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Equal Parts Empathy and Empowerment: One Boot Camp Instructor’s Powerful Classroom Approach

Written by Michelle Bury on Dec 16, 2021

Related content: Boot Camps

As a coding instructor, Latisha “Tish” McNeel has a student-centric, care-driven teaching style that immediately sets her apart.

Through her equally empathetic and empowering approach, Tish has paved the way for hundreds of individuals to achieve promising careers in technology. Today, she is a beloved instructor for the Rice University Coding Boot Camp, a program she joined after spending four years inspiring students in the Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin.

As a senior student success manager at 2U, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Tish throughout her cohort teaching experiences. In that time, she has made a meaningful impact on so many learners, some of whom have been motivated to become teaching assistants and instructors of 2U-powered boot camps themselves.

Considering all of the people who look up to Tish, I’m not surprised that her most recent cohort nominated her for a 2U Student Choice Award. Upon hearing the news, I reached out to Tish to learn even more about the engaging teaching style that earned her our award for “We Put Students First”—and her history of transformational instruction.

Championing “Wonder-Driven Development”

Tish views coding as both an art and a science: an act of problem-solving that is “beautiful, messy, and challenging at the same time.” As a veteran programmer and passionate advocate of “wonder-driven development,” she encourages students to nurture their natural curiosity and try new things without fear of failure.

Experimentation, Tish emphasizes, is key to learning and growth. “Regardless of whether you get success or an error message, you get information,” she explains. “That’s incredibly valuable, since coding is about constantly learning.” By allowing students room to learn from their mistakes, Tish helps them adopt a growth mindset and confidently embrace their developing skill sets—a critical step on the path to becoming successful programmers.

Employing a Student-First Teaching Style

“As an instructor, I make a point of putting my students first by learning their needs,” says Tish. “I’m always listening to student feedback and adjusting my teaching style accordingly.”

Since no two students are the same, she tailors her instruction to meet the needs of each unique cohort—putting herself in others’ shoes to identify the best classroom approach. In some cases, that means offering deep dives into particularly challenging programming languages. In others, it means facilitating live coding demos so students can learn visually. It also means supporting individual students through Slack, office hours, personalized one-on-ones, and even creating online coding resources that rank at the top of Google keyword search results.

“Because every student is so different, I also get to hear an array of perspectives about how people from diverse backgrounds approach the same problems,” adds Tish. “As someone with a computer science background, I come to the table with different insights than my students. Hearing their thought processes has been one of my favorite experiences as an instructor.”

Prioritizing Real-World Readiness

More than anything, Tish is committed to preparing her students for life beyond the boot camp.

Students are captivated by the way Tish shares colorful anecdotes about her full-time programming job. Day after day, she offers examples of real-world applications for skills learned in the classroom—adding a personal touch that really helps put academic lessons in perspective.

Importantly, Tish also teaches her students to embrace ambiguity. “Often, students will ask questions and expect black-and-white answers,” she says. “But tech is not a black-and-white industry, so my response is often: It depends. That can be frustrating to hear, but it leads to important conversations about my real-world experience. I get to explain both sides of a given scenario and show some of the complexities of the industry, which prepares students for what’s to come.”

Examples of digital flash cards that Tish created for boot camp students, from her own professional experience, to help them identify elements in a block of code and what the code is intended for.

Paying It Forward

For Tish, the best part of being an instructor is seeing students achieve their goals—whether that’s landing a lucrative programming job or giving back to the community by educating the next generation of coders.

Tish points out that past students have gone on to full-time developer positions at top companies like Accenture and Shell in the Houston area—sometimes getting a job halfway through their cohort!—while others have returned to support her as a TA before becoming full instructors in their own right. She also continues to be an outstanding mentor for TAs to model their approach after, including Camden Kirkland, who is now an instructor for the Rice University Fintech Boot Camp as well as lead curriculum architect of enterprise products at 2U. “He was my TA in my first-ever cohort,” reflects Tish. “It’s been amazing to track his trajectory since then.”

Looking ahead, Tish is excited to continue cultivating aspiring coders in the classroom. “I have all these students who come into the boot camp with different backgrounds, problems, levels of education, and interactions with computers,” she says. “And I get to make coders out of them. That’s such a rewarding feeling.”


Want more examples of instructor excellence? Read about the Fall 2021 winners of our other Student Choice Awards, including “We Only Succeed as a Team” and “We Have a Can-Do Attitude”.

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