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What Top Chef Taught Me About Teaching - Education Impression

What Top Chef Taught Me About Teaching

Did you see this tweet on New Year’s Eve?

I did, and just as my wheels started turning about how fun it could be, the tweet was quickly ratioed. The Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere almost universally hated the idea. Math teacher Jamie Garner postulated that the idea could work and posted this good read to her blog. Other than Jamie, most comments read like Alice Keeler’s opinions on homework.

I don’t watch a ton of TV, but a few reality shows have captured my interest over the years. I jumped on the American Idol bandwagon after season 1, but was with Project Runway right from the start. This summer the viral Mandy Harvey video got me hooked on America’s Got Talent. My unlikeliest love is Top Chef. Who wants to watch a show where you see food being prepared but don’t get to eat it? It turns out, I do! Here are my takeaways from my reality show viewing:

  • You will have to step out of your comfort zone to create something spectacular.
  • But it’s important to edit. Don’t add so many elements that you lose your focus.
  • You will have to work in teams and your ability to do so will help determine your success. The people around you can influence your work and teach you great things.
  • It will be stressful. And there will be challenges that you don’t see coming. Some will manage that well; some will not.
  • If you attempt this without much training or experience, the odds are not in your favor.
  • Reflecting on why something worked, or didn’t, is a very important part of the process.


That list sounds a lot like teaching to me. Sometimes, as I prepare for a lesson or an inservice, I start telling myself to pare down, that I have too many ingredients in my dish!

I don’t know exactly how the Great American Teach-off will pan out, but here’s the show I would like to watch, Teach Your Way to the Top: Take a group of twelve amazing teachers with varied backgrounds and licenses. Give them a week to learn a technique or some content or whatever the challenge is. They teach every day and on the last day someone is eliminated. The week everyone teaches kindergarten, perhaps the calculus teacher struggles, but during chemistry week, maybe the preschool teacher has to dig deep. Change locations so we can see rural, urban, and suburban settings. Find a great host and expert judges. Film it during the summer so teachers wouldn’t have to leave work to participate. Show the episodes during the school year so others could be edutained and inspired. Make the prize a great one.

A wise man once said that Math Class Needs a Makeover. Certainly others have said that about American education in general. Would a show like this provide that makeover? Absolutely not. But it might raise awareness of the successes and challenges in our education system. Because of Top Chef, I learned about food trucks and pop-up restaurants. I didn’t know that chefs carried around their knives as their most important tools. I didn’t know that salt, fat, acid, and heat can be considered the 4 elements of every great dish. I didn’t know about the training or artistry that a chef brings to his dish. And I certainly couldn’t have named any famous chefs past Julia Child. Perhaps if people tuned in to Teach Your Way to the Top, they might learn more about the time we devote to our craft, the importance of content standards, the reasoning behind a new pedagogy, and the inequity inherent in American education. And understanding and awareness might pave the way for needed reform and innovation.

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