World Teachers’ Day, held annually on October 5th since 1994, commemorates teachers and teachers’ organizations worldwide. Its aim is to mobilize support for teachers and to ensure that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers. This year’s slogan, “A Call for Teachers” focuses on the critical shortage of qualified teachers worldwide.
This celebration has a special resonance for me. From the age of 5 until I retired 3 years ago, not a year passed when I was not either a student or a teacher (sometimes both). I have been through all levels of education from kindergarten to Ph.D., and I have taught students from primary grades to graduate work. In addition I home schooled my son from 6th to 12th grades. Furthermore, my father, mother, and elder sister were all teachers, as is my son now. I think it’s fair to say that I know a little something about teaching. (Incidentally, it’s not a genetic condition!)
Here’s my teacher family:
I would like to give every reader of this blog a challenge, the same challenge I quite often issued my students over the years, namely, if there is a teacher who changed your life in some way, write, call, email . . . whatever, TODAY and say “thank you.” I guarantee you have no idea what joy you will bring to that person. I started doing this myself about 20 years ago when some of my former teachers were getting a bit long in the tooth. I am glad I did, though, because almost all of them have since passed on. How else would they have known the profound impact they had on me?
As a small indulgence I am going to take this opportunity to talk a little about five teachers who I remember fondly for one reason or another. This little exercise is mostly to demonstrate what I think good teaching is all about.
Mrs Huggle. What a great name. (The caretaker of the school was Mr Coalstick – I swear I am not making this up). Mrs Huggle was my first teacher ever, at Roselands Infant school in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. I don’t remember her terribly well, but I remember the first day vividly. I was dreadfully afraid. My mum took me directly to my classroom where Mrs Huggle sat in splendor. She was an ample woman, probably my granny’s age. I really have no idea. She was definitely not one of the young teachers. She wore a flowing black dress with her hair in a bun – normal 50’s style. She had a crying child on each knee, but was all smiles as she greeted us. Around her swirled benign chaos as the newcomers found things to amuse themselves. Mrs Huggle was not fazed in the slightest; she just let it all flow over her. The minute I met her my fears vanished. She welcomed me, gave me a piece of chalk and suggested I draw on the blackboard along with three or four others. My first impression of school was that it was a warm place full of fun, thanks in great part to Mrs Huggle.
Here I am (top left) at Roselands. Start of an illustrious life of cooking:
Mrs Murphy. After Roselands my family emigrated to Gawler, South Australia where I was enrolled in Gawler Primary School, something of a Dickensian nightmare in many ways. My Grade 4 teacher was Mrs Murphy. For reasons I never understood, Grades 4 and 6 at Gawler Primary were segregated into one boys’ and one girls’ class. I can’t imagine that a class of more than thirty 9 year-old Aussie farm boys was a plum assignment, but Mrs Murphy was up to the task. When I was doing my teacher training the golden rule of good teaching was the “3 F’s” – Friendly, Firm, and Fair. Mrs Murphy embodied those principles perfectly and we all loved her for it. We got Firm, but without the Friendly and Fair in most other grades. From Mrs Murphy we got the whole package. Over 50 years later I can still conjure an image of her smiling face, as well as the not-so-smiling face I invoked on occasion. I honestly cannot recall a single day in her class I did not enjoy, and I have an excellent memory.
John Pearce. When I was 15 my family returned to England and I was enrolled at Burnham Grammar School (in south Buckinghamshire). In the 4th form (9th grade) I had John Pearce for English. John Pearce was, and is, my all time favorite teacher, and we are still in touch. A simple paragraph cannot begin to summarize my admiration for the man. Although he had no more than a B.A. he was a scholar, and by the end of his career had several notable publications to his name. What was so amazing about him was that he introduced us, mere 15 year olds, to current scholarship – work normally studied by postgraduate students. He taught us, for example, about the composition of acting companies in Shakespeare’s day and how this affected the dramatic structure of the plays. One critical issue concerned the limited number of actors in the companies (for financial reasons), usually about 8 principles, 4 boys, and 8 apprentices. Thus, most actors had to play 2, sometimes 3, parts in the same play. As an exercise he had us all cast Hamlet for a Shakespearean company by charting the appearances of every character scene by scene, noting which ones never coincided, and doubling them up for one actor. I remember him calling my doubling of Claudius and the Ghost “a daring move.” But I remember him most for his drive to make me a better writer with his tireless, in-depth critiques. I rarely received an alpha for my work (he used Greek letters for grades), and I never attained the ultimate prize – “alpha distinction” (a large alpha with “D” inscribed inside). He ALWAYS pushed me to do better. Even today when I write emails to him I quadruple check all punctuation, spelling, phrasing, and, especially, word choice.
Here I am as Orsino in the school’s rendition of Twelfth Night. In those days we did a Shakespeare every year.
Leslie Ashford. Leslie Ashford was the headmaster of Burnham Grammar School and had studied history at Cambridge University. He taught me modern English history in the fifth form. His very first lesson will live with me forever. We had studied the Industrial Revolution the year below and so he began by seeing what we had learnt. Opening question “What were the causes of the Industrial Revolution in Britain?” We all thought this was an easy one; it was a favorite question in one form or another on the public exam we had to sit that year. We had all memorized lists of “causes” such as “abundance of coal and iron deposits,” “wave of inventors” (my current favorite for sheer stupidity), “increase in cheap labor force,” and so forth. We all put our hands up, eager to show we knew the answers, but he shot each answer down. “Hadn’t the coal and iron always been there?” “Aren’t there smart people in every generation?” “Did the cheap labor force magically appear?” I trace my lifelong professional interest in historical questions to that single class. He taught me that the only historical question worth asking is “Why?” and that the answers are never simple nor easily found.
Andrew Panton. In the sixth form we had to specialize in three subjects in preparation for university. I signed on for Latin, Greek, and Modern History. My history master was Andrew Panton, newly graduated from Oxford – a bit wet round the ears as a teacher, but crack up to the minute on the latest research. When he learnt that I was the only classics student in the school he took it upon himself to offer to tutor me, one-on-one, in Ancient History in his free periods. When I decided to sit the entrance exams for Oxford University he personally coached me after school. He was completely dedicated to my success by teaching me the study habits and critical thinking skills of an undergraduate, and he got no additional compensation from the school for any of the work he did with me. As a small aside, he married one of my class mates, a slightly flaky girl named Bridget Jones – I swear, I am not making this up.
I have had many other teachers, of course, each teaching me something, if only what NOT to do in the classroom. But these five taught me core values that I have tried to emulate with my students, which I can summarize as “be caring, smart, passionate, critical, dedicated, and respectful – and make them work their tails off.” In return I will end by saying that I have been blessed over the years with exceptional students. They have made me work my tail off too, and I was a better teacher because of them.
I used to be able to find some excuse to combine my passions and give a cooking lesson in one of my university classes. This image is from a lesson of mine concerning the making of apple crumble (see post Sept. 18 ) given to my Anthropological Fieldwork Methods class. Over the years I taught students how to make cock-a-leekie soup, eggplant parmesan, Javanese soto ayam (my favorite soup of all time), and English pancakes, to name a few.
I am not going to give you a recipe today. Instead I am going to teach you some things I have learnt by experiment over the years about the onion family rather like I would tutor you for an upcoming test. This is not an exhaustive list by any means.
Tío Juan’s Onion Family Tips
1 .The onion family (genus Allium) has many brothers and sisters, many of which are under-used in home cooking. Learn about ALL of them and don’t be afraid to change one for another in a recipe. My commonest substitution is to use leeks in place of onions. But you can also use caramelized scallions in place of onions in stews.
2. Use chives more often. They are a perennial that quickly spread and provide years of enjoyment in the garden as well as the kitchen because of their profuse flowers in the border. I use them most commonly in egg dishes and salads, as well as a soup garnish. They come in several varieties, including garlic chives and Chinese chives, each with distinctive flavors that enhance soups, stir fries, and salads. Don’t forget, too, that the flowers are edible. They make a colorful and delicately pungent addition to a green salad.
3. Onions change flavors dramatically depending on how they are cooked. I tend to distinguish four categories – raw, translucent, amber, and dark. Each imparts a different flavor to a dish. I use a very fine dice of raw onions in soups and stews sometimes, added almost at the last minute. You will be amazed at how much this brightens up the flavors. A SE Asian favorite is to deep fry onion threads until they are dark and crisp. Drained and dried of excess oil they will keep in an airtight container for weeks. They are marvelous sprinkled over rice or curries.
4. Shallots tend often to be forgotten, perhaps because many cooks do not know what they are or because they are expensive. They look like small, brown-skinned onions shaped much like big garlic cloves. To my mind their best uses are raw, finely chopped in salads, or deep fried in thin slices to a crisp golden and used as a garnish for beef stews.
5. Use leeks more. Try buttered leeks as a bed for fish. Slice both the green and white parts thinly on the diagonal. Melt a generous amount of butter in a heavy skillet and cook the leeks on a very slow flame for 15 to 20 minutes. Plain poached leeks, cut into big rounds, make an excellent accompaniment for any meat dish. Put a few, cut into 4” lengths (white part), into the roasting pan along with whatever else you are roasting. Onions are great roasted this way too. A whole head of garlic roasted makes a delicious spread for toasted bread.
6. All of the onion family (with the exception of leeks) are dead easy to grow. Even if all you have is a sunny balcony, pot up some chives at the very least. If you have a garden plot always devote a patch to onions. They can be eaten at all stages from spring onions to full matured bulbs. Garden onions cannot be rivaled in cooking.