Cooking, Teaching, and Gratitude

As it is the holiday season, I have been reflecting on all the things for which I am thankful.  Of course my family and friends are at the top of the list, but–in terms of this blog–I have been thinking about those people, both inside and outside academia, who have taught me something about what it means to be an educator.   It’s true:  not all models for outstanding teaching are found in universities and schools.  There is much to be learned from other professions about good teaching as well.  For example, I have mentioned more than once on this blog the debt I owe to coaches I had during my time as an athlete.  Also, I once learned a very important lesson about empathy and about multiple approaches to learning when I worked at a plastic factory during the summer before my junior year in college.

In this brief post, though, I want to  highlight someone who has been an important influence on my own pedagogy:  my cousin, Andy Little–the rock star chef of Josephine in the 12 South neighborhood of Nashville.

Cooking and teaching might, on the surface, seem like different pursuits.  Not for Andy.  He sees a meal as an educational experience, where anyone who eats his food can learn about what it means to have respect for ingredients, how food is as much about a sense of place as it is about taste, and why cultivating relationships with farmers and other providers is so essential.  In a sense, each dish that comes out of his kitchen is a small interdisciplinary seminar on food and society.

Andy has done a bit of teaching in his own right and freely shares his knowledge with experts and novices alike.  Like all good teachers, Andy believes in the importance of reflection.  It was his love of the notebook that finally convinced me to get my own and start writing down my ideas for teaching and research.  He is also a staunch advocate for critical thinking.  Perhaps most significantly, he believes that perfecting the art of simplicity is the height of creativity.  There are lots of things we can try in our classroom, but I think what Andy has taught me is that we need to get the simplest acts of teaching right before we should try to incorporate more bells and whistles.

It is worth noting that Andy’s parents were both teachers, so he may have picked up a few tips of the trade along the way.  I’ve looked up to him for a long time, both for the person he is and the professional he has become, and I am grateful to him for what he has shown me about successful teaching.