Chopped or Not?

By Machelle Rogers

I must admit that one of my guilty pleasures is really liking food competitions-particularly Chopped, Iron Chef, and any one-on-one competitions, such as- Beat Bobby Flay, on the Food Network. I have watched these shows so much that I can tell you prior to judging, with a high percentage of accuracy, who will win based on the chef’s ingredient use.

chef preparing vegetable dish on tree slab
Photo by ELEVATE on

One of the pieces that I rail against the most is competitors who don’t know their competition (“…they don’t know the territory.” Music Man).  Many do not know enough about the strengths and weaknesses of the person they will compete against.

In other words, if someone is competing against Bobby Flay, they should know that he has a strong southwest background, likes sauces, and knows quite a bit about other cultures. They should also know that he is not a strong baker or dessert chef, and that he does not lose very often.

Another thing I often notice is that  competitors often don’t use the secret ingredient in a way that makes it shine.  In this type of competition, one should know that it is important to make that secret ingredient be the focus and center of whatever is presented.

Often, I tend to be idealistic; this idealism affects my thoughts about teaching, as well. Though I realize that I am nowhere near the perfect teacher I would like to be, I have pondered many times about how to make my teaching practice more perfection-oriented, intentional and focused. And it has occurred to me that teaching is much like food competitions.

If, like the competing chefs, we do not know our students, how can we meet the challenge?  Like these chefs, we need to be diligent and learn the strengths and weaknesses of our students; we do this by collecting data, listening and building relationships.  

When we know where students are strong, we can help them build those areas in a deeper and more meaningful direction.  We can look at the areas of weakness and build assignments, activities and learning experiences that allow that student to find success in ways never before achieved.  

While the challenging chefs may use their knowledge of strengths and weaknesses as a way to gain an advantage for themselves, and even win a competition: our focus as teachers is on using the weakness as a way to gain an advantage for the student, not ourselves.  However, recognizing that that weakness needs support and continued monitoring in order to reach the level of success appropriate for each student, means that we must do something different than just showing up.

The second part of this, of course, is to make the chosen ingredient shine.  What might this look like in education and in our own classroom? In cooking competitions, the winning chefs design dishes that enhance the flavors, create new combinations, and acknowledge the inherent limitations of the component in order to bring out the best in that element. In this way, chefs stretch their skills and the paradigm of the judges.

We, as educators, must make our essential standard and/or goal known continuously.  It must be shared in the beginning, throughout the lesson as connectors, and at the end to wrap everything up. Our essentials are the secret ingredient and it is up to us to make it shine.

We, as teachers, take the essential and find ways to enhance its parts, create new pathways of thinking, and acknowledge the inherent limitations in order to share with students the best of learning.  In that way, we stretch and enlarge not only our own paradigms, but the students’, as well.

Our goal is to be the winning “chef” by making our students the main ingredient of our teaching; by learning how to use their strengths and inherent weaknesses to enhance the learning and individuality of the ingredient, we can successfully design lessons that allow students to shine.  In this way, everyone can win and no one ends up getting “Chopped” or lost.

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