Posted by Janelle Kuhlman, Developer Relations Program Manager
The first of two interviews with GDEs about mental health, during Mental Health Awareness Month
“I don’t think I have work-life balance,” says Google Workplace GDE Alice Keeler. “I could use some. I’m not very good at self-care, either…my idea of a good time is coding.”
Alice may be humble, but she juggles numerous responsibilities successfully. In addition to her freelance programming work and the books she has published, she has five children, all of whom have various mental health challenges. An educator known for publishing add-ons, schedulers, and Google Classroom tips, Alice teaches math to high school seniors. She says they also struggle with mental health, often due to poverty and family issues.
“I see firsthand as an employer, mom, and teacher how mental health challenges affect people, yet we expect everyone to suck it up and go to work, attend school, and respond to family events,” she says. “I’ve really been thinking about this a lot, as I see the challenges my family and students are going through. I try to offer lots of grace and flexibility to others.”
She points out that mental health is very personal. “Of the 20 people I feel closest to in my life, no one solution would work for all of them,” she says.
Coding as self-care
In Alice’s experience, tech has provided a means of self-care, professional opportunity, and academic support. “I think one of the benefits of coding is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be done at a certain time and can offer some flexible creative options for people,” she says. “I can code at 3am, and no one cares. It’s not very social, which is helpful for people who struggle with social expectations.”
And during those coding sessions, Keeler builds creative solutions.
“You can make really cool things,” she says. “When I solve a problem with ten lines of code, it’s a nice way for me to feel valued.”
Alice has found the GDE community to be tremendously supportive, even though at first, she worried no one would want to hear from her.
“I post in the GDE chat, and people respond with, ‘Alice!’,” she says. “I teach math; I’m not a full-time coder. I’m self taught; everything I do, I figure out myself. I don’t feel like an imposter anymore. I’ve gotten 14 add-ons approved.”
She has realized over time that even “experts” are still learning.
“You think everyone knows everything, but they don’t, and people may be considered experts, but you can put something out there they hadn’t even thought of,” she says. “You realize quickly that it’s not like a tower, and you’ve reached the top, it’s more like scattered LEGOs: I know some of this, and some of that, and you know this, and it’s scattered.”
Alice’s coding expertise grew out of her desire to create technological solutions for herself and other teachers that simplified their processes and reduced stress. She’s enthusiastic about the educational technology tools that help both teachers and students decrease stress and improve well-being.
Educational technology for improved well-being
Alice appreciates classroom technology that makes life easier for teachers and students. For example, she cites the tablet as “one of the best things that ever happened to special education,” because it provides students with learning challenges an alternative way to share their thoughts and demonstrate their understanding of academic material. Alice explains that tablets and Chromebooks make it easy to give students extra time on assignments and assessments when needed.
“It brought in an enormous amount of inclusivity that had been impossible,” she says. “It literally gives some kids a voice; they can submit questions and responses digitally, without raising their hands.”
Alice’s focus, as an educator, developer, and parent, is on using technology to streamline tasks and balance responsibility, which reduces stress, improves well-being, and benefits her mental health. During the pandemic, she appreciated how technology allowed her to teach online, write code, and also be present for her family. She had more time to go to her kids’ events and was able to dial down her stress. Like all of us, she’s still figuring out what comes next, but she’s committed to supporting her loved ones and students.