It’s a mac and cheese kind of day

It’s a mac and cheese kind of day

I was talking to my mom about grad school and all the work I had left to do today. And she said: “Sometimes it’s a cordon bleu kind of day, and sometimes it’s a mac and cheese kind of day.” In other words, sometimes you can accomplish amazing things, and sometimes you just have to do small things. Today is a mac and cheese kind of day. But who knows, maybe tomorrow there will be cordon bleu.

I switched fields two years ago for a number of reasons. I have always been drawn towards teaching and mentoring. I think everyone should have access to good education. I don’t think education should be limited to those who can afford to pay for it, and I really don’t like the phrase: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

So I found myself switching from engineering to engineering education. And I love it. I learned about several learning theories, reflected on my own educational experience, and tried out new ideas in my classroom. I don’t need to change the world. I am happy if I can make things better for a few people, if I can inspire a few people.

What I would love to do is help change the culture of engineering education and the culture of higher education more broadly.

But I am just one person from a small town in Colorado. As I read Parker Palmer’s  A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, I found myself thinking “well what could that one person have done?” Palmer described a case study from the medical field where a patient dies unexpectedly after an uneventful liver transplant. An overworked resident with very little experience as a resident was on staff at the time. My thought process as I read this case study was: What could the resident do? They were being forced to work long hours (that is what residents have to do, after all). And so on.

But then Palmer when on to say the resident in this case study could help change the institution instead of merely operating within the institution. At this point, my mind started to go off in a million different directions. Palmer then says:

The hidden curriculum of our culture portrays institutions as powers other than us, over which we have marginal control at best—powers that will harm us if we cross them. But while we may find ourselves marginalized or dismissed for calling institutions to account, they are neither other than us nor alien to us: institutions are us.

Institutions are us. Institutions are social constructions (I even talked about this in my constructivism class but it hadn’t really sunk in yet I guess). Institutions can change. But they first need to be questioned.

A lot of engineering and engineering education is about questioning and changing things and making things better. As I mentioned earlier, I am perfectly content making small changes and small improvements. But what if small improvements could lead to big changes? What if I (and other educators) could help change the culture of engineering?

Who’s with me! Cordon bleu anyone?

8 thoughts on “It’s a mac and cheese kind of day

  1. I’m with you Amy! I love the quote from your mother too! She is so right that we may not able to do amazing things each time we set ourselves into motion. I do believe that small things can have big impacts in the lives of others. Just by doing something small, it can create a long-lasting and far-reaching effect. One person may not make the biggest difference, but that one person can be the catalyst to encourage and inspire others. Keep on being that person in the engineering world and you will see that ripple become a tidal wave!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Karen! I think you make a really great point that we don’t always see the full impact of things. But we all can do things that have those far-reaching effects!

  2. Amy thanks for the post! I really like that you emphasized that small contributions could lead to bigger changes. Working towards Cordon Bleu days but, having Mac and Cheese most days will pay off in the long run. The impact you have on a few of your engineering students could be passed along and have a much larger effect than you may think.

  3. I love Cordon Bleu, sadly I have mac and cheese more often. That is just reality of my life right now. However, thinking about this and the quote you pulled about institutions reminds me that even when it is difficult to make a difference, it is always worth it. Thanks!

  4. I think that, from the students’ perspective, teaching is a long series of small changes. Students rarely leave a class saying, “That changed my life and nothing will ever be the same!” But someone I saw in office hours today might say, “Huh, I actually understood all of that. I thought I was bad at this class, but maybe I’m getting better,” and that change in outlook could help their final grade. Or “The professor/GT A makes this sound really interesting! Maybe I should consider a career in this direction.”

    My point is, we sometimes have mac and cheese kind of days, but enough of those little changes can build up into a great big cordon bleu (and I think I just broke the metaphor).

    1. Great points! I definitely agree that learning, as well as teaching, can be viewed as a long series of small changes. Thanks for pointing out the student perspective!

  5. You don’t need cordon bleu to make an amazing impact. A well made flavorful mac and cheese is more than enough any day of the week. I think that if we do our job to the best of our abilities and we keep improving our recipe, we will be great!

  6. Ok, there’s so much here to like….but I’ll pick the low hanging fruit and affirm that the mac and cheese days are fine. Just finished mine as I’m getting ready for class this evening. As long as you keep your beacon in front of you (or at least in your mind’s eye), the cumulative effect of those mac and cheese days is indeed cordon bleu.

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