Cooking is the best metaphor for understanding what actually happens in teaching.
This is a nod to the arguments in Anti-Fragile by Nicholas Taleb.
Teaching is like cooking because…
- There are recipe books. Some are better than others. These recipe books are nice to look at. People are impressed when they see them on your shelf. Mostly, they stay on the shelf.
- There are recipes. Again, some are better than others. And while you might experiment, you tend to stick with what you know works most of the time.
- If you’re not so confident, it pays to stick to the recipe. Why change something that you know works well? Also, changing the recipe is risky.
- But you can also tinker with recipes. Once you start tinkering you expose yourself to flops. A flop is a recipe that didn’t work. The upside is that sometimes you get unexpected results that taste delicious. Some recipes lend themselves more to tinkering. Especially if you don’t really know what you’re doing. Other recipes don’t. Like baking.
- Recipes scale. You can cook for one, for six, or for 60. Even baking, which doesn’t lend itself to much tinkering, scales. Actually, I’m not sure this one works… Teaching is hard to scale. Or at least, good teachers are.
- One kind of experience is just remembering lots of different recipes that you can use whenever you need to. Other people will think this is pretty cool when they see you do it.
- Another kind of experience is understanding the relationships between the ingredients and what happens when you mix them or apply heat. This kind of experience lends itself to improvisation and innovation. This is hard to explain to other people if you know how to do it. Usually, they just “don’t get it”.
- Making something new that doesn’t flop doesn’t mean you got to do whatever you wanted with all the right ingredients (and tools). It usually means that you made the best of what you had in front of you.