Savoriesnsweets’ Blog

How Important are Grades Really?

Posted on: June 11, 2009

grdsAs a student, at every level of my education, I always end up asking myself this question.  A lot of times it makes sense that there would be a high correlation between grades and success in your future endeavors.  For example, if you’re doing pre-med courses or if you’re on the way toward a doctoral program in a different area.  Inevitably, I have come to ask myself this question as I got my grades for mod 2 last night.

I knew I did well on my quizzes and written exam, both A’s.  I also knew I had an A- on my pracitcal exam.  Chef had said I basically served a raw vegetable and didn’t serve enough sauce with my steak.  I had expected a lower grade for serving a RAW component, but fine, I’ll take an A-.  But then there’s the performance grade.  And this is a whole other thing.

In most other courses of study performance/participation is usually just a fluff grade, maybe something that can only really hurt you if you’re absent a lot or if you just basically show up and do absolutely nothing.  When I was teaching, this was the grade we used to bump up students who had good attendance, were never (or almost never) a behavior issue and made a good effort at the tasks presented.  In culinary school, this is how they assess how prepared you are for class, how well you do your knife drills, how well you cook and how you chip in to clean things up at the end of class.  I actively participated, I cooked, I cut, I cleaned and I asked questions and all this merited a B+.  The interesting thing is that everyone’s grade seemed very arbitrary.   For example, another student told me she got an A-, even though she didn’t see that she & I did anything in particularly different.  Could it be that I had one absence this mod?  One that I told, was excused since I had a family member in hospital.  Then I heard that another student, who had more absences than me, also did well on participation.  And I also heard that another student, who actually challenged the chef because we were not fulfilling all the lesson objectives, got a lower grade than I did.  He didn’t even want to say what he got, but he did know exactly why he got it. We all suspected things were not quite right with this instructor and the proof is not only in our inconsistent grades, but also in our bad technique.

Yes, that’s right.  We realized that we have developed bad technique.  Chef had us make a wild mushroom risotto.  I was excited, since I LOVE risotto and never really make it at home since I don’t have good stock.  Chef had us mise en place everything and gather small pots for every stove.  As our risotto was coming up, we all presented our dishes to the chef who wanted to taste them all for doneness.  This seemed appropriate, of course.  As he tasted all of our dishes, he had a critique of each one–a bad critique.  They were all either too dry, not creamy enough, not cooked well, over done, over seasoned, under seasoned etc.  Now, chef has been sick lately with some kind of bad bronchitis, so this can affect his tasting as well as his demeanor. (He was more ornery than usual.)  But the fact that we ALL made bad risotto led us all to think that we just hadn’t learned how to make it correctly.  He then asked the class if the previous chef showed us how to make it and what she told us to do.  When we told him she had us use a saute pan, he immediately said it was incorrect and of course, he seemed annoyed.  We proceeded to make the rest of our dishes for the night. After class however, as we were discussing the grades, we also began to realize that maybe we just didn’t learn as much as we should have from our previous chef and that maybe we’ll have a lot of catching up to do.

In other news, we were also given contacts for starting our externship search.  Although I’m in the culinary arts program, I’ve realize that I’d really much more prefer working in pastry.  Yes, I know it’s a stereotype–women in pastry.  But the nice thing about pastry is that it’s orderly and structured.  After contacting a few places, I finally was able to trail at one lovely Italian restaurant working in their pastry kitchen.  For those of you who are not familiar with the process, trailing is when you work a shift in a restaurant, for free, as an interview where you and the chef decide if you are a good fit for the team.  After this one trail, I have managed to find a place where I think I will fit in and that I will like and I will be starting there next week as a pastry extern!  I’m excited to finally be working in something I’ve always loved to do!! 🙂

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2 Responses to "How Important are Grades Really?"

grades are a measure. in an ideal world, they would be a perfect measurement and assessment of how well you are doing in a particular role, or how well you’ve learned a subject. but i find that grades, like reviews at work, are subjective and somewhat arbitrary. you can work your butt off and personally know you’ve tried very hard and went above and beyond and still get a mediocre result while someone else who you felt did only half as much or tried half as hard gets a better grade. why? who knows.

but congrats on getting to be an extern in pastry!! it’s your calling!! it’s only a skip away from the challenges on food network 🙂 or ace of cakes! 😎 that sounds so very exciting – i can’t wait to hear more about the behind the scenes stuff – which resto is this? 😉

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