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The Challenges And Rewards Of Teaching Web Design

Just over four years ago, I decided to take a part-time position teaching website design and front-end development at a local university, the University of Rhode Island1. My time in the classroom has been one of the most challenging as well as one of the most rewarding experiences in my career, and I believe that other Web professionals would greatly benefit from spending some time in an educational setting teaching others their craft.

In this article, we will look at some of the challenges to prepare for if you are considering taking on a teaching position. I will also present some of my personal experiences and insights, including the benefits and rewards I’ve enjoyed as a teacher, to help you consider such a move for your own career.

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

Challenges Link

Let’s start by looking at some of those aforementioned challenges as well as the solutions I’ve used to meet them over the years.

Not Everyone Learns The Same Way Link

Where you teach, as well as the variety of students in your classroom, will have a dramatic impact on your overall experience. Over the years, students from all walks of life, age groups and experience levels have taken my course. The only constant is that every one of them is completely different — which poses quite a challenge when preparing materials and exercises for the class.

Ultimately, your job is to do what you feel would help the students understand the concepts best. Yet, no matter how well you prepare, the reality is that your materials will work great for some students and not so well for others. You will not be able to reach all students equally because everyone learns differently.

Everyone learns differently, and your responsibility as the teacher is to respond to those different needs. (Image credit: opensourceway7)

As you receive feedback from students and realize which ones get it and which ones are lost, you will need to adjust your lesson plans to make sure that you reach all students, not just best and brightest who understood the concepts right away. Of course, part of the challenge is that you must strike a balance here. You’ve spent time carefully considering and building your lesson plans, and you don’t want to blow it up and redo everything because a particular student did not respond well to them. Instead, find ways to get those slower-paced learners up to speed.

I had one student a few years ago who found it difficult to keep up. He was always falling behind, and he felt bad about asking too many questions and holding up the rest of the class — but by asking fewer questions, he fell further behind, and the problem just worsened. Eventually, I suggested that he bring in a digital camera to record the lessons so that he could go over them again later at his own pace. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of being recorded, but I felt it would help him, so I was open to the idea.

The change was immediate. Watching the recordings at home and going through the lab exercises for a second time at his own pace, he found that the lessons began to make sense and that he was able to keep up in class. His final project ended up being one of the best of the group — a dramatic turnaround from where he started in the course.

Not Everyone Is Cut Out To Be A Web Designer Link

That being said, the reality is that some students, no matter how much extra attention you give them or how responsive you are to their learning needs, will just never get the material. Unfortunately, I’ve had to drop a number of students from my class over the years. Despite my best efforts, including extra materials developed specifically for these students and extra class time to answer their questions and tutor them, they simply didn’t understand the concepts being taught.

In most cases, these students tried incredibly hard. They put in the effort required, but the results weren’t there and the rest of the class was held up because of their struggle. Having to sit down with those students and explain that I didn’t think they were right for the class is easily the most uncomfortable thing I have had to do as a teacher.

Failing to get through to a student does not necessarily mean that your material or teaching approach is bad. In many cases, it’s not you, it’s the student. (Image credit: D Sharon Pruitt)

If you are going to take on a teaching role, be prepared to make difficult decisions. As uncomfortable as these conversations are, they are sometimes necessary for the good of the class.

Rewriting Lesson Plans Link

The Web is constantly changing. Lesson plans and exercises that were relevant one semester may be woefully outdated the next. As the Web evolves, so too must your lesson plans.

When I began teaching over four years ago, responsive design hadn’t yet become the best practice it is today. Now, it is one of the most important aspects of my course. Despite all of the work I had put into the class materials, I had to pretty much start from scratch when I decided to introduce responsive Web design into the lessons.

Make sure to teach skills that are relevant to the industry today, revisiting your lessons after each semester and making changes as needed. Most of the time, I need to make only minor changes to course materials; I rarely have to start from scratch. Either way, though, prepare to revise your lesson plans regularly if you hope to keep the course relevant and up to date. Furthermore, understand that your time in the classroom is just a fraction of the time you will have to spend preparing for the class.

The Constraints Of Time Link

Speaking of time, another challenge is that you have only so much time with the students. So, you need to pick and choose exactly what to present according to what you feel will serve them best. If your classes are like mine and many of your students have no previous experience with Web design, HTML or CSS, then you’ll need to start with the basics. Giving students an understanding of basic design principles and introducing HTML and CSS all the way up to the most current best practices is a tall order. In the end, you have to leave some things out and accept that you can’t teach students everything.

Take support for Internet Explorer (IE) 6. Finding ways to support that old browser has consumed countless hours for those of us who have been in the industry for years, but we don’t struggle with it much these days because use of IE 6 is now so low. Among most of the websites I have worked on lately, IE 6 does not even factor in the user base. Because of this, I have decided not to discuss the challenges of IE 6 because I do not feel it is relevant to the work the students will do once they leave the classroom. If we covered IE 6 support, it would mean we have that much less time to cover something else. The challenge is to decide what is more (and most) important and to make the best use of the time available to present those concepts.

As a side note, websites like Smashing Magazine and other online sources that have built an archive of articles about Web design topics over the years are an invaluable resource for those of us who are teaching the next generation of designers and developers. So much of what we do today is built on the practices of the past. The history of our industry is important, but finding time to present all of that history in the classroom is hard. So, referring students to topics and articles to read is an important strategy for teachers. This is why these archives of articles, which might not seem relevant to today’s best practices, are so important and why decisions like .NET Magazine’s to drop thousands of old articles8 when it resigned its website is such a problem9.

As Andy Clarke states in his article “Preserving the History of Web Design10,” we need to ensure that new professionals in our industry learn this history, “to learn about the progress we made so they don’t undo it.” Unfortunately, we cannot cover all of that history in the classroom, so the challenge is to figure out how much of it to present and how much to refer them to for review outside of the classroom.

You Represent The Industry Link

You will be the first Web professional who most of your students have ever met or been able to speak with at length. To them, you represent the industry. The stories you tell and the opinions you share will shape their own understanding and opinions of the industry. That is a pretty big responsibility.

Always keep in mind that you play a major role in shaping your students’ understanding and opinions of the Web industry. (Image credit: Dell Inc.12)

We all have bad days, but taking negativity from the office into the classroom will absolutely affect how your students see the industry. You don’t have to present the job as being all rainbows and gumdrops, but be mindful of what you say to students and avoid using the classroom as a place to blow off steam, regardless of how bad your day is or how frustrating an exchange with a client has been. Complaining about clients is never productive or appropriate, and too many in our industry relish the opportunity to share bad stories. Doing this with students gives them the wrong impression and trains them not to respect clients.

You have an opportunity to set these new Web professionals off on the right path. By maintaining a positive outlook and by exposing the students to the best parts of our industry, you can help to cultivate designers and developers who will help our industry continue to grow, instead of hold it back.

You Are Responsible For What You Put Into This World Link

Building on this theme of responsibility, you are absolutely responsible for what you put into the world. I have heard many Web designers echo this sentiment as they look to do work that has meaning and that makes a difference. The projects and clients we take on and the websites we launch into the world are our responsibility — and that responsibility is multiplied many times over when you decide to become a teacher.

As a teacher, you are at least partially responsible for the work your students will do. When your students go on to do great things, it is awesome. One of my students a few years ago took a position with an important non-profit organization in our area. Seeing her work make a difference for that organization and the people it helps was extremely gratifying.

Unfortunately, not all interactions with former students end as positively as this one did. Other former students of mine have done really bad work as freelancers. I remember one former student contacting me and asking me to look at the most recent website he had designed and developed for a client. There is no way to sugarcoat it — the website was bad. The design was unattractive, the user experience confusing, and the code sloppy and poorly written. This put me in an uncomfortable position.

He was obviously very excited about his work and was asking for feedback, but any feedback I could give would be negative. In the end, I told him that I was happy to see him working on the skills we had covered in class, and I suggested a few improvements to the website. The student thanked me for my input and made a few changes to the website. Since that time, I have followed his work and seen other mediocre websites that he has designed for clients, but he never again asked for my feedback, nor have I offered it.

This experience was not confined to this one student. Over the years, other former students have taken on freelance work and subsequently launched poor websites into the world. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t feel some responsibility for these poorly done websites, but in the end, you cannot police every student once they leave the class. All you can do is give them the best information and show them the right way to design and develop a website. What they do with that information, for better or for worse, is something you have no real control over.

Rewards And Benefits Link

So far, we’ve looked only at the challenges of teaching in this industry. Those challenges are real and substantial, but if you can meet them, then you’ll also find a number of rewards and benefits from taking on this responsibility. Let’s now turn to some of those rewards.

Helping Others Link

Helping others can be a powerful experience. Spending time in the classroom to teach others your craft is one way to use the knowledge you have gained to improve the lives of others.

Many of the students I teach are unemployed or underemployed. Their tuition for my class is paid for by a grant set up to give them skills relevant to today’s workforce. Helping these unemployed individuals to better themselves and learn new skills is important work, and seeing students go on to find good entry-level jobs in the industry is incredibly rewarding. Hearing from those students later on that the lessons and conversations in the class helped to prepare them for success really makes all of my hard work worthwhile.

I have always loved the giving, collaborative nature of the Web industry. Teaching students is one way to contribute to the Web community while having a real impact on the lives of others.

Learning By Teaching Link

One of the best ways to truly understand something is by teaching it to others. While my time in the classroom is dedicated to teaching website design, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t learn quite a bit from the experience as well.

Try to explain the CSS box model or the difference between relative and absolute positioning to a new student, and I guarantee you will understand the concept better than before. This greater understanding and the experience of explaining these technical concepts to students will also help you speak with clients.

Teaching forces you to find ways to explain concepts in a way that others who do not have the benefit of your experience will grasp. (Image credit: opensourceway14)

Being able to communicate with clients without being too technical or intimidating, and in a way that helps them to grasp the concepts enough to be able to make informed decisions about their business and their website, is an important skill. The lessons you prepare and your conversations with students can and will equip you for these client interactions and make you better at what you do.

Generating Business Link

Speaking of clients, I wouldn’t have expected this when I began teaching, but my time in the classroom has led to a number of projects outside of the classroom. Multiple students have passed along solid leads to me because they could not handle the projects themselves with their level of experience. Former students have also invited the agency I work for to bid on projects initiated by the organizations they’ve joined.

Over the years, a number of people have asked me whether I realize that, by being a teacher, I am training professionals who will one day replace me or, at the very least, take work away from me. I’ve honestly never felt that way. I’ve always felt that there is more than enough work to go around. And, as my experience shows, being a teacher and making a positive impression on your students will not only not lose you clients, but could actually generate business for you and your agency.

How Do I Get Started? Link

Hopefully, this article has given you some points to think about as you consider whether a teaching position is right for you at this point in your career. If you’d like to explore this possibility, how should you begin?

My opportunity came when I began telling others of my desire to speak more about our industry and the work that I do. A fellow Web developer who had taught at the university for many years heard me one day and, knowing of an opening at the school, referred me. Within a few weeks, I was in front of my first group of students.

While my experience might not be typical, there is a lesson in it. Spreading the word about your interest in a teaching position could open doors. Do not be shy to let others know that you’d like to explore this move.

Other strategies are to contact your local universities, colleges, and business centers to see whether they have any openings. Sometimes, a little outreach turns up an amazing opportunity.

If you can’t find an opening at an institution of higher education or you feel you are not yet ready for that level and would like to start smaller, consider giving small workshops or classes at a local library or even as a private tutor.

Whatever path you choose to get started, consider what you can offer to students who are interested in learning more about our industry. I assure you that the students will not be the only ones who get something positive from the experience.

(al, il)

Footnotes Link

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Jeremy Girard was born with six toes on each foot. The extra toes were removed before he was a year old, robbing him of any super-powers and ending his crime-fighting career before it even began. Unable to battle the forces of evil, he instead works as the Director of Marketing and Head of Web Design/Development for the Providence, Rhode Island based Envision Technology Advisors. He also teaches website design and front-end development at the University of Rhode Island. His portfolio and blog, at, is where he writes about all things Web design.

  1. 1

    The best job I ever had was teaching faculty and staff at a midwestern university how to make Web pages according to our then-new Dreamweaver templated design. I did it, and did it well, for a few years, finally transitioning into a CMS that did away with the need for every department and college to have a copy of Dreamweaver and someone with the knowledge to use it.

    I used to just live for what I called the “Lightbulb Moment”. That instant when you can actually *see* that someone gets it. “If I type this in I’ll get this. So… if I type that in… I’ll get that?” Bing! Lightbulb. The best years of my life.

    Good article.

    • 2

      Jeremy Girard

      January 9, 2014 3:25 pm

      Mark – thanks for your comments! Similar to your experiences, I love it when I am teaching theory and I look out to the class and see confused faces staring back at me.

      “Trust me,” I will often say. “This will all makes sense soon when we put it into practice!”

      When we later get to hands-on lab exercises, and that theory starts to make sense, I see that same “lightbulb moment” you have described. It is a wonderful feeling and validation that you are reaching your students.

  2. 3

    Great article. I have to say though, I disagree with your position on describing bad experiences. We are obligated to not just teach hard skills but practical professional skills as well. Giving students the tools to deal with difficult clients through contracts, personal management and process is critical. These are the skills that one doesn’t get from online courses. They should know the pitfalls of action or inaction with clients, bosses or co-workers. They should know what has happened to others and be able to deal accordingly. That is part of the benefit of having gone through the experience – sharing it so others can learn from it as well.

    • 4

      Adam – allow me to clarify. I agree that sharing bad experiences, or more importantly – the solutions to those bad experiences, is important and necessary. What I believe is inappropriate is bashing clients as a way of blowing off steam or for the sake of typical “clients suck” type conversations. Those conversations are not helpful, but to your points, giving students tools to handle difficult clients and situation is, indeed, an appropriate lesson that should be taught.

      • 5

        I agree, there shouldn’t be that sort of behaviors. I have dealt with clients whom have had that happen and the taste in their mouth made it a problem for others. Plus even a bad client is better then no client at all.


  3. 6

    Putting a subject matter expert in front of a class seems perfectly natural and normal in most industries and teaching ability, qualification or experience is almost never questioned. However, in a reversed role, putting a teacher in a web development job as a developer seems absurd. Of course the teacher is not qualified or skilled enough to be a developer…but putting a web developer in the role of educator creates no similar reaction.

    I’ve taken several web development courses from “Industry Professionals” who are obviously skilled at web development, but who were horrible teachers.

    Viewed through an educational lens, they lacked the fundamental skills to engage and educate competently. The emphasis on technical skills seemed to be the only consideration when selecting the “teacher”.

    This is resulting in extremely poor learning experiences for anyone trying to learn to code.

    As you know, coding schools and coding bootcamps are all the rage (I know, I took one) and “entrepreneurs” are falling all over themselves to setup shop to make lots of money in the process.

    However, the quality of education is not regulated, reviewed or vetted at any point, resulting in student frustration.

    I accept the value experienced developers bring to teaching as subject matter experts, but please don’t confuse mastery of development to mastery of teaching (a common attitude).

    I suspect the future will bring more articles about the impact of people taking web development courses from unqualified instructors.


    • 7

      Jeremy Girard

      January 9, 2014 3:48 pm

      I’ve met many industry professionals who were wonderful teachers and who brought relevant, real-world experience to their classes. I’ve also met industry professionals who could not translate their knowledge to the classroom setting – which is what you seem to be referring to.

      That being said, I have also met many seasoned educators who, despite their years in the classroom, were instructing their students with outdated, barely relevant lessons that did not apply to the industry today. Of course, I have also met teachers who were just as sharp and current as industry professionals.

      My point is that there are good and bad teachers, whether they are industry professionals or whether they have teaching degrees. Ensuring that those instructors’ performance is being reviewed on a regular basis is important. For instance, in our program, we are evaluated by our students and subject to “sit ins” by both other educators and prospective new students who are auditing the course before decided to take it. If we are not doing a good job, we will no longer be teaching in the program.

      I agree completely that, just because someone has mastered a skill does not mean that they have mastered the art of teaching that skill, but the inverse is also true. Just because someone has never taught a skill that they have mastered does not mean that they are not ready to do so and that they will not do a great job. Hopefully, some of the tips and lessons I’ve presented in this article will help those new teachers do their best as they take their first steps into that classroom.

      • 8

        As to many real situations, lack of good teacher is always been a problem. Just analogous to the matter that a Mason having no theory behind is actually going to build something and so is a teacher with teaching skills and design skills. A miracle could happen if one masters the both and thus bringing out better designers. After agreeing with Matt, to solve to an extent, a case study of best designs would enlighten students better. A Good teacher can actually teach designs of someone else (a web designer indeed) who is better at it.

  4. 9

    Thanks for writing this article Jeremy. It’s very helpful to see what you found to be the challenges and rewards of teaching website design in a classroom environment.
    I’ve taught shorter classes at local small business centers and found your points to be true for even minimal amounts of time. But I love to teach – to see the spark of comprehension and then see what people are able to do with the tools I’ve helped them discover.
    I’d appreciate your thoughts on the differences – if any – you can forsee for online education. I’m launching a course teaching business owners how to create, maintain and update their online presence so I can reach many more people than creating websites one-on-one. I’ve made a series of videos that can be watched at the pace of the student, implemented and rewatched as much as needed.
    I’m guessing I’ll still have some who ‘get it’ and some who don’t. And the challenges of delivering similar course material through the web will be different than in person. Let me know your thoughts and advice, and if you’d like to check out the site.

    • 10

      I’ve never done any online course creation myself, so I have no actual experience to draw from in that regard, but off the top of my head, the biggest difference I can see is that you cannot change and adapt your presentation on the based on your students. With online video learning, students can, indeed, watch and rewatch videos and go at their own pace, but if they are stumped, they cannot ask a question and you cannot change the course to meet the needs of different students. That being said, I would encourage you to have some kind of feedback mechanism to get feedback from your students so you can answer their questions and make changes as needed. This could be something as simple as an email for comments and questions or it could even be a weekly scheduled webinar that is an open forum to discuss the course and any questions students may have. Best of luck with the videos – I look forward to seeing them!

      • 11

        I did an online course where feedback was generated by having both a forum and a facebook page. The best thing that it did was to promote interaction between the students. We were asked not to share answers to assigned tasks. What we did was to share hints to help each other get round the small roadblocks that were stopping us from getting the main task done. We got that thrill of helping others and I am sure it helped the teacher what points were not clear to the students. In other words it was daily feedback on how the course was going.

  5. 12

    Nice article … to me, this isn’t a topic talked about enough. I truly believe that interactive design (web, UX, front end development) in higher education (in the States at least) is in really bad shape. The AIGA in the past few years seem to be turning a blind eye to interactive design, they seem to be focusing more on social issues (note very important, but why not address this sooner), letter pressing and still stuck in a print based world.

    To many design professors come from industry because they are burned out and don’t want to keep up with technical issues and digital work flows. These design professors tell their students that they need to have portfolios full of logos, letterheads and poster designs, that’s nice but companies are hiring web designs and UX people. Why would a design professor change, they have tenure and in some cases a student or two will get a print based job and they will point to there as a example of success. You’ll often hear “Typography is important,” I agree with that, then teach it in the context of a web page and not a printed piece.

    Starting to teach web design to students is very tough. Many programs only have 1 or 2 web classes in the forth year, yeah that’s not enough. To make it worst, the department usually brings in a front-end developer to teach skills, thinking they already teach students enough design. Then like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they students is suppose to put type skills they learn in a print based context and HTML/CSS skills they learned from a developer and make web designs. Yeah that doesn’t work at all and often turns students off because it’s to hard to do and they feel is not creative.

    I do these open portfolio reviews where students from various colleges get critiques from professions. When you asked them why no print stuff, you get answers like I love type, and print/the smell of paper, lol. Again, then do type on a web page or become a printing press operator. It’s funny when students with UX knowledge and web skills get jobs on the spot and others go home disappointed.

    To have students learn web/interactive design it takes a change in culture in a design program. Not one teacher or class change the culture of a program, you may change a student or two but the teaches / programs must change first. There needs to be a balance in a program between UX (usability/function), design (type/color scheme/composition and front end development (interactive constraints/web standards).

    I have a ton more to say … but this is starting to look like a major rant.


  6. 13

    Romano Firtermaiszter

    January 10, 2014 9:13 am

    Thanks for the great article!

    My favourite teacher was started the lesson with a brief review about the topic.
    Then there were a few coding tasks ( that she prepared). We had to solve those tasks alone (If there were questions She helped us).

    I believe for me that was the best solution to learn.

    I suppose if somebody shows you on his/her screen how to make things perhaps you understand but you will forget it easily. Otherwise If you get your hands dirty and can fix things on your own you will always remember.

  7. 14

    Thanks for writing this article Jeremy. It’s very helpful to see what you found to be the challenges and rewards of teaching website design in a classroom environment.

  8. 15

    Excellent article, Jeremy!!

    I have taught web design for about 15 years in New York City but I am not a web designer as I gave that up years ago. My focus has been on training and consulting.

    I have seen it all and what I have seen, unfortunately, is the diminution of students’ ability to grasp many of the fundamentals. I remember a time where I taught nested tables for layout. Most people got it. Fortunately I don’t have too teach that anymore but getting students to create a simple table for presenting tabular data can be a stretch for too many of them.

    There are many others who have noticed this depressing trend. It is , I suppose, a sign of our times. Students expect to learn what I know in a week or two. But the good ones know that it takes study, practice and time to be a good front end developer. And as many students will come to understand this is not something that everyone can do. I used to think that was not the case and now I know web design is a skill not suited to everyone.

    Two points you made that I need to expand upon:

    1. Yes, everyone learns differently and it’s really hard to reach everyone. I “teach to the middle” for best results. I find out the general skills sets of my students. Then I drive down the middle. I give appropriate attention to those who fall on either side of the bell shape curve.

    2. Teaching forces teachers to learn the material. You can’t get in front of students and wing an explanation on the float property and how clear is used. As a teacher, you either know the material or you don’t.

    At the beginning of every class I teach I tell students I am visually impaired. That might come as a surprise to them but having taught thousands no one has ever said a worried about it. I believe my disability has made me a better teacher. I present things in ways that make it easier for most to understand plus I have learned to be patient with myself and others.


  9. 16

    Aaron Martone

    January 10, 2014 5:15 pm

    Sadly, for me, the few times I had tried to go the academic route and learn web design through schools, colleges and universities, the instructors knew less than I did. And that seems to be the reasoning behind why I am pessimistic about learning from such places.

    As much as I despise “boot camps”, I feel that the people who give them are, at the least, knowledgeable about those fields, and I could learn something; I just don’t care to have that info bombarded on me.

    I am now relegated to “doing it for myself”, which has both been rewarding and painstakingly slow. On one hand, you build the skills needed to analyze and consume information about the topic of interest, but on the other, you’re simply utilizing your time and effort in the least optimal way possible.

    Resources like,, have been great teaching resources since they provide a visual medium, cover modern topics, are relatively very inexpensive, and can be reviewed ad infinitum. But on the other side, when there are topics you want to learn, and no resource to cover it, or person whom you can bounce questions off of to get that level of comprehension, it makes for an arduous and painstakingly slow learning experience.

    Never stop learning, be your learning as fast as a downhill skier, or as slow as a spotty 3G network. :)

    • 17

      Jeremy Girard

      January 11, 2014 7:40 pm

      I have found the video trainings like to be excellent – but from what former students have told me, those video tutorials are much easier to follow if you’ve already gotten a grasp of the basics. By taking a course with a live instructor with whom you can ask questions and bounces ideas off of, you can get over the “intro” hump to web design skills and then be able to use those online video resources more effectively,

      In the end, I think both classroom and video trainings have their place in educating the next generation of web designers and developers – and similar to what I said earlier in this piece, what will work for some will not work for others, so it is valuable to have both of these options available for learners to select from.

  10. 18

    Hey Jeremy, really fantastic article. One of the mentors I work with here at Thinkful (Hey, Morgan) brought it to my attention and I have to say I agree with the challenges and the rewards you talk about.

    Our format, helping students learn web development online in a mostly 1 on 1 format, carries with it a slightly different set of challenges than you find in a classroom. The internet’s ability to distribute content and connect people to one another around the world enables new learning models besides the classic teacher/classroom one, but at the same time it isolates us by limiting the type and scope of interactions we have with one another.

    The single biggest challenge we deal with from an education perspective at Thinkful is how to keep students engaged throughout the entire run of one of our courses. It’s a lot easier to skip a video chat meeting than it is to skip a physical class, and it’s a lot easier to get frustrated and drop out when there aren’t others surrounding you providing support like you’d find at a university or bootcamp.

    Despite the challenges we’ve found it extremely rewarding. The disappointment of working with a promising student who gives up is balanced by working with a wonderful community of people literally across the world and the payoff of helping someone learn material online that they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to learn in person (be it because of location, money, or time). It’s a challenge, but it wouldn’t be so much fun if it were easy, would it :)

  11. 19

    Again, when we say web design it’s more than just learning HTML/CSS or code … it’s three parts in my mind:
    1. Visual Design (type, color scheme and spacing for the screen – different than print)
    2. Usability (understanding function and how people use things)
    3. Understanding of basic Front end development (interactive constraints/web standards)
    What happens a lot is a designer who is very creative thinks they just need to learn code to become a web designer when that is only one part of it.


    • 20

      Jeremy Girard

      January 11, 2014 7:35 pm

      Agreed. I cover all 3 of these aspects in my course.

      Actually, many of the students I teach are graphic designers, photographers, or others with some background in a visual medium. For many of those students, they already understand the basics of composition and the rhythm of design, so being able to help them adapt what they already know for the screen, while also giving the information that they have never been exposed to prior (such as the constraints of the Web) has proven to be a successful approach.

      • 21


        I am sure you cover all three … but it’s many others teach HTML/CSS and many students think that’s all they need to know, almost as if they have the creative already and they they just want to be shown the technical part. It’s truly a balance.


  12. 22

    Recording your screen and voice is a must.

  13. 23

    Thomas Michaud

    January 14, 2014 1:33 am

    Jeremy, great write up! … I have looooong response I’d typed out, giving another perspective of my experience in teaching since 2006. Many good experiences with students (I have many that work with various firms (SapientNitro, Curious Media, and others), those who have developed their own firms, and those who dabble) and some not-so-great experiences (which I could probably count in one hand and missing a couple fingers). The biggest challenge, for me, has been all the “other” work I have to do: advisor, program director, Chair of a committee (which lead to being on two others), teach other courses (Intro to Drawing and Vector Graphics), and other “busy work”. Oh, and having to do research (so you can advance)—at least Pearson Education & PeachPit Press gave me the opportunity to write a book on HTML & CSS this past summer!

    Over the years, my classrooms have become a “flipped”, where I do far less lecturing and we work through problems (projects and questions on code challenges from Treehouse, Codeschool, and Codeacademy). I enjoy brining in these “virtual” instructors and the students love earning badges (as it gives another “feedback” on their progress in HTML, CSS, Sass, RWD, Git, UI, UX, JavaScript, PHP, WordPress, etc.). I’ve also moved from teaching 2x a week for 16 weeks to having each course (4 in total) meet 4x a week over 8 weeks—allowing for more teacher/student contact. I try to get them during their Junior year (after they’ve taken most of their core design courses) just to get them ready for an internship prior to their Senior year. In their Senior year they can do other self-paced learning topics they want to jump into.

    Anyway, one more perspective—would enjoy talking with you further!

    • 24

      Thanks for sharing your perspective Thomas. I honestly had never considering mixing the online, video learning resources with my more traditional classroom-setting presentations, but that is a very interesting idea indeed. The wheels are turning in my head now!

      • 25

        Thomas Michaud

        January 14, 2014 2:32 pm

        Sure thing!

        Oh, and one more thing that one must consider when teaching (not sure how I forgot this, as it’s huge): the time it takes to grade and give feedback to each student. Depending upon how many students you have, and what you’re looking for in each assignment or project, it can take a good amount of time to grade.

        A year I was on sabbatical to finish my MFA, I had two industry professionals (one who was a former student of mine) teach two of my classes. Both said they’d never do it again—one said it was because of the time it took to grade.

  14. 26

    The best thing about taking technology classes at my community college is that about 80% of the CS professors would use black board’s screen share which allowed you to participate in the class remotely as well as review old sessions, that way everything was recorded, such as how you mentioned with the student bringing in the camera. Sure it added a little overhead to the start of the class but it was worth it – you could miss a class if for instance you had an appointment, and you could still see everything you missed, as long as the teacher used his screen and not the white board.

    • 27

      Allowing for remote students, and streaming/recording presentations live from the class, is something I hope the school will add in the future. I know for a fact we have already had some students request that level of access.

  15. 28

    Pyramid Pixels

    January 14, 2014 11:07 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post Jeremy.

    I am a graphic/web designer and I have taught in institutes and colleges of Melbourne, for more than 2yrs. I can say that these years have been crucial in my career. I have learnt so much that I cant list down everything in here. And the kind of personal rep I have built up with the students is priceless.

    And on the practical side teaching is a very well paying job so I am totally up for it! :)

  16. 29

    “Complaining about clients is never productive or appropriate, and too many in our industry relish the opportunity to share bad stories. Doing this with students gives them the wrong impression and trains them not to respect clients.

    You have an opportunity to set these new Web professionals off on the right path. By maintaining a positive outlook and by exposing the students to the best parts of our industry, you can help to cultivate designers and developers who will help our industry continue to grow, instead of hold it back.”

    I’m reading that as:

    “Don’t tell them the truth about how some clients behave because they can find it out for themselves when they’re tied into this crap and can’t escape. We wouldn’t want them to get the right impression.”

    Complaining about clients is productive AND appropriate, if it results in someone giving you advice on how to handle the situation better next time.

    • 30

      Jeremy Girard

      January 15, 2014 5:23 pm

      Bob – please see my earlier reply to a similar comment:

      “allow me to clarify. I agree that sharing bad experiences, or more importantly – the solutions to those bad experiences, is important and necessary. What I believe is inappropriate is bashing clients as a way of blowing off steam or for the sake of typical “clients suck” type conversations. Those conversations are not helpful, but to your points, giving students tools to handle difficult clients and situation is, indeed, an appropriate lesson that should be taught.”

  17. 31

    Great article! We can use more teachers in the world. One place to look for teaching opportunities is the search box on, they list local schools, clubs, camps, and more. If anyone wants starter curriculum, I’ve CC-licensed all of mine at and it covers HTML, CSS, and JS.

    Teaching is the best way to learn about how complex humans are. Love it. :-)

  18. 32

    WordPress Awards

    January 17, 2014 6:05 pm

    Very interesting artcile!!! Thanks :)

  19. 33

    Teaching is a great skill, but I will say this about teaching: high knowledge of a topic does not make a good teacher. A good teacher is someone who has decent understand of a topic, but is also very mindful of how people learn and being able to understand what motivates students (and the other things you mentioned).

    I used to be a teacher to 3rd-9th grade students in South Korea. Really disliked it. Felt like too much of my time was spent on classroom management (aka controlling noise levels and disciplining students). However, in the future, I hope maybe I can do some speaking engagements or do classes for web development, just like the author of this post. Although my time spent teaching young kids was not great, the skills and patience I picked up were invaluable and I would love the opportunity to teach adults about web design in the future.

  20. 34

    Awesome content..

  21. 35

    Interesting to read such off-the-track articles, thanks..
    The ultimate reward is satisfaction. Web Design is a creative field and while teaching; one can get many ideas from the students/learners. In my free time, I teach web programming to my friends and in turn they teach me web design. Some teach us photography.
    Sharing ideas, getting social and be updated with the technology are the positive outcomes of such activities.

  22. 36

    Rachel Gillevet

    February 6, 2014 8:40 pm

    Hey Jeremy,
    Kudos on a really nice post. I thought it was awesome how you put your entire experience out there for everyone to read, and it was a post I was glad to share. Anyway, I included your article in my roundup of the month’s best web design/devleopment, security, and CMS content.

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    Web design service

    April 25, 2014 5:24 am

    This is a nice article. The ultimate reward is satisfaction. Web Design is a creative field and while teaching; one can get many ideas from the students/learners. In my free time, I teach web programming to my friends and in turn they teach me web design.

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    Outdoor Creative Agency

    February 19, 2015 8:02 am

    One of the finest of write-ups there is on the internet today. Kudos to the author for being so well informed. I must give it to their presence of mind and the selection of words. This couldn’t have been written in a much beautiful way. Keep it up. Good on you.


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