The Art of the Balancing Act: Jennifer Alejos’s Journey as a Teacher and Online Boot Camp Student
As an elementary school art teacher, Jennifer Alejos always found creative ways to incorporate her passion for technology into her curriculum. She created YouTube lessons for her students, taught them how to use different programs, and even built websites to write and maintain an art curriculum for new teachers at her school.
When Jennifer decided she wanted to pursue a career in website development, she knew she had to go back to school. But choosing a course that she could take while continuing to work was important — and an online program offered her that flexibility. Jennifer decided on University of Arizona Online Coding Boot Camp, and stepped into the virtual classroom without looking back.
Setting expectations — and planning accordingly
“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Jennifer, “but from the very beginning, the approach was clear to me: the benefits you received from the course directly correlated to how much time you put in. The instructor outlined the varying results we could expect if we put in between 10 and 20 hours of work each week, and I knew I wanted to make the most of it.”
To ensure she was able to commit the time she wanted to the boot camp, Jennifer spoke with her school’s principal to rearrange her teaching schedule and cut down on extra work. Then, she sat down with her husband, and they broke her schedule down to the hour. They came up with a weekly cooking schedule to balance out housework each day, and organized any social activities around her class needs.
Stepping out of the art classroom and into the virtual classroom
Jennifer discovered a lot from her first virtual boot camp session. “I could tell that the whole program was set up to help us,” she said. “We were given a 10–15 page packet on what to expect and spent ample setup time troubleshooting systems and programs, and learning how the class was going to run.”
Once Jennifer started diving into the material, she found similar support systems in place. The daily schedule was almost rhythmic: a lecture introducing a new topic, an associated homework assignment, and a block of time for solo work or practice groups led by teaching assistants (TAs). The structure allowed students to “raise their hand” in Slack based on how much time they needed to spend learning the material, and they were broken out into groups with TAs accordingly.
“The leaders and instructors were absolutely great,” said Jennifer. “The TAs had office hours that I scheduled each week — and there were additional academic coaches, career coaches, and student alumni who signed up to be peer coaches, who I’d also meet with once a week. I definitely felt supported.”
Learning to communicate virtually — and becoming even closer
Interacting with fellow online students took Jennifer a little more time to get acclimated. “At first, it was a bit tricky to read each other’s tones,” she said. “When we weren’t sure how our messages came across, we’d all start apologizing over Slack and in the live chats. Once we started adapting to the online sphere and using emoticons to express ourselves, digital communication became second nature.”
Jennifer’s first group project had students in three separate time zones, and they quickly learned that by minimizing texting and maximizing face-to-face sessions, they were able to make the most of their time together. Although it was a challenge meeting around each other’s lives and schedules, it had unexpected benefits. “We were invited into each other’s homes,” said Jennifer. “When someone had a smoke detector incessantly beeping in their house, we all experienced it — and even joked about sending them batteries. We watched each other celebrate family birthdays and say goodnight to their children before bedtime. It was touching, and it helped us all take accountability for our share of the work.”
They organized all of their group work on Trello, a project management tool, mapping out when different tasks and project stages had to be completed and identifying who was responsible for each. If errors or difficulties came up, those were added to the board and solved as a team.
Finding a new career — and reflecting on the experience
Now, Jennifer is a website developer for local artists and small and family-owned businesses — a job that merges her two passions. She helps her clients with marketing, building them websites and other branding materials (like quality logos and business cards) to help them reach customers.
“The biggest piece of advice I’d give to a student learning online would be to approach it like a professional coder,” said Jennifer. “Plan out what you’re going to do in baby steps. Then solve each step, one at a time. Don’t map out a plan and then waste your time trying to skip to the end — you’ll just end up looking back to realize you should have started from the beginning.”