I’ve been teaching a web development class for second year IT students. Basically, they get a business base, then it’s lots and lots of programming, including access, visual basic, etc. Lots of theory, very little practice. They took a year-long course in Access, and they couldn’t explain a relational database (although they were familiar with most of the ideas behind it, thank God).
My class is all practice and very little theory. Not only am I not interested in digging deep into the HTTP protocol, they actually have very little need of these details at this level in their careers. That, and hands-on web development is really much more interesting. Yes, they can explain the basic differences between GET and POST, but far more importantly, they can actually create websites.
Anyway, I held office hours today. My sole appointment showed up with three friends from class, and after spending 10 minutes figuring out his problem (a missing equal sign), we sat around chatting for about an hour.
The boys asked me how they can get as good as I am. I told them that they should actually be able to become much better than me. They, after all, are getting degrees in this crap.
“Right, ma’am, but how?” (That’s right, I’m ma’am, and don’t you forget it!)
“Practice. Lots and lots of practice. And read everything you can on the subject.”
“Yep. Don’t be afraid to try new things. But really, practice. The only way to get better at making websites is to make websites.”
It’s a really fun class, especially when we’ve got a project due, because all of a sudden, they’re all creating interesting things, and they want to know how to do this thing, that thing, and the other thing. It’s a shame we only have six sessions left. I’d really like to get into the nitty-gritty details of some of this stuff.
Anyway, the point of this post, was that the boys asked me how much I charge for websites. I told them nothing, I do it for free. They were shocked and horrified. Free? “Yep, I’m a volunteer.” They were appalled, of course. Work for free? JAMAIS! (NEVER!)
The boys couldn’t understand why I, a white American woman, would leave the comforts of the US to come work in Benin for free. And then plan on staying on after her service! Why would anyone actually come to Africa? Liberal guilt, my genuine desire to see and experience new things, and a need to escape the fetters of Western consumerism all fell on deaf ears as I struggled to explain what, exactly, I’m doing in their country.
I ended by saying that I see my time here as a time to learn and to teach, with the scales tipped heavily towards the former. They just shook their heads and smiled at their crazy American professor.