Putting the Teacher in Detention


Recently, I attended a cake Guild meeting in Canada, following the Cake Love mini class event.  One of the things that I loved that they do, is they discuss what they liked and did not like about the classes they took.  If only all of us teachers could hear what people REALLY thought of their time with us, perhaps we would all be stronger teachers.  I was told of some things that people did that truly upset their students.  It made me wonder…what else are we teachers not being told?

I sent out a request on Facebook for people to let me know what aspects of classes they had not liked in the past.  Oh my goodness.  I opened a can of worms!  My Facebook inbox filled up quickly.  Some named names (but I won’t here).  I even received calls about this.  People pay good money for classes and do not take that lightly.  If they pay you to learn something, you need to TEACH it and you need to NOT do some of the things that I am about to list.  I don’t care how long you’ve been teaching, there is really good information here for all of us.  To make it easier, I’m going to divide the causes for putting a teacher into detention into little topic areas.  Some of the worst of us may fall into more than one of these categories.  Hopefully, some of us fit into none of them.  Regardless, we can all do better.

I Wanna Talk About Me, Me, Me

I love this song by Toby Keith, but we need to remember that this song pokes fun at someone who only seems to focus on themselves.  Students tell me that there are some teachers out there who spend a considerable portion of the class time “introducing” themselves, or telling the class why they are the perfect person to teach them or who give their entire sugar art history.  If the class is two hours long and the teacher spends 10-20 minutes listing all their qualifications, the class has been shortchanged on what they could have been learning.  I’m going to be blunt here.  If people have signed up for your class, they either A) already know about you and don’t need to listen to you prattle on about how great you are or B) they are there for the project and could care LESS who you are – just teach!  I personally find that I often forget to even say who I am at the start of a class!

I believe that some of the folks who overexplain their qualifications are simply people who are a bit insecure.  They might believe in themselves, but they aren’t sure you will.  Or they truly might be worried that you don’t think they are worthy to teach.  They want to lay a foundation so that you BELIEVE in them and their right to be there as a teacher.  And this just isn’t necessary.  If the students have shown up, they clearly believe that you have something to offer them…so just get to the subject matter.  This isn’t the time or place to work on your self esteem issues.

Bad-Mouther

All decorators have a brand of fondant they prefer, a brand of gumpaste they prefer, a brand of EVERYTHING they prefer.  That is normal.  It is perfectly fine as a teacher to say “I prefer to use Brand X”.  What is NOT ok is to tell your students that Brand Y is “crap”, or something even worse!  You should never, ever waste class time telling people how bad other products are.  Instead, you need to remember that these people might only be able to get Brand Y where they are….so you need to teach them how to work with whatever brand they have.  I always say that I prefer Brand X fondant, but that if they use Brand Y, they need to do a,b,c to achieve the same results we will get in class.

Some folks love to start telling students that their product is the best and that others are not food approved or are made in awful facilities or some other crazy story.  You cannot build yourself (or your product) up by tearing someone else down.  You’ve left all your students with a bad taste in their mouth.  Doubt me?  They wrote to me about how much they hated it!  A bunch of students complained about this!  You only make yourself look bad and people are LESS likely to become loyal to your brand, and, consequently, to YOU as a teacher or demonstrator.

The SoapBox

Teachers get into disputes with other teachers about the right way and the wrong way to do something.  Fine.  It happens.  But that is something for those teachers to discuss between themselves, not to get up on a soapbox and preach about during class.  I don’t care if you think teacher X is crazy to say you can’t support a cake that way or you think person Y is a *itch and you hate them personally.  Your private grievances are not to come out during class time.  A surprising number of students wrote in to complain about teachers who complain about other teachers and sugar artists.  This is one of the big pet peeves out there!!

I need to be even more clear…Facebook is not the place to air these grievances, either.  It doesn’t do good for anyone if you go on Facebook and bad mouth another teacher or decorator.  It reminds me of one of those sayings I had on my notebook in high school:  “Confuscious says ‘He who throws mud, loses ground'”.  It may sound funny, but it is the truth.  If you go negative, people will start to think that way of you.  Studies have shown that people associate YOU with the things that you say about others.  So, if you talk about how sweet and talented someone is, the person who hears you will imprint those traits into their thoughts about you.  And if you talk badly about someone, people will think those things about you.  Frightening, huh?  Maybe there was a reason we were told not to say anything if we couldn’t say anything nice.

The Superior One

I had several people write about instructors who talk down to the students, yell at them and are impatient with them.  I keep picturing Hell’s Kitchen and Gordon Ramsey.  Oddly enough, most of these stories from students arose from studies in culinary programs.  I tend to believe that this type of instructor is motivated by one of two things.  Either the instructor is insecure and tears the students down to build themselves up, or they are poor communicators and, as such, unsuccessful in teaching easily.  If you struggle to explain your technique to your students, they won’t get it and you might get impatient and feel like they are stupid….when the source of the problem is actually your ability to reach the students.

You’re The Best, And You…And You

This one surprised me.  People want you to actually tell them how to improve if you see them doing it “wrong”, or to give pointers on how they can do it better.  They are smart enough to know that not everyone in class is the best at something.  If you praise everyone without any true feedback, they feel like you are not genuine as a teacher.  This is not permission to start criticizing everything your students do (more on that in a minute).  If someone asks how they did on something, please honor that question with a realistic appraisal of their work.  Tell them what they did well and what they could change or work on next time.

OverPromiser

People like to write great class descriptions.  They like to tell you they will give you the sun and the moon and only in two hours or whatever.  I touched on this in the blog about what class organizers hate…and here it is again.  If you say you are teaching an advanced airbrush class, they need to learn advanced techniques.  If you say they will finish a three tier cake in class, they should not walk out with half decorated cakes.  If you say all supplies are included, don’t make 10 students share one tool.  You need to be realistic about what you are going to show them and what they will leave with at the end of class.  I started trying to make sure that I put this in class descriptions now…”students will leave with x and instructions for x,y,z”.

The Bully

This is similar to The Superior One, except this person is mean.  And publicly abusive about your work in class.  This person takes joy in making someone start over, re-do something or scrape something off.  This teacher will make people feel bad if they don’t already know how to cover a cake with fondant or use a ball tool or whatever.  I heard stories of famous teachers and less famous doing this.  This person is a bit of a tyrant and believes it is their way or the highway!  I am sad to say that I know some of the bullies I was told about, and that the surprising thing is that these are incredibly sweet folks.  It makes me wonder what causes the meanness in class?  I wonder again if it stems from insecurity or the inability to teach as well as they wish.

The MultiTasker

You might think that someone who could multitask would be great, but not this one!  This is the person who is constantly on their phone instead of teaching.  They are texting, emailing, checking facebook, returning calls and doing all aspects of business while they are supposed to be teaching you!  If your face is in your phone, you aren’t seeing what your students are doing and might miss when they go off track.  We are a very media oriented society and I know how hard it is to step away from that connection in class.  If the students have to put their phone on silent, then the teacher does too.  Remember…the students PAID you to be there for them.  Put down the phone and engage.

The Fake Out

You sign up for a class, only to find that the teacher demos one or two things and tells you to play.  It is almost a bait and switch.  Demos are traditionally less expensive than a hands on class.  While it is ok to allow students some freedom in the design process, a proper teacher should be guiding the students at various stages in the process.  If you say you are going to teach, say, airbrushing, you cannot spend the entire class time working only with those who purchase your airbrush or fixing everyone’s airbrush.  You need to take those variables out of the class so that the time is spent with the students actually getting to airbrush.  It is fine to demo some things that won’t be finished in class, but make sure that people know that ahead of time!  Make sure that all hands on classes are truly hands on and that the students walk away feeling like they’ve participated fully.  One of the first signs that you are doing a fake out is if you don’t have any class instructions to give your students…that tells me that you didn’t pass on technique or project knowledge for them to take home.

The “Feeler”

I know, you’re thinking this one is something naughty.  Nope.  This is the teacher that is feeling out a market for a product or class idea and offers a class.  While there is nothing wrong with this, per se, you have to tell people ahead of time that this is a test market class if that is what it is.  You might tell them once they show up, but you need to have told them before they paid their money!  I do know folks who have publicly said they were doing classes at a reduced price as a test.  That is absolutely the way to go!  If they cannot buy the product or you are not sharing your recipe in the class (forcing them to buy your book to get it), then students must be told this ahead of time!

The Time Waster

This one takes a couple forms.  A bunch of the teachers out there have people cover their cakes in class.  Day 1 of a 3 day class might be totally taken up just covering cakes.  A four or five hour class might lose 30 minutes to an hour to this.  Students wrote to tell me that this is NOT something they want to be part of their classes…unless it is a class about covering cakes successfully.  They asked to be able to bring in the cakes covered themselves or for the teacher to have them covered ahead of time.  I have to tell you, I am one of the people that covers the cakes for my students, but teachers have criticized me for it.  I felt a bit better after reading comments from students.

Another form of the time waster is the teacher that cannot stay focused, so class gets off track.  Unfortunately, I heard this most about celebrity teachers.  I don’t know if it happens because of the “fan” students who are there more to rub shoulders with the famous person and engage them about their time on shows and things, pulling them and the class away from why everyone is there.  Teachers have to be organized and must know how to “run” the class, guiding people back onto the time frame so that they finish.

Censor Warning

I was really surprised by this one!  Some teachers make socially inappropriate comments (a little racy or sexual) and while the bulk of the class may laugh, you could easily have a couple of folks cringing as they work.  I know that sometimes we take political correctness too far, but there is probably no real reason to be making sexual laced comments in a class or allowing that to become the theme of the class.  I heard a number of complaints from students about teachers cussing in class.  These students weren’t talking about an occasional bad word, but classes that become dominated by F Bombs and the language becomes the entertainment and focus of the class more than the project they are there to learn.  The people who wrote me about this are not prim, propper, prissy folks.  They cuss.  They enjoy sexual innuendo.  Not in classes that they paid for.  Not when the language and behavior of a few in class becomes the dominate aspect of the class.  Remember, these folks paid good money to learn a project or technique.  You must be sure you are sharing your focus with everyone and not just a couple that are joining in your laughter.

The Price Gouger

I was surprised at how few people mentioned this.  I hope that means that most teachers do a good job of setting prices for their classes.  I did receive a few complaints about charging high fees for classes AND having a long supply list for the students to bring.  People especially hate bringing things that they never even use in class!  I’ve had to do that before and still have some of those items new in package…untouched to this day.  That is a real rip off.  I know that most teachers don’t make a lot of money, but some do and some charge prices that the classes feel are too high.  Maybe they didn’t think that going in, but they sure did on the way out of class.  I would so much rather have people walk away thinking they would have paid MORE for a class than wishing they would have paid LESS.

The “Do It For You”

Sometimes, students don’t get the technique right away.  Sometimes, the teacher has to show them or explain it again.  Unfortunately, sometimes the teacher takes it from the student, makes the object or does it for them and hands it back.  What did the student learn there?  The student has to take away the knowledge to do it themselves.  One of the toughest things for me is to show someone, then scrunch up the ball of paste to make them do it.  You want your students to be successful and, I think, that makes some of us “overhelp”.  We have to remember that we are not helping when we do that!  I had one person say that they hated when a teacher put their hands on their hand to show them how to pipe.  I know that I am guilty of doing that, as some people learn from touch and others from words, depending on whether they are right or left brained.  I now know that I should ask if it is ok before grabbing someone to show them how to position their hands.  There are some times that you NEED the teacher to demonstrate pressure and angles and students have to be open to that fact.

Chained to the Desk

This one I heard quite often!  If you are staying at your desk or the front of the classroom the entire time, do you really know how your students are doing?  If you pack in 20 people into a room that should hold 12 and then never move around, how valuable is that class?  I’ve taken these classes before and discussed this in earlier blogs.  I cannot believe that people are still doing it, but it has got to stop!!  The students are speaking out!!  Part of being a teacher is being engaged with your students!  You have got to get up and go see how they are doing as they work on what you’ve taught.

Survival of the Fittest

Sometimes, folks just cannot move as quickly as others in class.  While we cannot hold up an entire class for one person, we do need to be sure that we are cognizant of people who need a little more time.  We need to adapt the “no man left behind” mentality.  Students said that once they fell behind, the teacher just ignored them and went on with the rest of the class.  The students had to rely on other students to help them get caught up.  I am certain we can all do better on this and we need to remember how we would feel if it was us!

Closing Thoughts

I know that being a teacher is an incredibly hard job.  Most of the teachers I know are riddled with doubts about whether they are good enough to teach, whether students like them and whether we are worth what we charge.  I am not writing this to make any of us have more doubts.  I’m sharing this because the students’ complaints were valuable insights into what they NEED from those of us who teach.  I’m sharing because some of these things were mentioned about multiple teachers, so it isn’t a one person issue.  My only fear is that some of the people who need to take heed of this advice, will not think that I am talking to them.  I know that I learned lessons that I will take forward as I teach.  I hope others do, too.

I would like to end with a Thank You to the students who trusted me to tell their stories.

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10 thoughts on “Putting the Teacher in Detention

  1. AMAZING Blog! 🙂 I’ve done dozens of classes, both with celebrity teachers as well as teachers who run their own small classes from their shop, and I can honestly say that I have had a teacher from almost every angle that you touched on. Some good, some bad, some I wanted my money back they were so bad. This is a great educational tool to help out the wide variety of teachers that are out there. Hmm.. Wonder which one I am? 🙂

  2. Thank you Ruth. Your article was great and right to the point. I have taken many classes and yes, as a student, a number of the points you talked about, have happened to me! As an instructor, I often have to think about all that I have gone through as a student and then make sure that it does not happen to the students I teach. Thank you for the great reminders that we should all refresh ourselves with. You are appreciated 🙂

  3. Awesome Blog!!….I’m a Wilton teacher and almost love teaching more than decorating and I am totally guilty of 2 of the topics…Thanks for opening my eyes so I can be a better teacher..

  4. This has good perspective for a student and a teacher, as a student I will expect more and speak to the teacher directly if I don’t think I’m getting my money’s worth, sometimes I’m so dang excited just to be there that I am not as critical as I should be then after the class have a few regrets. By the way, during your mosaic tile class, if the student has her tiles to close to each other when there should be a space, please tell her 😉 Thanks again for a great blog.

  5. Great article! I am a pastry instructor at a small college in Texas, this article applies to culinary instructors too. They are paying big money for their education and they deserve our best, sometimes i take this too much to heart especially my first semesters teaching but after 5 years i have refined my teaching methods to be more of a mentor and less of a drill sergeant. Because i teach, i realize quickly when someone is wasting my time in a class which is very frustrating. Some teachers rely on their reputation from making “winning cakes” at cake shows but not everyone can be a teacher. It really takes a special person that loves and wants to share their art with the world.
    My least favorite of the above qualities was the one that spends most of the class letting you know how very talented they are, who they know, who they have taken classes from, where they are going next, how very busy they are, how often they teach in Europe, they went on and on and on wasting valuable class time.
    I wish every class had an opinion poll after the class to give our likes and dislikes. All college courses have this and students names are withheld, but you find out exactly what your class feels about your class, it’s a great tool for a teacher to improve their class.

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