WiW: They Don’t Learn…

The Week in Words

I’m a teacher, less than two weeks away from ending my career as a graduate teaching assistant.

I love teaching.

I love explaining things to students, helping people understand something better than they did before.

I love showing students how to do something, seeing them glow with a sense of accomplishment.

I’ve been teaching about food. And I love teaching about food.

Because I love food.

I get excited about cooking, about food, about how food fits into people’s lives.

My students can’t help but feel my excitement for food.

Which is why Don Carson’s quote sobers me.

“If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again…”
~Don Carson (via Justin Taylor)

What are the things I get excited about?

What are the things I emphasize again and again and again and again?

Are they the things I want to be emphasizing over and over and over again?

Carson says what should be emphasized over and over again:

“…What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.
~Don Carson (via Justin Taylor)

I am challenged as I read these words. What is the refrain of my life’s work? If someone were to interview a dozen of my students and ask them what they learned from me, what my life message is, what would they say?

Would they say that I lived for food?

Or would they say that I lived for God, glorying in the gospel and savoring the sweetness of Christ?

I fear too often they would say the former–but my heart’s desire and my prayer is that the latter would be true.

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

Sunday Snapshot: Meat

Curious shoppers cast quizzical glances towards me as I raced through the grocery store–but this time their odd looks were not because of my rapid pace.

This time, it was the contents of my shopping cart that drew their gaze and furrowed their brows.


After all, how often do you see a young woman in the grocery store buying 25 lbs of meat and little else?

It’s the lab my meat-squeamish students hate–and the lab I absolutely love.

They gingerly use a fork to pick up a steak, handling it as if it were a live rattlesnake. They’re terrified that they might actually touch raw meat.

I show them how it’s done, as I grasp a steak and slap it on the board, as I squish my hands into hamburger for meatloaf.

I love working with meat–especially with raw meat. It’s cold, visceral, and bloody. It demands hands-on action for best results. I can’t really explain why I like working with raw meat–but I do, almost like how I enjoy squishing my toes in freshly turned earth. It’s a reminder of life and death, of reality, of where our food actually comes from.

So I apologize to my gagging students as I encourage them also to plunge their hands into the meat.

Teaching Food

I teach a couple of “Scientific Principles of Food Preparation” labs at our local university–and I absolutely love what I do.

What I don’t love is trying to explain what I do.

The easiest explanation, although not the most accurate, is that I teach college nutrition students how to cook.

The truth is…a bit more complicated.

Over the course of any given lab, I might be showing someone how to separate an egg, explaining how one ingredient can be substituted for another, defining “simmering” or “rolling boil”, encouraging students to get out of their comfort zones and eat a new food, describing some cultural ritual associated with a food, and discussing the functional properties of certain ingredients.

And then there’s the part I’m actually hired to teach. :-)

You see, ultimately, my job is to help students understand not how to cook, but why we cook the way we do and what happens when we cook certain ways.

My job is to teach the science behind cooking.

For instance, last week I showed the students why recipes that include purple/red vegetables often include an acid of some sort (vinegar, lemon juice, fruit, etc.)

I boiled some red cabbage in three separate pans. Each pan contained water and cabbage, but two contained extra ingredients. To one pan, I added baking soda (a base). To another, I added cream of tartar (an acid).

I drained the cabbage and reserved the liquid to show the students what each looked like.

Red Cabbage at different acidity levels

I explained how the purple/red pigments, called anthocyanins, found in these fruits change their color based on pH. As the concentration of hydrogen ions increase (the acidity increases), the color becomes more of a red/pink color. As the alkalinity increases, the color changes to blue-green color.

I encouraged the students to take a close look at the texture of each wedge of cabbage. The one that was cooked in a basic solution was incredibly mushy, because the hemicellulose, one of the fibers that gives structure to vegetables, becomes soluble in water under basic conditions, causing structure to be lost.

I talked about the sensory implications of cooking style–how different methods of cooking vegetables influence their color, flavor, and texture. I talked about the nutrient implications of cooking style–how different methods of cooking vegetables influences nutrient availability, nutrient loss, and ease of eating.

I talked about “phytochemicals” and how many of these “food dyes” that give color to our vegetables have been identified as having beneficial health properties. I mentioned lycopene, the bright red pigment found in tomatoes. I explained to my students that lycopene is a carotenoid that can not be used by the body to synthesize Vitamin A–but that is still useful as a phytochemical that appears to be active in prostate cancer prevention.

I teach “pure science”–things like osmosis and acidity and chemical structures. I teach “food science”–things like the functional properties of gluten and the interactions of glutenin and gliadin to create an elastic dough. I teach “nutrition science”–things like what nutrients can be found where and how different cooking techniques influence the nutritional properties of a food.

But mostly, I just teach food.

Which suits me just fine.

‘Cause I love teaching–and I love FOOD!

My students think I’m crazy

As many of you know, I am a teaching assistant for a couple of “Scientific Principles of Food Preparation” laboratories. For our first lab session, we discuss and experiment with sensory analysis of food–how our senses affect our perception of flavor.

I was lecturing as usual, and as usual, I was starting to get excited about the subject material.

“I was just reading a book about the senses called See What I’m Saying. It’s a fantastic book, by the way,” I told them. “And in this book, the author describes a psychological experiment in which…”

As my eyes swept over my class of 25 students, I realized that I had lost them.

They think I’m crazy.

How can I find descriptions of psychological experiments interesting? How can I enjoy the science behind cooking? How can I get so excited about food and nutrition and families and…

Few of them understand the thirst for knowledge, the relentless desire to know why and how and how to change things. They are in school because they don’t know what else to do. They have few driving passions.

They don’t understand me.

My students have generally been polite and respectful–but our interactions make clear that the majority don’t get it.

They do what it takes to get a grade from that crazy-enthusiastic, crazy-tough TA–but they don’t understand why I am the way I am.

But in every class, there are a few students who agree that I’m crazy, but make it their mission to dig a bit deeper. They listen intently, not just to get a grade, but to figure out why I find this so exciting. They start to ask questions, start to search out answers, start to find it exciting too.

This is why I love teaching.

Lecturing dead-eyed classrooms that couldn’t care less can be frustrating. Hearing half a dozen lame excuses as to why homework can’t be handed in on time can be draining. Dealing with students who can’t understand why they don’t automatically get As in my class can be exasperating.

Being considered crazy starts to get old.

But then one student looks a little deeper, discovers crazy can be good, and starts to go crazy for knowledge herself.

This is why I teach.

‘Cause the world needs more crazies.

Flashback: Extracurriculars

Flashback Friday buttonPrompt: What type of extra-curricular school activities did you participate in during your school days? Clubs? Spelling bees or other contests? Cheerleader or drill team? Sports? Journalism? Choir or theater? …

I was one of the “big kids” in a big homeschooling family, and when I was in the “extracurricular” phase, Mom had babies–and then preschoolers–and then elementary-schoolers.

My extracurriculars in elementary school involved…well, I’m not sure I had extracurriculars in elementary school. We belonged to a small church and with Mom being busy with babies, there wasn’t a lot of extra.

When I was a fifth or sixth grader, our church closed its doors and most of the parishioners went to another, larger church. Me and my older sister began attending the weekly “Missionettes” girls group there.

After I completed the Missionettes program as a seventh grader, I chose to volunteer as a “helper” in a Missionettes classroom. I helped in the kindergarten-aged “Daisies” classroom for five or six weeks before the teacher had some difficulties arise and had to quit.

I became the teacher of six to eight kindergarten girls. And I loved it.

I continued as a Missionettes sponsor through my senior year of highschool–and I absolutely adored it. I worked with every age-group of girls over the course of my sponsoring “career”, and was delighted to lead them through a variety of badges–and life experiences.

My other extracurriculars were along a similar vein. I volunteered in the church nursery. I taught Sunday school for a stint. I ran the PowerPoint projection system at church. I played the tambourine when called upon to do so.

In my last couple of years of high school, I developed a passion for discipleship and began meeting with a younger girl to study the Bible together. We met weekly for almost four years–and now I’m pleased to have her as a sister-in-law!

So I don’t have much by way of “extracurriculars”. I was in our church’s youth group and served on our “youth council.” And I volunteered. Apart from that, I read, I rode my bicycle, I walked all over town, I made paper, I wrote.

I didn’t have the traditional high school experience, I know. But I don’t feel deprived. I chose what I wanted to do and took great pleasure in what I did. I wouldn’t trade it for all the clubs and activities in the world.

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