A Guide not a Gospel

If you did not know, I love food.  Books about food are my passion.  If I am not reading an education book, you can safely bet I am reading about eating or cooking food.  I don’t just read about it.  I do it all-eat, talk and cook food.  I would not be bragging to say I am pretty good cook.  I can read recipe and see if it will be something that will work in my world.  I also know what changes I need to make in order for my family to enjoy it.  Of course, this ability was something I was not born with. It took time and mistakes.  This same passion has been transferred to my own children.  image

So what does that have to does my passion about food have to do with teaching and education.  Last night I was reading Mastering Pasta by Marc Vetri (yes this great bedtime reading) and the section, Recipes Need Cooks, screamed to me about education. He discusses a recipe is like GPS we still need to drive the car to get to the location.  Marc also discusses all of the factors that impact a pasta recipe.  Little did I know when the wheat was grown can change how pasta behaves.  Below are quotes that spoke to me:

A recipe doesn’t just work or not work.  The cook makes the recipe work.

The idea is to be engaged.  Engage yourself in the act of cooking.  Look at the recipe as a guide not as gospel.

The only true path to the quest of mastering pasta is to continue making it.

So often in education, teachers are given a program to teach.  Often times, it is scripted and teachers feel that they cannot stray from the script.  We often follow the script without understanding the why.  If we don’t understand the why, we will either sound like a robot or we will go off script.  Either way when our results don’t reflect what was promised, we blame the system.  This gives us justification to say this program does not work or that we need to come up with a more teacher-proof program.

Of course just like a recipe, a great program is throughly tested.  It may not have been tested for all factors.  It is our job as educators to be aware of all the factors that can change the outcome and make adjustments.

So what do we do as educators or as cooks of a recipe:

  1. Ask lots of questions. How has this been tested?  What research helped develop this system?  Why this and not that?  When we understand the background, we can make informed decisions.  My favorite cookbooks and education books both explain the science before the how-to-do sections.
  2. Pre-read the recipe(script).  If something doesn’t make sense, figure out why.  Continue to ask the questions.  Gather the materials and do the prep.   My husband rages against the machine when he gets halfway down a recipe and it expects something prepped that is never mentioned earlier.
  3. Know your students and tools (ingredients and equipment).   I live in Iowa.  I can’t always find what requested in the recipe so I need to make substitutions.  You need to know that mint extract is not a viable substitution for almond extract.  (Just ask my brother and sister about the time I tried to make fortune cookies with that substitution.)  I know this happens in our schools, we may not have everything we need to follow script.  Our students may not be the same students that it was tested on it.  If we don’t know how to make a substitution, we need to reach out for help.   Read the manual, ask a fellow teacher or even Google it.  We can still be amazing without everything.
  4. Take the time to enjoy the process.  My moments of Zen come when I am in the middle of cooking or in the middle of teaching.  Both times I am fully engaged in the process.   When I am not engaged, I end up with results I am not proud of.  Ask my husband about the time I forgot to add eggs to a waffle batter.

Teachers treat the script as you would a recipe.  Get the background knowledge to understand the system so you can do what is best for your students.  Don’t be afraid to go off script, but be prepared to explain the why you strayed.


A special thanks to @Bluecereal for being my sounding board on this one.  I love that you are willing to jump in help me with a great title and encouragement to increase my word count.


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