Student competitors remind instructors that teaching goes beyond textbook lessons.
By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
Over the course of writing 50 Minute Classroom articles, I typically have authored inspirational or motivational articles for the end of the school year. These have included: A Covid-themed completion of course speech, culinary teachers as role models, and an article titled: Those Who Can, Teach; Those Who Can't, Do. Earlier this year I vowed I wasn’t going to do that again for this end of school year.
I was forced to change my mind. I recently judged the California statewide Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) competition. I had the opportunity to do this for many years, but this was the first year all contestants participated virtually. I judged baking. When the events were “live” the baked goods would be on display and we were to critique and score them. This year we had the opportunity to watch the student bakers work in their own kitchens. Some were at school and some were at home. Some had very high-end professional equipment and some worked modest items. They were probably like many of your students: resilient, adaptive, eager to do well, and were not going to be limited by learning from home. They were impressive to watch from a professional’s standpoint.
When I judged the event live in previous years, we often did not even meet the student and if we did our interaction was nominal. This year, students had a segment at the end of their videos where they each discussed what they had learned from their teachers and from participating in the competition. These ending comments were a major eye-opener and I had to write about them.
What these amazing competitors learned in their classes went far beyond baking or even the competition. Let me summarize the recurring comments about what their teachers taught them:
- I learned I couldn’t make excuses. If I didn’t have the materials or equipment, I couldn’t just throw in the towel. I had to find another way.
- I learned to plan. I learned planning was the way to go, but I also learned that things don’t always go according to plan. When that happens, you have to quickly adapt and get it done.
- I learned how to multi-task. I couldn’t just bake. I had to bake and video myself at the same time. I had to do them both well. I might only be judged on the baking, but I can’t be judged well if the video isn’t good.
- I learned to organize. I realized that mise en place was important not only for the cooking but for getting all of the recordings and sound issues correct while baking. Preparation was the key.
- I had to learn how to think for myself. I discovered there were often many different ways to do the same thing. I had to find out for myself which worked best for me.
- My teacher really wanted me to do well and succeed; to go beyond being my best.
The student bakers learned more than how to make chocolate muffins, soft yeast pretzels or lemon bars. They learned lessons from their teachers—teachers like you—that will carry them through the rest of their lives.
For those of you who are new to teaching, please know you will be rewarded for your hard teaching efforts as well as mentoring and sculpting your students. I received an early Easter present this year. On the first Saturday in April, I received a text from a graduate of my program from many years ago. It said, “Good evening Chef. I received some news today that I wanted to share with you. I have been awarded the position of Assistant Food and Beverage Operations Manager at the Ritz Carlton. Thank you for all of your encouragement and support.”
The bottom line: you as a teacher are so much more important than you think you are.
(Author’s Note: If you are looking for a talk or speech to give your students at the end of this year, take a look at Look for the Open Door. With some quick modifications it can be ready for your class.)
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.