This quarter at least part of Fridays are spent grading, since assignments for one of my classes are due on Thursday nights. So this morning I logged onto the course management system to download the submissions, and I saw this comment from a student:
I spent hours trying to figure out solutions for this assignment and I’m now a firm believer that programming is not for me. […] I seriously dislike strings and lists and can’t wait for this class to be over so I don’t have to touch another programming language again.
To say it was a bad start to the day would be an understatement. As an instructor of introductory programming classes, I’m used to students deciding that programming isn’t for them. I know that programming isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I’ve learned to not internalize it too much. But the comment above bothers me. Partially it’s because I’ve told them to contact me after not making progress for more than an hour, a policy that is so standard for me that I call it the one-hour rule. Whenever students ignore that advice it makes me sad, since struggling too much in a programming class can be very discouraging. That’s precisely why I created the one-hour rule. But it’s more than his not having reached out for help. He’s a good student, someone who had a high grade after the midterm. It makes me profoundly sad when strong students, people who could be good programmers, get so unhappy that they don’t continue. I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything I could have done differently in the class that would have prevented him from turning away, because I hate it when for whatever reason I don’t reach them.