I have been a teacher for over thirty years and with that title comes a responsibility, a responsibility to nurture raw passion and talent and help guide it to its potential and beyond. I personally feel that first and foremost a teacher needs to be honest with their students, students are not stupid they know when you’re trying to fool them. You will earn more respect by pointing out your own flaws before someone else exaggerates them, all out of proportion, trying to ruin your reputation. I always make it very clear to anyone who hires me to teach or plans to come to one of my classes that I am a commercial cake decorator with years of experience working within the bakery and confectionery world. I refer to traditional skills in class however I’m normally trying to find ways of getting a traditionally stylish look using quicker and more commercially viable methods. I’m known for royal icing skills however there is very little call for traditional royal icing in the commercial world due to its time consuming and labour intensive processes. If royal icing, or the look of royal icing, is to survive the test of time, it has to adapt
Taking one of my classes is not just about reproducing a class project, for me it is a chance to share knowledge and experiences, tricks and tips, product knowledge, judging tips to help students gain higher marks at competition level, resources and to recommend my students to other tutors who can take their chosen skills to the next level.
Never once have I listed a class of mine as a masterclass, that is a label other schools or hosts have put onto my classes when I’ve been booked to teach for them to attract more students. Many times when I have been booked to teach, the students have compiled a wish list of skills they would like to be introduced to, often there are requested skills on that list that I’ve not used for many years, I do my research, I practice these skills and make sure the students are fully aware that although I know what the finished results should be from my years of judging experience I may not be able to reproduce that high standard in the short time class conditions allow.
Anyone’s best work is done when they are alone and concentrating, the next time you create something try talking out loud and explaining everything you are demonstrating, the reasons behind the way you’re doing it, the possible finer points to achieve and all whilst watching the students for the subtle signs that they may not fully understand you but are too embarrassed to ask questions……not easy is it.
Whilst you are teaching you not only have to finish the class project yourself, you have to be ahead of the students, watch all of the students to see if they need support, keep the pace of the class moving to a timely completion, make sure you’re prepared for the next stage of the class and that all of the suppliers are ready. When you teach at some venues a teacher may even be responsible for laying out lunch, writing certificates, promoting certain products and even making sure the washroom has supplies.
I feel respect is a huge part of being a teacher, you must respect your students and listen to what they have to say before jumping in with a response, you must have patience, you must step back and let students make mistakes as no one really learns when the tutor keeps doing bits of the class project to help the student, only help when the student truly needs it. Students trust the tutor to steer them in the right direction and their respect is earned and not demanded.
Many tutors are given the status of mentor by their students, this is an important responsibility. A true mentor works with a student to develop their gift, a true mentor is honest about their students achievements but only delivers feedback in a constructive way, a true mentor knows when to push a student but equally knows when to let them find their own pace.
A teacher who spends their time telling the world that they are the best is very likely wrong, the best teachers and cake artists are those who quietly work diligently perfecting their art and let others judge if they are the best or not. I personally feel that true teachers are humble, they are there to hold a hand, answer questions, share knowledge and celebrate achievements no matter how large or small.
I am often accused of over-sharing my skills and knowledge, but I feel honour bound to share as much as I know, I learnt my skills and techniques from others through my own formal training and working life, too many of our valuable skills have been lost because their owners took them to the grave.
I am excited by my students achievements, by giving a person knowledge you allow that knowledge to be expanded upon by a new imagination, we are constantly developing new products, skills, and techniques many based upon historical roots, or developed by unsung heroes of cake that were around before the Internet, who knows what the next student will develop that will change our world of cake artistry.
I’m known for the skill of piping royal icing, I strive constantly to keep those traditional skills alive by pushing them in new directions. I am criticised by many for the way in which I blend different mediums and techniques with royal icing but I believe that unless you adapt to the times you might as well just give up. You may work with pastes, moulds, mats, cutters, veiners, sugars in various forms to make our own special creations but I think most will agree that the elegance of royal icing has a romance and nostalgia matched by no other.
If I, with my commercial cake decorating background, can introduce a student to a new skill which opens up a whole new world to them then I’ve achieved my goal.
I’ve never claimed to be the best, I’m certainly not the worst, but what I am is someone who is willing to nurture a students burgeoning talent, to be honest about what I can teach and to what standard, I’m willing to admit my flaws and share my mistakes………I am a teacher, hopefully a good role model and a mentor to those who choose me to be.
A very good friend of mine once told me “as soon as you raise your head above the poppies they’ll shoot you down”, well I hope my critics have lots of ammunition because I’m not going anywhere and I’m certainly not going to be intimidated.
Thank you world for giving me the gift to teach.