Bad Teacher – Hollywood Movie or Cake Reality?

Recently someone posted on Facebook that the teaching field in the sugarcraft world was flooded with hundreds of teachers who range from poor to good. The writer was contemplating joining this flood of teachers to bring some qualified or, in their mind, superior teaching skills to rescue the students being taught by the lesser quality teachers.

This started me wondering…are we really all poor to good teachers (those of us actually out sharing our love of sugar on the teaching circuit), or are there only a few bad apples? What makes a good teacher? How do students know if the class will be worth it or be a huge waste of time and money? As your self appointed sugar guru, I decided to take on the Facebook comments and take a closer look. (In a future blog, I plan to share with you how to start teaching and demonstrating – don’t look for that info in here).

I believe there are several signs of a good teacher. First, the teacher is organized. Whether they provide everything or you have to bring some supplies, the teacher should have everything ready to go for class. If you are working with fondant, it should already be cut and portioned, ready for use. Tools should be lined up for you.

Second, the teacher should have time management skills. They have to know when to push the class or move along with the project. They should have a sense of how much can be accomplished during the class and help keep the class focused on the task at hand. There is always a chatty person who feels inclined to tell all about their experiences the entire time of the class – the teacher has to not lose the class to this person.

Third, the teacher should assist the students. I personally hate the classes I have taken where a teacher never moves from the front table. How can the teacher know if the students are understanding? The teachers should be able to both explain verbally and show physically how to do the technique. The teachers should look for signs of frustration and move quickly to assist those students before the tears start. (Yes, this happens!). Teachers often have to be able to show something left and right handed. Teachers have to watch for language barriers and help the people move their hands in the right way if they cannot understand the teacher’s words.

Fourth, the teacher should be knowledgeable on the subject and related subjects. Students rarely limit questions to the class at hand! Teachers have to be willing to share their experiences and sufficient information to make the class worthwhile.

Fifth, the teacher should provide informative instructions for the students to take home. Step by step instructions are best. A sheet with the teacher’s name and bio is not helpful later. Telling the students the information is in your book (which they can purchase) is just wrong. The students paid for the class and have already purchased that set of instructions.

Sixth, the teacher must be enthusiastic about the subject. Students can tell quickly if a teacher is there to share their love of sugar or there for simply a paycheck. Teachers should happily pose with students, sign aprons and engage the students into the project. The entire class takes its cue from the tone the teacher sets.

Seventh, the teacher should give certificates. Students love them. Reward the students for their hard work in class!

Eighth, the teachers should be available afterwards for questions. Whether through Facebook, email or phone, the teacher should provide at least one line of communication for questions that arise when the students attempt the project again at home.

Ninth, I personally think that teachers should do their best to keep classes affordable. I know that some of the tv personalities who teach can command a higher rate, but I encourage all to make sure that they are giving value for the class fee.

Tenth, I personally believe teachers should supply all or most of the tools and equipment for use in class. This gives every student a level playing field for learning and makes sure that no one is short a vital tool. I believe that no more than two people should have to share a tool.

Eleventh, I believe that being famous does not mean you can teach. I believe that having written books or having designed award winning cakes does not mean you can teach. The skill sets are different. As an education major in college, I can tell you that knowledge of the subject is insufficient. You must be able to teach. Teaching takes practice and understanding of the ways that students learn and retain information.

Twelfth, teachers must keep projects fresh. While some classes are timeless, teachers should freshen up their repertoire from time to time. Do not beat the dead horse. Keep reinventing yourself and your classes. Take classes from other teachers to learn what makes them successful.

Ok, so that’s my main list for what makes a good teacher. How do you know if the class will be good? Look at pictures of students’ work from this class at other locations. Ask for input on Facebook. There isn’t an Angie’s List for cake classes yet, but perhaps there should be.

Back to the comments that started this blog…do I think that the hundreds of teachers are only poor to good? I do not. I have actually taken classes from many of them, assisted others in classes and have watched demonstrations with many more of them. As someone with ACTUAL experience with many of the teachers, I find the comment puzzling. There are very few people that I have experienced as less than great teachers. The ones that I personally feel need work on teaching skills or organization…that is actually unrelated to how I feel about them as authors, personalities or decorators. They just need to hone their teaching skills. Not everyone had the advanced education classes I received. They are doing the best they know how to do at the moment. As they grow and learn (as we all do), they will be better teachers.

How do I feel about the person who made the comments moving in to the teaching world again? I have absolutely no problem with it. I have attended several demos by this person. They have knowledge to share. Besides, anyone can offer classes. The market and demand will bear out whether any person is a good teacher.

People offering tired, stale classes will see their numbers fall. People who fail to teach what they advertise will face demands for refunds. People who do not encourage their students and assist them in class will find their enrollment declining. Like in business, where many companies fail in a short period of time, the best stay in business for a long time.

There is a reason that some teachers are in demand. There are reasons that some people consistently have classes with a large number of students. While less famous people may have to work harder to get known and recognized, teaching skills will always be the determining point. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. The people you see all over the country are almost always strong in the twelve areas outlined above.

My final word today is, let’s not label people indiscriminately as poor to good teachers. Let’s celebrate the good ones, quietly let our friends know about the not great ones and welcome the new ones. Isn’t that a much better approach?


13 thoughts on “Bad Teacher – Hollywood Movie or Cake Reality?

  1. I hope you don’t think I am a *stalker*! I so look forward to your blog postings! I have been contemplating teaching small classes that are beyond the *basics*. This posting could not have come at a better time for me! I look forward to all the info you so generously share. (and I agree, I have taken many classes and there are some who are amazing instructors and some not so great, but I have always learned something!) Thank you again Ruth!

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am so glad you wrote this. I am NOT a teacher, but I have taken “more than a few” classes from some of the best and very few have been a disappointment, but it only takes one. I’m afraid the “teachers” who need this won’t read it or won’t know that it pertains to them if they do, but I thank you just the same!

  3. Thank you, Ruth!! I too have been reading the posts you mentioned and have commented a couple of times. However, you covered my thoughts in much better words than I did. Besides being so talented in cake art, you ARE one of those awesome teachers. Thanks for putting it all into focus so well and so briefly. You are a jewel!!!!

  4. True, true true! Good one! We ALL want to “share” in class, but a good teacher keeps that under control so that we can learn what we paid to learn! I’m guilty too (for a second and then I shut up … lol) 🙂

  5. What an incredible well put blog, I soooo loved reading this! You can recognize a true lady by how she can get her point across without being negative, or pointing fingers. This is just one of the reasons you are soooo admired and respected.

  6. Thank you Ruth for this article. I have experienced both sides of this issue, I am constantly taking classes from the famous and not so famous, from the experienced and not experienced instructors. Sometimes, I feel that I am wasting my money when I sign up for a class with an inexperience instructor because I noticed they are not doing this for the love of the craft, but they are only in it for the paycheck. When I hear an instructor whisper to another student that the class was held up due to inexperienced students in the, this is when I get discourage about taking classes. I pay top notch money for some of the classes and I expect to as least come out with some results or knowledge of the class that I paid for, not excuses. This have not deter me from expanding my skills, it only shows me that these are the instructors that I cannot support.

  7. I am genuflecting as I write this. I had seen this same post and have pretty much the opinion that you have stated in your post. I have taken many more classes than I can remember, and you always maintain such a positive attitude in your classes. I enjoyed very much the ones I recently took from you in Florida this past January. I hope to see you again this weekend at the Florida I.C.E.D. event, as well.

  8. Being a teacher should be a calling with a passion ! A ‘good’ teacher ,should be capable on easly passing the knowledge on to his/ hers students. Yes teacher should be well versed in his/her fild as to answer any questions student has or happly find out answers to broaden the knowledge for both party’s.

  9. GREAT post!!! As a former teacher for 20 years and most of those years teaching 8th graders I can tell you the actual act of teaching is a skill in itself! Just because you can “do” doesn’t mean you can teach! I’ve had some wonderful teachers in this field and some not so wonderful ones – and each are talented people. Organization and time management are key. Just because you have a TV show or have published a book or have a you-tube video doesn’t mean you’re an effective teacher. I also believe that you should have a decent amount of experience under your belt. I am paying you to learn a specific skill and if I walk away without feeling my money was well spent I am going to be very disappointed – when you teach you have to be ready to go the mile! Though I’ve been making cakes for a while I’ve only been doing it at this level for about 3 years and when people tell me I should teach I tell them – “not yet” – I don’t know enough! I do get a little nutty when I see people judge shows who haven’t been doing this for but only a handful of years and they just may be “well connected” – I have a hard time respecting them as a teacher and as a judge. Thanks for posting these guidelines – I agree 100%!

  10. Ruth, this blog is such a sugar trove of information- I especially appreciate the advice here. I’ve taken classes where every student completed a perfect project at their first try, much to their own amazement! And others where there was such a wide range of results, with disappointment in their finished pieces. I believe it was not the students, but the teacher’s method of instruction- whether they walked around and noticed each student’s work, made suggestions or corrections, etc. You are so right about the one-on-one, and not just sitting at the desk. There are sugar artists who are gifted at their craft, and also gifted with the love of sharing it… and they are teachers who shine. Thanks for this wonderful blog!

  11. What a sugar trove of great information- thank you Ruth! I especially loved this post, as I’ve taken classes in which every student executed a perfect project in their first attempt, and others where some were so sadly disappointed in their results. Class size can have a lot to do with it, but I believe the real difference was in the teacher and their methods of instruction. The ones whose students were confident and learned were the ones who set the tone with organization, confidence and patience, who walked around and made helpful suggestions or corrections one-on-one, rather than sitting up front and observing. Teaching is a gift… and not every sugar artist is a teacher. Thanks for being one of those who are gifted at sharing the sugar arts!

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