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Fourteen Mistakes Made by Novice Instructors

 

 

So here you are ... you've finally left the long hours of the food service industry behind you and you're now a Culinary Arts instructor. You're looking forward to having most evenings and weekends off. You're also looking forward to paid vacations that include four days for Thanksgiving, two weeks for Christmas, a week for Spring Break, and two months of summer vacation where you can kick back and relax. You've custom ordered a set of culinary jackets with your name emblazoned on the front pocket and you've got a bright new toque to put on your head. You are fresh faced and eager to step into the classroom.

 

There's just one question. Are you really ready to teach?

 

In 2014, Dr. Richard Ingersoll, a senior researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in

Education (CPRE) and a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania,
Graduate School of Education published a paper on current teacher attrition rates for novice instructors. According to his research, between 40 and 50 percent of all new teachers will leave the education profession within their first five years. An astounding 9.5% will not even make it through the end of their first year. 
 
Keep in mind that we're talking about teachers ... professionally trained elementary, middle school, and high school teachers who had 4 years of college that included classes on class management, curriculum development, lesson planning, and all of the other instructional skills that teachers need to do their jobs. Most of these teachers also spent one semester shadowing teachers on the job with an additional semester given over to student teaching.
 
What did these teachers do wrong?
 
Here are some lessons I've learned over years of experience. I have listed them in this article as Fourteen Mistakes Made by Novice Instructors.

 

1) Wanting your students to like you instead of having them respect you.

 

This is probably the single biggest mistake that's made by novice instructors. 

 

In a laudable effort to win the hearts and minds of their students, novice instructors often confuse having students like them with having students respect them. Sadly there is a difference between being liked and being respected.

 

Instructors who simply want to be liked often fall into the "I thought you were my friend" trap. After all ... if you're their FRIEND, why make them do homework assignments? Why make them do classwork assignments? Why not let them eat whatever they produced in the kitchen without making them clean their workstations first. And trust me ... this will come to bite you on the you-know-what because the bell will ring and those students will be OUT OF THERE and now you'll have a messy kitchen to contend with AND an in-coming class that will not be happy if they have to help you clean up the mess that someone else made. 

 

If you're their friend, what's the big deal if they're late to class? What's the problem if they come to class improperly attired to be in the kitchen? If you're their friend, you'll let this slide, right?

 

And here's the trap. The moment you make an exception, this will come back to haunt you later on. For example, if you let Mindy text her boyfriend last week even though school policy says that cell phones must be turned off during class, what do you think will happen when you tell George to turn off his cell phone? He'll throw this back at you by saying, "But you let Mindy use her cell phone last week!"

 

Friendship is not the same as respect. Merriam-Webster defines respect as

 

  • a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.

  • a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way

 

It is human nature to want to be liked .... but experienced teachers know that it's far more important to be firm, fair, and consistent with your approach to class expectations and management. 

 

Some students may not like having these expectations. Too bad for them. Remember that you were hired to teach, not to be someone's friend or big brother.

 

Case in point - consider the total failure of the American division of Le Cordon Bleu. The ENTIRE division will begin shutting down in 2017 because they have largely lost any sense of credibility by professionals in the food service industry.

 

 

What happened?

 

In an effort to promote short term growth with students who really "liked" their instructors, they managed to undermine their entire class management system. They did this by excessively weighting student evaluations of instructor performance. Instructors who were not liked because they actually made students come to class properly attired with the expectation that they would be on time and would have all homework assignments completed were shown their way to the proverbial door by the simple expediency of not having their contracts renewed. Instructors with lax standards who were popular with students were retained ... and in time what happened?

 

Students developed bad habits. They came to class late. They were improperly attired and did not have their tools. They didn't pay attention in class and became a liability to their hands-on production groups. 

 

When the time came for these students to do their externships, a lot of these students took their slothful habits into the workplace much to the growing frustration of industry professionals. In the end, the sheer number of these lazy, entitled, and incompetent chef wannabes undermined the credibility of the American division of Le Cordon Bleu .... so much so that newly graduated students are now facing an increasingly uphill battle to find a job. With its credibility in the toilet, the American division of Le Cordon Bleu has been unable to find a buyer. 

 

2) Failure to model. 

How can you expect your students to follow school policy if you yourself do not? Turn off your cell phone during work and come to class wearing a clean uniform. Practice good hygiene. Enforce the county and state health codes regarding the use of safe food handling and storage practices. Avoid eating or drinking beverages at a work station.

 

The fact that you're now a teacher puts you up on a pedestal of sorts and nothing will undermine your class management faster than having double standards which permit you to violate school policy while still expecting students to toe the line. 

 

3) Instruction isn’t relevant

 

If you're employed by a post secondary school, chances are that your school will have a well established curriculum that you're expected to follow. If you're teaching at the secondary level, what you teach will be delineated in part by your state's instructional standards. You may google the instructional standards by typing in the words, "Department of education for ___ (name of your state), CTE (career and technical education) Culinary Arts standards." 

 

Students aren't stupid. They're quite aware of the difference between instruction that's relevant to what they need to learn and busy work.

 

Instructors who aren't prepared often throw busy work at their students. They haul out a set of textbooks and assign students to read pages X to Y and to answer discussion review questions 1-10 on page Z.

 

I understand that things happen. Lap top projectors and sound systems fail. Food orders don't arrive on time. An unscheduled fire drill just took 20 minutes out of your hands-on production time before your students were even able to step foot into the kitchen.

 

An experienced instructor always has a back up plan. Review instruction by dividing students into groups. Pass out small dry erase boards with markers and erasers to each group. Have a set of review questions to answer. The first group to record and show you a correct answer will win a point and the winning group will receive extra credit.

 

As a rule of thumb, it's always a good idea to have a couple of lesson plans on file as hard copies with all relevant hand outs because the reality is that people get sick. Unlike the food service profession where employees are often expected to find someone to cover their shift, by contract most instructors have a certain number of sick days they may use. Due to liability concerns, substitutes should NEVER be in the kitchen with students. An experienced instructor will therefore always have one or two decent lesson plans available for a substitute to use. 

 

4) Using a weak voice.

You could be the greatest chef in the world. You could be talented and successful and responsible for one or more Michelin stars for your last place of employment. None of this will matter if you can't convey what you know to your students.

 

If you were in the kitchen as a chef, you have probably mastered the skill of being heard over all of the noise that routinely occurs in a kitchen. 

 

If you haven't been in the kitchen as a chef, you need the ability to make yourself heard. This doesn't mean that you have to channel Gordon Ramsay and you certainly shouldn't use inappropriate language in talking to students nor should you ever appear angry ... but you do need to have the ability to make yourself heard.

 

5) Failure to use dry erase boards, smart boards, and lap tops

 

There are a tremendous number of support materials available to today's instructors. USE THEM. Today's generation has grown up with the internet and nothing will put them to sleep faster than a novice instructor who drones on and on without any audio visual support to help liven up the lesson.

 

As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words which by the way is a misquote. The original quote by Frank R. Barnard (1927) was "A picture is worth ten thousand words."

 

Use power point. Use film clips. Avoid monotonously droning on about the difference between dry heat cooking and dry heat cooking with fat. Show the students using brief film clips. As much as I enjoy having a live demonstration station, film clips have the advantage of not having any food costs. You may pause them or replay them as needed ... something that cannot happen in real life. Film clips also have the advantage of not having to be played in real time. You can show a product going into the oven and then coming out just a moment later. 
 

6) Being disorganized.

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I once had a university professor "lecture" my economics class by READING chapters from a textbook that he had written. In the early days of the home computer market, he had a clunky old Apple computer connected to a projector and after having bored us to tears with a lecture that we could just as easily have read on our own, he tried to execute a program that used a random number generator but wasn't able to do this because he didn't know anything about programming.  We watched in disbelief as he fumbled with his notes and laboriously entered a program line by line. As time passed, students began to quietly get up and file out of class. By the time the professor finally gave up, most of his class was missing. As you might expect, over the days to come student attendance for this class dropped so much that he began counting attendance as a grade even though this hadn't been marked on his syllabus. 

 

In addition to being firm, fair, and consistent with class expectations and management, a competent instructor is always prepared to teach a given lesson. The day's instructional objective is clearly posted on the board. All handouts have been run off.  All supporting materials are ready for use. If you're going to be in the kitchen, ingredients are portioned and ready to go. Standardized recipes are available at each station. The stations are clean and ready for use. Tools that students may need will be clean and readily accessible. 

 

7) Lack of Instructional flexibility

A few weeks ago, I taught my level I students a lesson in production costing. I thought it was fairly simple. I had a power point presentation that showed students how to figure out the cost per ounce. Once they knew the cost per ounce, they used a calculator to identify the cost of an ingredient for a given recipe.

 

Most of the students failed miserably. 

 

I could have thrown up my hands and said, "Oh well," prior to moving on to the next lesson but I chose to reteach this lesson. As it turned out, most of the students didn't know their basic equivalent measurements. How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon? How many tablespoons are in an ounce? How many ounces are in a cup? How many cups are in a pint or a quart or a gallon? 

 

I taught a lesson on equivalent measurement and then did another lesson on production costing. This time I had a higher success rate but students who normally made A's were making B's and students who normally made B's were making C's. 

 

I narrowed the problem down to another glaring deficiency in basic math. Most of my students did NOT know how to round to the nearest cent. I had to teach this lesson. Knowing equivalent measurements and how to round should have been taught in elementary school and I have no doubt it was ... but because these lessons were taught via worksheets and were never made relevant to the students, the lessons that had once been learned had clearly been forgotten.

 

Successful instructors need some degree of instructional flexibility to reteach lessons as needed. 

 

Since much of what is taught in Culinary Arts is built upon prior knowledge, making sure that students have mastered a given lesson is crucial towards future lessons within a given curricular unit. 

 

8) Habitually calling on the same students to carry class discussions

So here you are in class with a ServSafe lesson on the four categories of food contamination. You give an example of biological contamination and ask students to give an answer. In the typical class, the same students will always raise their hands.

 

It's easy to always call on the same students ... but how will you know if your class has been paying attention if you always call on the same students? I like calling students at random and to sweeten the deal, I sometimes keep a container of candy within arm's reach. Students who answer a question correctly get a candy. Students who hesitate may sometimes be helped by prompting i.e. "Broken glass in food is an example of .... I'm thinking of a category that starts with the letter 'P" ...."

 

If you don't want to pass out candy, no worries. Keep a clipboard (and if you're not good with names, a seating chart) for the students in your class. Award participation points to students who answer a question correctly. If you don't have enough time to ask every student a question, no worries. Keep the clipboard and use it over the next few days until every student has had the opportunity to participate. 

 

In the field of education, doing something like this is known as "informal assessment." It's a quick and easy way for instructors to gauge whether students are following a given lesson of if they're simply sitting there with their minds in never-never land. 

 

9) Attempting to work with just one student to the exclusion of the rest of the class

 

It's easy for novice instructors to lose sight of the "big picture" which is the instruction of your entire class. If you have a student who is struggling with a lesson, don't take the time to work with that student during class to the exclusion of the rest of that student's group or the exclusion of the entire class. Idle hands as they say are the devil's play child and if you want to lose control of the class, try boring them to tears while they're waiting for you to help one student.

 

Instead of wasting class time by helping one student, arrange for that student to receive tutorial assistance before or after school ... and if there are several students who are having similar problems, have the rest of the class proceed with a given assignment while you pull together these students in a corner of the room for reteaching. 

 

10) Excessive use of general praise like “good job”.

 

I once knew a high school teacher who would roam up and down the rows and aisles of student desks, saying "good job ... good job ... good job" to students who were working on assignments. The term "good job" became a meaningless generality. What did each student do that was good? 

 

An experienced instructor will be specific. 

 

"You really nailed summarizing that article."

 

"Thank you for making that legible. I appreciate the fact that your handwriting is always easy to read."

 

11) Failure to document.

 

Although I enjoy what I do, there are times when each of us will have one or more challenging students. 

 

I keep a note pad to document all disciplinary infractions and as time permits, I update an incident log to document anything that happened. It could be something as minor as asking a student to put a cell phone away before I have to confiscate it. It could be something more serious such as a student telling me to, "F--k off" in response to a given instruction. If a student finally complies without my needing to send the student to the office, well and good ... but even if this behavior doesn't result in a discipline referral, I will still document what happened.

 

I record the student's name, class period, and time. I write a summary of what happened. I also indicate whether there were any eyewitnesses. 

 

Since I teach at the secondary level, I tend to be very proactive in trying to head off small problems before they become big problems.

 

For example, I once had a group of girls who during the last five minutes of class, decided that they would become vulgar. They began talking about penises. I told them that they were in violation of school and district policy. One girl told me that she had a first amendment right to free speech and she could damn well say whatever she damn well liked. When I suggested that her behavior was "unlady like," she smirked at me and said, "Well I guess it sucks to be you because I'm no damned lady."

 

I subsequently sent her to the office on a discipline referral. I also called her parents after school and sent emails to the parents of every student who had been involved with this inappropriate discussion. 

 

The parents of the girl who mouthed off to me "counseled her" when she got home. They profusely apologized for their daughter's behavior and said that this would never happen again. About half of the other parents responded the same way. I DOCUMENTED the phone call and the emails just in case and as it turned out, a few weeks later the girl who had been belligerent again acted up in class and had to be sent to the office.

 

When she told the dean, "I didn't do anything. The chef hates me for no reason," I produced my infractions log which highlighted every disciplinary encounter I had had with this student up to and including calling this girl's parents.

 

Instead of winding up with a she said, he said stand off, my documentation resulted in the dean calling the parents. The girl wound up with in school suspension for three days. She has since quieted down and has been behaving appropriately ... but if I hadn't documented her behavior, a minor discipline problem could have led to more disruptions and the loss of student respect for my position as the Culinary Arts teacher. 

 

12) Failure to communicate with colleagues and supervisors. 

Novice instructors who are having problems with ANYTHING should talk to their colleagues or immediate supervisor. It could be something as simple as not knowing how to enter grades via an online system or it could be something more significant such as having problems with class management. 

 

Due to the widespread attrition rate of new teachers, a lot of school systems offer mentoring by experienced teachers. Some districts even have mandatory once a week programs that cover everything from class management to how to write a lesson plan. This type of support is particularly useful to Culinary Arts instructors who may have been recruited from the industry and who may not have been formally trained as a teacher

 

Although there are Culinary Arts instructors who work at Career and Technical Education academies where they are part of a large Culinary Arts department which employs several teachers, most of us a the secondary level are usually on our own at a given school.

 

Since most people who don't have a food service background are clueless as to what we do, this can result in problems if you don't have good lines of communication.

 

Case in point - I once knew a Culinary Arts instructor whose building administrator somehow expected her to put together a lunch buffet for 60 people with less than 24 hours notice ... and she was somehow supposed to do this with a twenty dollar budget. Since she was a novice instructor who wanted to "make good," she didn't talk to her administrator about the inherent problems with this production assignment and paid out of pocket for all of the ingredients she needed. The end result was that her building administrator continued to expect her to be a miracle worker ....producing event after event with little or no notice and next to nothing in the way of a production budget.

 

Another problem that occurs in secondary schools is that all too many guidance counselors think of Culinary Arts as an elective subject like art or PE or music. When the second semester rolls around in January, surprise-surprise, you've got new students in all of your level I classes and NONE OF THEM were in a Culinary Arts class prior to being assigned to you in January.

 

Most state Career and Technical Education programs require CTE students to successfully pass two full semesters of Culinary Arts prior to moving up to the next level. Students who come in mid-year and who stay for the rest of the semester are ultimately short changed because when they complete a program, they'll be ineligible for college credit or certification for having completed a Culinary Arts program.

 

Surprisingly enough, a lot of counselors don't know that CTE classes cannot be treated as elective subjects. This problem can usually be cleared up simply by talking to them. 

 

13) Inability to accept constructive criticism.

 

Although there are a few gifted people in this world who were born to be teachers, most of us need to learn how to do our jobs. As part of the teacher accountability process, all of us (whether we're in secondary schools or post secondary schools) are subject to evaluations by our immediate supervisors.

 

Most teacher evaluations are usually followed by a post evaluation conference in the privacy of your supervisor's office. The conference will be used to highlight what you're doing well. It will also be used to discuss areas for improvement.

 

Do yourself a favor. Don't argue with your supervisor. Even if you don't agree with the assessment, there's no point in arguing because your supervisor is your supervisor.

 

I once had a supervisor who hated me. It turned out that I was one of two teachers at my school who was not a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. My supervisor had a hidden agenda. She wanted me to out of her school so she could replace me with a Mormon. 

 

On my professional evaluation, she wrote me up for having a "filthy and unsanitary" kitchen. Insofar as her evaluation had occurred the same day that I had a county health inspector give me a GLOWING REPORT on the sanitation of my kitchen, I was understandably confused.

 

My supervisor marched me down to the kitchen and pointed at a hard water stain on a prep table. I raised an eyebrow. "So what are you telling me?" I asked.

 

"ARE YOU BLIND?" screeched the administrator. "LOOK THERE! WHAT'S THAT?"

 

I blinked. "It's a hard water stain."

 

"AND WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO DO WITH A HARD WATER STAIN?"

 

I shrugged. "Nothing .... because a hard water stain is simply the mineral residue of tap water and...."


"ARE YOU TALKING BACK TO ME?"

 

I shook my head."No ma'am."

 

"I WANT THIS FILTHY UNSANITARY MESS CLEANED UP. USE A CHEMICAL CLEANER."

 

"But that would be a violation of the state health code because the residue of a chemical cleaner is ...."

 

"NOT ANOTHER WORD! DO YOUR JOB!"

 

I did my job by printing out the relevant health code, highlighting it in yellow, and taking it to the superintendent. The superintendent promptly called my supervisor and countermanded her instruction because her instruction would have caused me to violate the state health code. 

 

This did not make me popular with my supervisor ... but that's a story for another time.  (Sigh) The bottom line is that I didn't argue with my supervisor. I had the superintendent intervene on my behalf.  

 

In all honesty, most supervisors will not give you the grief I got at this one school. Most supervisors WANT YOU to succeed and will earnestly help you to become a better teacher because from their point of view, the alternative is not good. If you get stressed out and quit your job before the end of the school year, the school could have a very hard time replacing you. 

 

If you want to retain your job as a Culinary Arts teacher, listen to what your supervisor tells you. Embrace their suggestions. Document whatever improvements you made because as a novice instructor, you will be subject to MULTIPLE evaluations during the year. One of the best ways to stay on the good side of building administration is to demonstrate continued improvement. By doing this, you will show your supervisor that you have listened, that you are making an effort to improve, and that you are a team player. 

 

14) Trying to burn the candle at both ends

 

Novice instructors are often overwhelmed with all of the things they need to do. Although it may be tempting to burn the proverbial candle at both ends as well as along the middle. ... RESIST this temptation.

 

Distinguish between what needs to be done and what you would like to have done. Needs and wants are not necessarily the same thing.

 

Once you have a list of things that NEED to be done, prioritize them. 

 

Create a rough schedule for doing whatever needs to be done BUT building some down time into your schedule. Avoid working through the night. Avoid working through the entire weekend. 

 

People who don't get enough downtime can become irritable and sleep deprived and this can lead to more problems down the road ... through mismanaged classes where small disciplinary problems can escalate into large ones  or through lessons that were not competently taught.

 

Work has an unfortunate way of always expanding to fill your time ... so resist the temptation to work around the clock. If you must sacrifice your Saturday for some much needed prep time for lesson planning, at least take Sunday off ... and learn to knock off work at a reasonable time so you may enjoy a decent meal and have enough time to sleep. 

 

Successful instructors know how to pace themselves. Teachers who don't develop this critical skill will inevitably burn out. 

 

Summary:

  1. Wanting your students to like you instead of having them respect you.
  2. Failure to model
  3. Instruction isn’t relevant
  4. Using a weak voice.
  5. Failure to use dry erase boards, smart boards, and lap tops
  6. Being disorganized.
  7. Lack of Instructional flexibility
  8. Habitually calling on the same students to carry class discussions
  9. Attempting to work with just one student to the exclusion of the rest of the group or class.
  10. Excessive use of general praise like “good job”.
  11. Failure to document.
  12. Failure to communicate with colleagues and supervisors..
  13. Inability to accept constructive criticism.
  14. Trying to burn the candle at both ends

 

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Teaching can be a rewarding field ... but don't make the mistake of assuming that this is an easy job or that you can coast into the position of being a Culinary Arts instructor with little more than good intentions.

 

As with anything else that's worth doing, teaching is a skill that has to be learned ... and make no mistake, your first year will be a hard year. You will make mistakes but if you learn from these mistakes, the 2nd year will be easier and the year after that will be easier still. 

 

I am now in my 9th year of teaching Culinary Arts and over the years I have built up curricular units complete with lesson plans, assessments, supporting films, power point presentations, recipes, and hands-on production assignments. 

 

Mondays tend to be my longest day because after work I have to go grocery shopping to purchase all of the supplies that I'll need for that week. 

 

On days we're in the kitchen, I've been known to get to work as early as 5:30 AM depending upon how much prep time I'll need. The flip side is that when the bell rings at day's end at 2:34 PM, I'm usually ready to go home between 3-3:30 PM. With the exception of the occasional catering event, my evenings are usually my own as are most weekends. 

 

 

 

 

Comments (5)

Great article. I've been considering teaching so this is a great help on what to do/not do. I'll be printing this out for future reference. Thanks for the tips. 
Thanks for your kind comments. Have you been thinking about working at a secondary school or would you be looking at post secondary? For information about teacher certification in your state (which is required at the secondary level), google the department of education for your state and look for CTE (career and technical education) or Culinary Arts certification. 
Excellent Article!
Good article and especially relevant for me because I'm midway through culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu (I finish in late 2016, well before the scheduled closure). Given its poor industry reputation, do you have any suggestions as to how I can overcome negative bias against LCB as I look for work going forward? I've managed to stay focused on developing strong technical skills and knowledge, have a 4.0 GPA, perfect attendance, letters of recommendation from my chef instructors (who, btw, were pretty good teachers) and am building relationships in the industry through staging, event participation and networking.  All suggestions welcome!
Lia
 
Have you found an externship yet? If you do well at an externship, sometimes this could lead into a full time job with the restaurant where you were placed. 
 
I don't know your employment background. Even if  you don't have a prior food service background, I wouldn't think you'd have a problem as long as you were willing to take an entry level position and work your way up ... proving your qualifications as it were. 
 Have you considered the possibility of relocating? There are lots of food service jobs in Las Vegas ... and not just Las Vegas, really any reasonably large community in Nevada where there are casinos  .... but Las Vegas is where all the celebrity chefs are and this is also where the Michelin star restaurants are.
 
As another possibility, have you ever thought of working for a cruise line? They have HIGH turnover rates ... high even than the typical restaurant. 
 
Have you thought about working for a hotel chain like the Marriott? They have jobs all over the world. Try googling cook jobs with the Marriott. I found an apprentice position in Edinburgh, Scotland ... a job as a cook in Bridgetown on the island of Barbados ... a job for a commis in Bali, Indonesia and of course all sorts of jobs from coast to coast in the United States. 
 
My thought is ... find a job (even if it's an entry level position) and work for two years developing experience and demonstrating your work ethic and if you can't move up with wherever it is you're working, your work experience should help you land a better job.
 
Having a degree is nice but having some solid employment experience behind you along with a proven reputation for reliability, being a team player, and having a great work ethic are also important. 
 
I wish you all the best! 
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