The Challenges of Teaching and a Shrimp Pasta Alfredo Candle

In 1914, Chef  Alfredo di Lelio created Pasta Alfredo to serve in Rome at his restaurant, Alfredo’s. An Alfredo Sauce is a derivative of a Bechamel mother sauce. Bechamel is made by lightly heating a roux of flour and fat (usually butter) prior to stirring in milk. The sauce is very bland but can be used to make any number of derivative sauces.

Bechamel Sauce produced by one of my Culinary Arts 1 classes

At school my Culinary Arts I students learn to produce all five of the mother sauces i.e. Bechamel, Tomato, Brown, Veloute, and Hollandaise. With the exception of Hollandaise after making each sauce, we usually make at least one derivative.

Since a Bechamel is cheap and easy to produce, we typically add cheese to make a derivative sauce for macaroni and cheese. To watch a YouTube culinary production demonstration film that I made for my students on how to do this, click here. We have also made an Alfredo Sauce by adding heavy cream, garlic, and Parmesan cheese to the Bechamel.

The original Italian recipe did not use heavy cream. Since the quality of our butter and Parmesan cheese in the United States is less rich compared to similar products made in Italy, American chefs have had to compensate for this by adding heavy cream or half and half.

Having received a fresh supply of garlic fragrance oil, butter cream, and cheese aromas, I decided to blend them to produce the Pasta Alfredo candle pictured below. To make it more visually interesting, I added shrimp, an asparagus tip, and a garnish of minced green onions. I also added some freshly ground (real) black pepper.

As with the spaghetti and pizza candle, the spaghetti with garlic bread, and the lasagna candles, the Shrimp Pasta Alfredo candle was a production design model that I produced just to see if I could do it. Although the test model will likely be sold once my e-commerce store is operational, I am uncertain as to whether or not I will ever make any more.

The problem in this case isn’t that this candle was particularly difficult to make. The problem is that I’ve created production designs for so many candles that I can’t possibly continue making all of them. Part of the issue involves space. I only have a limited amount of space in the kitchen for the wax filled molds to dry. Insofar as what I do is as much of a craft as it is a skill, I am limited to only producing a few candles each day.

Whereas a typical candle maker who produces container or pillar candles simply has to melt, scent, color, and pour a wax into prepared containers, I have to carefully combine component parts so that the additions look natural. Since all of this has to be done by hand, no two candles I make will ever be precisely alike. Some of the candles also need to be painted. Hand crafting a candle takes time and with the summer coming to a close, the time available for making candles will soon be restricted to just nights and weekends.

If I could, I would rather make candles than teach Culinary Arts. Although I enjoy the culinary aspect of what I do, teaching high school students at a Title I (Federally funded low income) school can be challenging.

While some students are eager to learn what I have to teach, others have personal issues that interfere with their ability to learn. Some are in foster care and are understandably upset about their circumstances. Others are homeless. Given all of the hype we hear from politicians on both sides of the aisle about how great and powerful our country is, I think it’s outrageous that any American should be homeless. If we have billions to spend on our military, how is it possible that programs for providing low cost housing is persistently underfunded? While adults are responsible for the decisions they’ve made in life, children are dependent upon their parents for their support. The idea that some children are homeless is absolutely repugnant to me.

Some of the children are also abused or neglected. Although teachers have a legal duty to report any suspected abuse, it can be challenging to identify who these students are. Getting the help these students need can also be an exercise in frustration.

Many years ago while working as an elementary teacher in Texas, one of my fourth grade students came to school with bruises up and down his forearms. Per state law, I reported the matter both to my school administration and to Child Protective Services.

I don’t know what happened to the child but he was gone the next day. His father withdrew him from school. When I called Child Protective Services to speak with the student’s case worker, I was told that the social worker had called the parent to ask if he was abusing his son. The father denied having done anything and withdrew his child from school. The idiot case worker who should have gone to the boy’s house in person (with the police) to investigate an allegation of physical abuse metaphorically shrugged his shoulders and closed the file. He didn’t know the child. The kid was just a case number to him. In the years that have passed, I have often wondered about what happened to this student and how he has fared as an adult.

When students don’t get the care, supervision, and guidance that they need at home, a lot of them will act out at school. They won’t work on assignments. They talk back. They scream and curse and become disruptive. I’ve even had students vandalize the kitchen by ripping off the control knobs on a stove, upending one pound containers of spices to spill the contents onto the floor, and throwing tools across the kitchen.

Since I teach at a public school, our school is required to teach everyone regardless of whether or not they want to learn. It doesn’t help that I’m autistic and am limited in my ability to interact with others outside my fields of interest and expertise.

Although I thought that life would be easier teaching virtually since our school was closed to in-person instruction for 3/4th’s of the previous year during the on-going Covid pandemic, reality proved me wrong. Most of my students ditched my class. Most of these students also failed to do a single assignment or to take a single quiz or test.

During teacher appreciation week, my supervising administrator railed on me for the high rate of absenteeism and failure in all of my culinary classes. Although he demanded that I give each student a 10 point “curve”, I refused to do this. Since our school won’t let us give grades below a 50/F, raising all grades by 10 points would have passed all students including everyone who hadn’t done a single assignment throughout the year.

The assistant principal subsequently called me “unprofessional.” He reprimanded me for not being a team player and suggested that the reason my attendance rates and passing rates were so low was because my students didn’t like me. He suggested that I have a personality makeover and that I make an effort to be more personable.

Since I’m autistic, I’m already working at the limits of my ability in terms of interpersonal communication. I immediately submitted a written complaint to the principal. After a week passed without a reply, I complained to both the union and to the superintendent’s office to allege that the assistant principal’s conduct was unprofessional and that he was creating a hostile work environment in violation of my rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations.”

I don’t think that screaming insults was professional or reasonable. While the union has told me that privacy and confidentiality requirements prohibit them from telling me what will happen to the assistant principal, they have told me that I was not alone and that many teachers from my school have filed similar complaints about harassment and unprofessional conduct. The principal has since contacted me to tell me that she’s aware of the problem. She did not say anything about what might be done.

I am due to report back to work starting on Wednesday, August 4th. For the first time in 31 years of teaching, I am not looking forward to returning to work. I have asked that the AP be removed as my supervising administrator. While the district’s office of accommodations and compliance have talked the principal into letting me virtually attend the first day’s back to school all day faculty meeting, I don’t know if she will actually remember to do this.

Given how we spent most of last school year teaching virtually, most of my culinary students are deficient in the skills they would have developed if they had been in the kitchen. Although I provided recipes and links to instructional videos so that students could work at producing food at home, most of them didn’t do this. Most students also didn’t do any of the alternative written assignments.

Those students who technically passed from Culinary I to Culinary II or from II to III will not have the actual hands-on skills that they should have had. I will have to spend most of the first semester in remediation to help the students develop the skills they should have had at the start of the coming year.

Since the principal has decided to transition from having a 54 minute period schedule to a 90 minute block schedule, I have no idea of what this will actually look like or how manageable the students are likely to be. Given the fact that some students will stay with virtual instruction, all teachers will have additional planning to do since we’ll be responsible for in-person instruction as well as virtual instruction.

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