SFBI Artisan I - My Workshop Evaluation
Workshop: Artisan I, May 2009
This is a well-rounded program covering the art of bread making. Some people in the class were professional bakers and some of us were home bakers. I found that even though there were two groups with different levels of expertise in the class, the course was targeted to those with more experience, thus creating tension for those of us that didn't fully understand all of the information being presented.
Both the classroom and lab were appropriate and very nicely set-up. The TV monitor in the classroom was installed off to one side of the room making it difficult to see and read the PowerPoint Slideshow from the other side. The curriculum was pretty complete, even though some topics were not discussed in depth in the classroom so that a clear understanding of the procedure was reached before going in the lab and doing the work.
Once in the lab, we were pretty much following the instructor's directions as to when to hold water from the mix, switch to 2nd. speed, stop mixing, do folds, without an adequate explanation from him about what was happening to the dough at those particular moments in order to make those decisions. Even after taking the class I still don't know what to look for in the dough to make some of those decisions! Pre-shaping and shaping techniques were covered in the lab in a fairly quick and short demonstration, and the little information in our binders covering that information was insufficient. Instead, we were expected to take notes and make sketches during the lab demonstrations making it difficult to pay full attention to what was being shown. In the lab, the instructor wasn't mindful to speak up loudly enough during the demonstrations or ask students to keep conversations to a minimum, making it very difficult at times to hear what was being said.
The instructor knew the curriculum very well. Unfortunately he didn't convey the information clearly and effectively. Even though the curriculum was well-organized, the instructor's teaching style wasn't because he kept jumping forwards and backwards throughout the information in our binder during the class.
On day four I made a suggestion about his presentation and his response in front of the whole class was to just say "whatever". Frankly, I found his dismissive response insulting, disrespectful, and inappropriate for a learning setting, and it clearly reflected poorly on him and on the SFBI. At that point I realized he lacked the capacity, sophistication, sensibility, and sensitivity to properly communicate to the diversity of his students.
There were other times when I asked him a question and he would plainly ignore me and walk away from me as I was talking. It was hard for me not to take this personally but I have come to understand that he wasn't capable of simply saying "this isn't a good time for me, could you please ask me later". Thus when it came to asking questions, which I certainly did, my impression was that questions were not welcomed. And when he did answer questions his answers were sometimes inconsistent, creating more confusion and thus the need to ask a further question.
I had the impression that the group would have really enjoyed getting to know him had he joined the group at the lunch table even for a few minutes at any one point during the course of the week and this in turn would have allowed him to genuinely find out more about his students and their interests.
Schedule & Pace
The schedule was heavily packed and the pace was fast and demanding. However, all of it was achievable and very close to what you would find in a professional setting, which was great. Even though I had never made more than a loaf at a time and it would take me practically all day to make it, here we were making in excess of 25 loaves in a day out of 5 different mixes.
Balance of Time
The amount of class time, lab observation, and lab action was fairly well balanced, with the exception of those topics that were only covered in lab and not in class and vice-versa.
What, if anything, should we add to the curriculum?
More time discussing and practicing Baker's Percentages, probably from day one of the workshop. Ten minutes covering this subject and one example on the last day of class it's not sufficient amount of time spent on this topic to fully comprehend it and to feel that you can leave the classroom and do it at home.
Was the SFBI staff helpful to you? What else could we do to give you the best possible experience?
Yes, most of the staff was very helpful, friendly, and approachable, in particular Mr. Suas, the other instructors, and the people that ran the kitchen. Also the students doing the 18-week professional training program were very nice and willing to share their experiences at the SFBI. I did notice that even though the staff was very nice and helpful, they kept to themselves and seemed somewhat reserved when it came to interacting with the students especially in the dining area. It would have been nice to see the staff, including Mr. Suas and the instructor, sit with the students during lunch at least once during our week-stay at the SFBI.
What additional workshops or events would you like to see at SFBI?
More two-day workshops. Possible topics: Pizzas, Operating a small baking business.
What was your favorite thing about studying at SFBI?
Meeting the different, interesting, and diverse people who have a similar passion when it comes to baking as I do. Not to mention the wonderful breads we got to make, taste, and take home at the end of each day.
Taking this workshop at the SFBI was certainly a worthwhile experience for me. Mr. Suas, President of the SFBI, has put together a wonderful place for people from many walks of life and backgrounds to come together and learn the ins and outs of baking. And even though I wish I would have left at the end of the week feeling that I understood fully the curriculum I signed-up for, this experience has offered me the opportunity to learn about many aspects of baking that I hadn't even considered. Unfortunately because of the personalities involved in the process my experience was somewhat bitter-sweet. I would definitely consider taking other workshops offered at the SFBI. However, I feel that I could only do this when the points that I'm raising here have been acknowledged and addressed to ensure all students are made feel welcomed and encouraged to ask questions in a learning environment that promotes dignity and respect.
The reason I emailed this evaluation is that under these circumstances and given my personal experience I knew it would take me more than 5 minutes, rushed at the end of the long 5-day class, to fairly and objectively critique the class and the instruction. Furthermore, hearing the instructor say jokingly, though unprofessionally, that he would look through the evaluation forms and any that weren't "good" wouldn't make it to Mr. Suas, made me feel uneasy about taking the time to fill it out right there and then, and just turn it in at the end of the class.