Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Just Keep Swimming...

Last week I started a new semester at school, hopefully my second to last. The week before that I had finals for the summer semester. While I passed everything, the summer still had its way with me and I still have room for improvement.

I've started looking at my classes a little differently now, though. Rather than just trying to pass them, I'm trying to make myself stand out for my teachers since I would like teach there myself some day. My original hope was to get a lab assistant job this semester so I wouldn't have to get a real job before doing my co-op in the spring, but that didn't work out.

Basically a culinary lab assistant does stuff any other lab assistant would do, except it's with food. They worry about sorting and organizing requisitions so that all the raw product is ready for the students to cook. While I would like this experience, it was really more of a way to get my foot in the door for further employment.

Now I'm taking a class in which we we form teams that take turns working different spots in the kitchen and dining room for a "restaurant" that serves the public. This class also has a teaching assistant to help some in the dining room which is starting to appeal to me.

After our first "practice" run, I see that this class should be interesting. My patience has been tested in many classes by inexperienced or lazy students that won't step up and let/make me do all the work. Some of my fellow classmates have never worked in kitchens, let alone dining rooms, so tt was something else to watch their nervous faces stumble with just what's really expected of them. Having done both, with far more experience waiting tables, I made the comment of not knowing whether it would be better knowing what I know and seeing where we were failing (and probably frustrating myself trying to help) or being oblivious to all this and struggle with my own confusion.

While I can hold my own in the kitchen, after years of dealing with guests as a server, I'm far more comfortable in the dining room. But even experienced servers get several days of training before being let loose on the public and we only have one more practice run before that happens.

This will be a great opportunity for me to practice patience as well as an opportunity to endear myself to the instructor. I'm hoping my experience and performance will help me if I decide to apply for the lab assistant position again.

All of this time, I've been wanting to teach things I'm somewhat passionate about, like food safety and sanitation or purchasing. I hadn't even considered how rare dining room management skills are for a chef or culinary instructor. Most instructors have only done tours of duty in the kitchen. While the chef occasionally makes their way to the dining room, it's usually a toss up until they face the guest as to whether the experience will be an ego stroke or savage complaint. (people are always trying to get stuff for free)

Customer service stops at the kitchen door for almost every kitchen position. Anything more than that makes up the nightmares of cooks. The next time you eat somewhere, especially fast food, pay attention to who's cooking and who's taking your order and ponder how different your experience would be if they switched.

When I worked in fast food, they always wanted girls to take orders since they should be natural hostesses able to soothe angry guests. The guys were always hidden away, cooking the food fitting the fast food employee stereotype a little too well. As soon as it was known that I had cash handling skills and could actually be polite, I was shoved behind a cash register, which I enjoyed infinitely more.

(The irony of this was that my next job, I applied to be server, but they shoved me in the kitchen due to my "experience" cooking. While this was a ridiculous and frustrating pay cut, I don't regret the experience.)

In fairness, all this may leave me coming off as arrogant, that I know so much more than my classmates, but I've got more than 10 years experience working almost every type of food service. On top of that I've been taking two years worth of culinary classes over the last five years with my poor attendance and incomplete homework being the only things keeping me from finishing. I may not have the motivation of some of the others, but I'm also not fresh out of high school. I should have graduated already and be teaching by now. I know my flaws that stopped me and that's what I'm working on now.

So I'll push on, with my head up and see what happens. Most of them are good kids and I'll enjoy sharing my experience and confidence with them, watching them grow as the semester progresses.


  1. I'm confident that the struggles and challenges we face as students/children make us better teachers/parents because we A) have developed life skills and coping mechanisms that others have not have the experience to develop and B) we have been around the block and know how it feels to be where our successors have been.

    I think you will find that you are an AMAZING teacher because your "flaws" led you down the path you've traveled. That's truly the value of your experience.

    In fact, I know that you will be an amazing teacher, and I'm fairly certain that your imperfections are the direct cause of those skills because I've been the blessed beneficiary of all that you are and have to give for more than 26 years.

    Love ya, brother!
    The Girl

  2. Thanks for the props. It's not like you have any reason to be biased at all, heh.

    Your second point reminds me of mom's response whenever we tried to pull one over on her: "Don't think you invented that one. I was a kid once, too. I've done all that and more already." Well, imitation is the highest form of flattery...

    It's true though, a good teacher should be well rounded in experience especially in how to struggle with concepts. It gives them a deeper understanding of what particular students are going through and which direction to point them in.

    Thanks for reading and the comment. I do expect more of that from you...

    (26 years? Seriously? Where has time gone...)