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Is Teaching Culinary Arts In High School The Right Career For You?

Updated on June 28, 2009

Is Teaching Culinary Arts In High School For You?

Is teaching Culinary Arts in a vocational high school the right career move for you? Many professional chefs and restaurant owners consider teaching culinary as a way to leverage their skills and experience, yet work a more reasonable schedule.

I recently had a chance to interview an experienced Culinary Arts Teacher at a vocational high school in Massachusetts. Since they encourage teachers not to be active online, he prefers to remain anonymous.

Here's a summary of our interview and the key questions and answers to help you determine if teaching culinary arts in high school is right for you.

Why did you decide to become a culinary arts teacher at a vocational high school?

I was a professional chef for 17 years, working in and owning restaurants- and was working 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year. I wanted to find a way to use my skills and interest in culinary arts, work a better schedule and be in a job that let me help others and “give back”.

I knew that I enjoyed teaching because I’d been a martial arts instructor for more than 15 years.

Johnson & Wales Culinary University

What type of training, education or certification do you need to become a culinary arts instructor at a vocational high school?

To become a Culinary Arts teacher at a vocational high school in Massachusetts you need a minimum of 6 years of experience in the field and a vocational license from the state. The vocational test itself costs $300 and has two parts; a written exam and a practical culinary exam where you have to demonstrate your cooking skills.

When you pass the initial test, you receive a three year Provisional License. During those three years you are required to get 39 vocational credits through courses offered through the school system. Assuming you successfully complete your credits and three years of teaching, you receive your Professional License.

You don’t have to have a college degree, but most teachers do because having one pushes you higher in the salary grades and helps to set you apart from other’s interviewing for similar positions. A number of years back, I received an Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales Culinary Institute in R.I. I am in the process of getting my Bachelor’s Degree.

Culinary Arts Instructor
Culinary Arts Instructor

Tell me more about the Culinary High School program. What's included?

Students in their first year start with basic safety skills, ServeSafe certification and cooking equipment identification. We cover every food group in depth from meat, seafood and poultry through fruits and vegetables.

The culinary curriculum itself is about 30% classroom, 70% practical. The practical side includes time spent in a traditional kitchen and the bake shop. Over time, students learn full hospitality and restaurant management including menu building and cost control.

Culinary instructors are also required to incorporate English, math and science into their culinary lesson plans.

What do you enjoy most about teaching culinary arts?

When I see students engaged and learning, it’s very rewarding.

The hours are fantastic. During the school year I usually work from 7AM to 3PM. Teachers get all the school holidays and scheduled vacations off. Plus, we have summers off.

Although there is a specific teaching framework and culinary budget, you have a lot of freedom to teach what you want and cook what you want.

What are the negatives or challenges about teaching culinary in a high school?

As you can probably guess, some high school students can be very challenging. Mood swings, drama, disrespect, lack of interest. I’ve had to deal with some very challenging situations.

I’ve also found that students have more rights than teachers do. I think the school administrators are so worried about being sued they err too much on the side of the students.

Teaching Don'ts Directly From Hell's Kitchen

What is the average salary for a Culinary Arts, high school teacher?

In Massachusetts, the average salary is around $50,000. Experienced teachers with advanced degrees can earn in the $80s.

From what I’ve read, the highest paying high schools for culinary arts are located in Connecticut.

Anything else an aspiring Culinary teacher should know?

Sure.. Here are a few additional FYIs.

  • Although it’s a vocational high school there are still a number of special needs kids in your classes.
  • You need to be prepared to stay after school to meet with students, as needed.
  • There is a lot of paperwork you need to complete for your lesson plans.
  • Teachers and students are required to wear a culinary uniform every day, hats in shop and gloves during food service.

I hope this interview was helpful in your quest to determine if being a Culinary Arts Instructor in a vocational high school is the right career move for you.

Copyright 2009, M. Reynolds, All Rights Reserved

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    • profile image

      Chef W. 8 years ago

      So true about teachers not getting the same rights as the students. Good job.

    • profile image

      blackjack10 8 years ago

      i was thinking of changing professions and this info is very helpful. thanks !!!

    • profile image

      Minga 8 years ago

      This was very interesting and informative. I have experience as a high school teacher, and a lot of the issues addressed could apply to other subjects as well. Very good article!

    • profile image

      chefcnap 8 years ago

      I was an instructor in Plymouth MA for 7 years, I loved it! I would like to teach again!!

    • profile image

      Matt 7 years ago

      Chef cnap from plymouth, late 80'searly 90's I was a student/ went to the CIA because of you

    • profile image

      beechcoma 7 years ago

      Napurano...the students signed a partition to have you removed from the building...because you were not a very nice guy.. but that's NOT why they let you go..you said you were "railroaded". and the one that replaced you...is still there to this DAY. I learned a lot from you over the years ...for what not to become like.......

    • profile image

      chef syed abdul attique 6 years ago

      Education is the investment in the next generation of a country.I love to teach culinary arts because its not like the other regular courses.Culinary arts ever evolving and creative only one needs to attempt it.The appreciation from the students always keeps the teacher going ahead and doing much greater things.

      Chef Syed Abdul Attique

      Chef Instructor

      Culinary Academy of India

    • profile image

      Valarie  6 years ago

      I have a background in culinary, and have taught at the high school level also. Now I am in grad school, in a educaitons program for secondary Ed. Anyone ideas of how to find a job teaching again, in the Culinary field? Valmar32@aol.com

    • talfonso profile image

      talfonso 6 years ago from Tampa Bay, FL

      Great interview - I went to a high school where it offers a culinary arts class and loved it! Will go to a vocational college soon!

    • profile image

      kim 6 years ago

      thanks, this really pushes me to become this, what school did you go to for college because its very diffucult to choose the right one, please help

    • profile image

      ajith perera 6 years ago

      look for place to be culinary art instructor

    • profile image

      Mike Toupouzis 5 years ago

      Great information up until now i was unable to even get this info.Great !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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