productive, it’s not valuable.

With your schedule and your CSTA volunteer work, how can you create balance and not get burned out? Also, when do you sleep?

I did experience burnout during the school year, which manifested in physical illness. My secret in longevity in teaching and trying to find that balance is having a passion outside of education to invest space and time in. Working with newer and inexperienced teachers, you need to understand that you can only do what you can do. So much pressure was on teachers in the last year, as teachers do not need to internalize what they cannot accomplish, which will accelerate feelings of inadequacy and burnout. We are only human. As for my sleep, let’s be honest I sleep in-between naps.

How have your summer goals changed with the pandemic? 

Last summer, like most teachers, I was on a quest for knowledge on learning as much as I could about virtual teaching. My favorite professional development I came across was directed towards Pre-K and K teachers, as it was the most creative and engaging for virtual teaching. It was figuring out how to use those new concepts and ideas in my lesson planning or teaching environment. In my work, I was planning work that was social-emotional and then focusing on content. As I’m in a different stage of my career, I usually facilitate the PD. This summer, I’m only facilitating one PD workshop and then moving forward as a mentor. 

You are an active volunteer as part of the CSTA Maryland Chapter leaders and prior CSTA Conference Committee Chair. Why has been supporting CSTA vital to you?

CSTA is just one of my volunteer efforts; I also help support as a sports coach. Volunteering for CSTA is because CS is so essential for our students; it shouldn’t be an elective. CS brings meaning to other subjects. What’s of value to me is student success. I’ve taught the whole spectrum of students of various reading levels and learning styles. Every student can learn some aspect of CS; it’s about practicing, learning, and finding that more profound meaning and understanding. Honestly, students learning CS does help test scores, which is a priority for some, but it shouldn’t be a focus. I volunteer because giving to CSTA supports the growth of CS for students, communities, and teachers. 

Can you talk a bit about your CSTA journey and why you are a CSTA+ member?

I recall being a CSTA member in 2007 when I started and just absorbing newsletters and resources to become a stronger teacher. Being a CSTA+ member allows me to continue supporting CSTA to develop programming and resources. I was the only computer science teacher in my district, and I desperately needed that support and community. Joining the CSTA Maryland chapter allowed me to find other educators to collaborate with. 

Can you speak to the impact of being part of the CSTA Maryland chapter has brought to CS in your state? 

Wanting all students to experience CS was a goal of our chapter. So many different folks involved in various organizations got involved with CSTA Maryland as we planned to lobby our state to make CS a requirement. With the backing of the state department and school support, we could start a grassroots connection to talk with state representatives to move CS bills forward. We worked directly with a task force the governor’s office had, recruiting more IT and engineers for the state. Our bill would directly impact and help fill future jobs. The task force helped us draft the account and make revisions. We included our students in the process so they could testify. Students are a stakeholder in the conversation around sustainable CS education in states.

What do you think students got out of that experience?

They practiced their leadership skills and engaged with a professional experience. They were a stakeholder in the conversation. One of my students wanted to be a forensic scientist; after my class, he wanted to become a computer scientist. If I didn’t have that experience, they should have that experience. Several of my students/teachers have gone to become CS teachers. I run my classroom like a company/software company, and I help manage and facilitate projects. I want them to get a taste of professional life. Even students who are in the professional world are checking in on me. I want to give them the most valuable career skills, and it feels like my experiences and career are becoming a full circle.

How has your career become full circle?

I’m a fourth-generation teacher in the same Baltimore district as my family. I ended up teaching at the same girl’s school that I attended in the 1990s, and I teach in the same classroom that I had keyboarding in. I have a lot of memories from that space. If I had a CS teacher at that age, would my career be further along? Would I have achieved a doctorate as I’ve always wanted? Being a CS teacher in this school, for girls underrepresented in CS, ensures that these students are provided the foundation in CS for future opportunities.

What would you say is the objective of the CSTA conference?

After pivoting to a virtual world last year, the CSTA 2020 conference was a place to recharge – it was our homeroom. This year the 2021 Virtual Conference will help give a foundation for teachers, to help ground themselves after an exhausting year and recharge with like-minded educators. I’m so excited about the programming for the conference! There is so much content that every educator or CS advocate will find something of interest to them. This year I’m solely working on managing proctors for the conference to support sessions and workshops.  Anything produced by Jen Manly is fantastic. I was doing this scrum method before I saw her session, and it helped me refine it.

We want to recognize your time as a CSTA Committee Conference Chair. What were some lessons that you learned volunteering, as well as teaching this past year? 

Throughout my time on the committee, and this past year I’ve learned that self-care is essential; and as an educator, we need to recognize that the students need emotional and social support. My students honestly had no idea of what self-care was. To switch gears, lose so many people and touchpoints, and recognize your students as people, they need emotional support; social/emotional learning is essential. That has always been my philosophy; how can I know to cultivate that trust in the classroom without checking in on my student’s wellbeing first? 

Do you have any resources you would like to share?

Honestly, when people ask for your help, I send them to