This may sound really weird, but I have always enjoyed watching cooking competitions on TV.  From Iron Chef to Chopped, it is one of my guilty pleasures. My oldest son loves watching them with me and wants to be the next “Kids Baking Champion”.  So how does this make me a better teacher?

If you think about it, all of the contestants who go on these cooking competition shows are highly trained and spend hours preparing for their competition.  Just like every educator I know. Over the past few weeks I started looking at my teaching style like a cooking competition. You have to be prepared for all kinds of twists and turns.  I started noticing that in all the shows I watch, there is always a “secret ingredient” or a twist part-way through the contest. In the classroom, we are constantly thrown various curve-balls, twists and changing game plans.  I’ve noticed how the chefs on these shows are constantly trying new techniques or changing up the combination of different flavors. In almost every one of the shows I have seen recently there is always a chef or two that will talk about taking a risk.  They will try something they have never done before or use a technique that has not been tried. During one episode of “Spring Baking Champion” the contestants were given fruit that did not look very good, such as a Jackfruit or Horned Melon, and were to turn it into a beautiful dessert.  One of the contestants tried a technique he had never used with a fruit that he had never tasted before. He took a risk and the judges loved his dessert.  This shows that if something is new to you, never be afraid to try it out. At the least, let the students try it out and have them tell you what they liked.  Let your students be the judges when you try a new recipe (technology).

The more I watch these contest, the more I realize how important feedback from the judges are.  Almost every cooking contest starts with a short round to be judged. The chefs/bakers are critiqued on the dish by judges.  The best chefs are the ones who take the advice and make changes in the next round. I’ve seen some chefs, in the interview scenes, reject the judges advice.  They almost never make it to the finale. As educators, we need to accept input from all the “judges”. From parents to administrators to the students in the room, we have plenty of opportunities to receive feedback.  I’ve tried a number of lessons that were project-based this year. With feedback from other teachers and my students I have a notebook filled with changes I need to make next year.

The most powerful lesson I have learned from watching cooking competitions is to take defeat as a learning experience.  From shows like “Chopped”, “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Iron Chef-Gauntlet” I have seen a lot of contestants leave the contest.  They may have had a bad day or just made a simple mistake. This has taught me that even the top chefs have a bad dish. They don’t quit, they don’t get upset.  They take what they have learned and get better. All of the great ones I have seen leave the competition by saying things like, “This has been a great experience”, “I’m going to take what I learned and grow as a chef/baker”.  This mindset of not letting failure stop us from reaching our dreams. Recently I have been applying to present at big conferences and try new adventures that will get me closer to my dreams. There have been some successes and more failures/rejections since I started applying.  These should not serve as a step back, but as a chance to learn. I decided that just because my idea was not accepted that it meant it was a failure. I’m actually motivated to learn more and try again.

I encourage all educators out there to try some new “recipes” and listen to the judges.  If it doesn’t work or gets bad reviews, don’t give up. Find others who have the same vision as you and work with them.  Educators are in a year-long contest to bring the best lessons to a very picky judging panel. Good educators don’t play it safe and take those risks.  Watch a few of these shows and ask yourself, “How are these chefs like educators?” and listen to the ones who make it to the finale. For the past few months I have been watching these contests with an “Educator’s Mindset” and it has made me a better teacher.


Corey has been a classroom teacher for 24 years.  He currently teaches 7th grade Science, History and Project Lead The Way. He is a Google Certified Trainer and CUE Lead Learner. Corey is a director on the CapCUE board and has presented on technology all over the state of California.

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