Working with young adults can be a challenge. Chef Weiner and co-worker Nicole Bahbout provide ideas for starting the school year off right.
By Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, and Nicole Bahbout, JobTrain Youth Work Experience Case Manager
For most of you, this is coming right at the start of a new school year. One of the difficulties of teaching the same course year after year is getting motivated and pumped up for the next start. In this article, I hope to inspire you and get you brimming with anticipation for your classes to begin.
First, let’s work on some burn out issues. If you feel burn out in your teaching before the school year begins, please go back and look at Has the Love Gone Out of Your Teaching?
Second, if you need some new material for your students to study, I bet you can find several articles in the index of my First 75 Articles published for “Gold Medal Classroom.” Please feel free to copy and pass them out to other culinary artists and your students.
Third, I am going to be joined in the rest of this article by Ms. Nicole Bahbout, Youth Work Experience Case Manager at JobTrain where I teach. Ms. Bahbout has the fortune of having her office literally right next to the entrance of my kitchen. She is rocked daily with noise, smoke, cheers, shouting, and equipment banging. In spite of that, she does an amazing job of supporting youth, who have never been in the workforce, to find and succeed in a job.
Recently, she gave a presentation to the instructors at JobTrain on how teachers could work better with young adults. I was amazed that the materials handed out by Ms. Bahbout were not prepared by teachers or administrators. It was prepared several years ago from a youth panel in our county. In other words, it is advice by young adults on how to teach and work with young adults. (Click here to see the original handout from the County for your reference.)
After discussing the handout with Ms. Bahbout, she and I identified several key points that culinary and hospitality students want and expect from their classes:
- To be given clear instructions. (For example, “make six dozen oatmeal cranberry cookies” instead of “make a few dozen cookies”.)
- A chance to lead. (It is amazing how fast you can have students managing a project from clean up, to baking cookies, to running a lunch. For ideas on how to initiate leadership, take a look at Sharing the Work and the Glory.)
- Make things fun, exciting and new. Isn’t it interesting how the more we do this for our students, the more we enjoy it ourselves? Try and come up with new ways and new ideas on how to teach the same thing. It will refresh you and your students. For instance, try Playing Games in your classroom.
- Take the time to get to know your students. Like adults, not all youth are motivated the same way, have the same issues, or learn the same way. An easy way to get to know your students is to start the first day of class by giving a 3 x 5 card to each student and asking them to list a few things you want to learn about them. For example, what do you want to do after you graduate? What is your favorite food? What is the best dish of food you have ever had? What do you want to learn to cook in this class?
- Don’t throw the student under the bus in front of their peers or judge them personally. Instead, pull them aside to critique their work and let them explain why they did what they did.
- Don’t be a helicopter teacher. Let them have some independence. Ms. Bahbout and I try to let our students learn from their mistakes. In my class, I intervene as little as possible except for personal safety or food safety issues.
- Don’t give up on the students. Some will take longer to come around than others. Ms. Bahbout and I have learned sometimes you have to take down a specific student’s bravado and ego to build that person back up. Other students have no ego or swagger and you have to help them find some by setting them up with small successes.
- Make students feel important and acknowledge them and their successes. Let them feel they accomplished something. As culinary arts instructors we are always quick to tell students how to do things better, easier, faster, etc. We forget to give praise as freely as we give constructive criticism. Start small: “That was a really good scrambled egg.” When your students do projects for the school, like a teachers’ luncheon, make sure not to personally take the credit. Give the credit to your students. Don’t worry, everyone knows it was your brilliant teaching that allowed the students to do what they did.
- Get the students involved ASAP. At a CAFÉ Leadership Conference a few years ago a teacher mentioned about a third of her class would drop out within the first month. Upon inquiry we discovered she would do two weeks of food safety and then two weeks of culinary math before letting someone fry an egg or bake a cookie! Let them make something as soon as you can in the first week. You can Teach Food Safety in 50 Minutes. (Note: that link provides you with a video and pdf’s.) You can also incorporate food safety, kitchen safety, and culinary math into the daily cooking assignments for the first several weeks. Not only does this get students into the kitchen, but more motivated to learn safety and math when they see their practical applications.
- Don’t treat them like kids. I tell the people in my class that they are culinary students, they are to act as such, and I will treat them as such. You will be surprised by what they know and how they will rise to the challenge.
Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.