Teaching Is Like Cooking

The hardest part about teaching is the monotony. It is hard work coming up with new lessons day after day. But teaching is only monotonous while the teacher is uncreative, unadventurous, and inexperienced (I hope!). Really, teaching is just like cooking.

At first, I felt like there was but one ingredient: information. I was given a pile of information. The information looked all the same: black words on white paper. My instinct was to feed it to the children raw, in a lecture. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what else to do. My interaction with the information was embarrassingly rudimentary. I chewed the information on my own, then regurgitated the information before the class and said, “Isn’t this delicious?” The class was not impressed, but they were content because at least they did not have to think very hard.

Later on, I learned to be more objective. I would say, “Note the different textures. See the different shades of color. Sometimes, here, the information is bitter. This information is very sweet.” I would ask, “Which parts do you think are the most delicious?” Ambitiously I would add, “…and why?” The good students had opinions. These were my favorite students. I loved them. I blessed their parents. The cheeky students said, “The whole thing is disgusting.” I loved them, too. Some students bothered me. These students did not say anything at all. They were not even listening.

One day, in a horrifying moment of self-realization, I realized I was feeding my students vats of ketchup like it was soup. It was not the students’ fault that they were not paying attention. They were right to be disgusted. I was a horrible cook.

I tried to spice things up by putting the information in different packages, like smearing ketchup on toast. I disguised the information as a game. Even the students who never listened perked up at that novelty. I baked the ketchup into cupcakes and had the students work in small groups. Over several weeks, I designed an entire ketchup buffet, with students reciting and presenting and talking. Once or twice I cooked up a ketchup sensation, as harmonious as ketchup and french fries. But occasionally I would cook up a ketchup disaster. My disgusting novelty ketchup treats were making my students wary of ketchup. And now that my lessons were more demanding, my students couldn’t just zone out; they had to work and think. My students started getting restless.

This is the point where we are at now.

The good news is that after trying all those experimental techniques, I now have a stack of them at my disposal. I just have to match them up with the proper ingredients. Then I have to learn how to serve them in the right order.

That is why I am going to start posting some of my techniques: so that I can search for them when I have the right ingredients and save time when I am cooking up lessons in the future.

Some day I hope my students will come to class hungry and excited to eat, and every lesson will be delicious.

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One thought on “Teaching Is Like Cooking

  1. I applaud your perspective! You are exactly right, with creativity, planfullnes, and willingness to branch out you can cook up meaningful and effective experiences for your students. When I teach Psychology to MAT students (which I only do ever-so-often), the typical knee-jerk response I get is “Why do I need to know this?! Just tell me how to teach already…” to which I reply: “If you know your subject matter, understand how students think, how knowledge is organized in mind and the process of memory, how to motivate students (I particularly like Self Determination Theory and recently posted a blog on how it applies to education) and how social pressures influence students’ mindsets, then you don’t “a curriculum” – you can make you own and it is bound to be miles better than the standard fare. Sounds like that’s what you are doing – making your own. Hooray for you.

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