Teacher becomes Student becomes Teacher
It’s my husband’s last week of the school year and he is counting the days – NINE school days until graduation and the end of another academic year. This marks his 18th year teaching. I’ve been praying for him, the other teachers and the students this time of year when burn-out abounds and frustrations over-flow.
But today is special.
It is Saturday! The birds are chirping and a cool 70 degree breeze and blue sky greets us as we depart on our adventure: a PIZZA cooking class!
We’re so excited that we arrive 30 minutes early to the strip mall that houses the Classic Cooking Academy and side restaurant PIZZETTA. It’s practically in our back yard at 10411 E McDowell Mountain Ranch Road. We walk through the front doors of the school to a serendipitous surprise.
“Good morning. Hey?” Says the young man dressed in the chef’s smock checking us in at the front desk. “Didn’t you teach at Ironwood?” he says to my husband.
“Yes. It’s been a while…Aren’t you Christian, uh, what was your last name?”
“Driessens!” says the young man as the former student and his old teacher shake hands.
The reminiscing begins as the two catch up, the surprise being that Chef Christian Driessens will be our instructor for the course!
Since we’re way early and the staff is still readying the area for the class, Teacher Bacon and I walk the strip mall.
“Wow. Almost didn’t recognize the kid,” he shakes his head and looks down, “He used to have long hair and always wore this attitude…like ‘I’m going to do what I want and school isn’t one of those things.’ You know? Square peg in the round hole.”
We walk a little further and he begins Facebooking former teachers to let them know of this happy turn of events.
“See, the thing is, even back then, he loved the cooking stuff…and there was a teacher who helped point him in that direction…”
We return to the Academy kitchen and it begins:
Chef Driessens told us about himself. How, although he looks quite young, how he really had grown up “in the business” with both grandparents and parents who taught him along the way. How, right out of high school he had enough passion, interest and knowledge to get schooling that opened opportunities for him and how he interned at some of the valley finest dining spots and learned from some top chefs.
Following his introduction, he dug right in to the course, working his way through the topics like a pro. I floated above the moment, like the flames licking the top of the wood fired pizza oven from Italy. It was surreal to hear the masterful way this former student taught a packed kitchen full of teachers, microbiologists, (writers—-wink wink), couples and families. He schooled us on everything from the best flours and the structure of gluten and how it makes the elasticity of the dough, to the way the oven works to pull out moisture and create the perfect crust.
Chef Driessens fielded questions about the best pizza stones to use in our own ovens, to storage methods of ingredients and the correct knives to use on romaine lettuce to avoid the rusty look. I watched in fascination as he demonstrated his knowledge and expertise all the while whisking up a fantastic dressing, flipped out perfectly round pizza dough and created a masterpiece for us all to envy as we tried to re-create his instructions.
Later, as we all chatted over our beautiful pizza pies, I watched as Chef “took the room.” He chatted with the biologists about his love for cars and all things fast. How his profession, that he loved, really fueled his hobby and first love of cars. He detailed the benefits of Arizona Restaurant Week to the couple across from us. And spoke like a true professional about all the courses offered at the Classic Cooking Academy.
As I looked across at “my beloved teacher,” Keith, I saw his beaming face.
For a teacher, despite not knowing it at the time, despite thinking this long-haired, large attitude kid was not learning, there was a passion and a drive (pun-intended) that was at work behind the scenes of the school house walls.
I thought of all those teachers I had growing up who saw me for who I was, not just a number, a seat in second hour, or a grade in their roster. I thought of the teachers that took the time to find out about me and encourage me in that direction.
I wondered about all the teachers in Chef Driessens life that got him to where he was this day.
In the span of a few hours, I witnessed the teacher become student and student become teacher. I learned not only how to utilize centrifugal force to flatten and stretch the perfect pizza dough, how to make fresh mayonnaise and fresh Caesar salad dressing, but also that not everything that is learned is taught in school, but rather taught by people who care.
Teachers be encouraged, don’t give up on students. And students, be encouraged, don’t give up on your teachers.