Sunday, October 10, 2010

Teaching and Donuts

Carpe Donut Mobile Donut Shop
I had the most unusual experience at a wedding this weekend.  Instead of a cake, the bride and groom rented a "donut trailer" from Carpe Donut.  For several hours, guests were able to have a cup of coffee and enjoy all the sugary freshly made donuts they wanted.  Almost as enjoyable as the donuts was the friendly banter of the "donut chef"/owner Matt Rohdie and the sight of this donut shop on wheels.  For a time in Charlottesville, we had the opportunity to watch the freshly made donuts rolling down the assembly line of the local Krispy Kreme, but something about this outfit is special.  It is surprising and it is novel, but more importantly, the owner appears to be a true craftsman.  The company is committed to organic and local ingredients, the oil used to fry the donuts is converted to biofuel when it is no longer useful for cooking, and there is complete transparency in the production; you can watch everything being made from start to finish.

So what does this have to do with teaching?  We claim that teaching is an art.  Compare the description of Carpe Donut above to stopping in the supermarket or local Dunkin Donuts and picking out a dozen assorted donuts.  Clearly, anyone can make donuts.  It has been reduced to a science.  Donuts can be mass produced and shipped anywhere, and probably bought cheaper than you could get Carpe Donut to set up shop.  But why would you choose that when you could choose art?

What do we do in our teaching to make the experience, well, just that, an experience?  The art of teaching involves more than just following the curriculum and producing results.  Teaching is a craft that requires the flexibility of this donut shop, we must be able to set up shop in any location and practice our art.  Our ability to influence a student doesn't come off a shelf, sold by the dozen, but it comes in our ability to show each person that we care enough about them to understand their individual needs.  Teachers are individuals with varied strengths and weaknesses, and part of our art is learning to shine through our strength without letting the weakness bring us down.

Ultimately, the owner of Carpe Donut could have chosen to buy or lease a storefront, set up a kitchen in the back, and hire others to sell generic assembly line donuts.  But he didn't.  Everything above this is art-- the unique store, the attention to responsibility, and the personal and friendly connection with the customer.  There is a basic process to making a donut and anyone can do it.  Likewise, there is a basic process to teaching, and most anyone can do it.  Everything else is art.  A gift that you give to your students, your school and your community.  It is a gift that will return itself to you through the satisfaction of knowing that now, you have begun to make a difference.

I didn't request permission to use the photo above, and I did not let the owner of Carpe Donut know that I wrote this piece ahead of time.  So here is a link to their website, hopefully they will appreciate the positive review.


  1. I might suggest that if we are to successfully reform and improve our schools without completely abandoning them we must at the very least acknowledge it is the art(or skill) practiced by today’s teachers that could make the difference. An odd comparison for certain but much like the world of donuts, something is lost when you increase the size of a class or school, however incremental that increase may appear. Efforts to “bottle” what works and simply have all teachers use it with all instruction is I think a perilous path to choose. One that looks to the past and the business profit model for solutions instead of to the future. It slowly confines where the art of teaching can occur. If schools are to accomplish all that they currently are being asked to do(far more than when the comprehensive high school first took shape), then one strategy would be to personalize our service and combat the anonymity that leaves many in the building underserved(African-Americans and Hispanics in particular).

    In his book High Schools on a Human Scale, Thomas Toch states that common among successful schools are “the core characteristics…of small size, strong sense of community, autonomy, focus, high standards, adult advocacy for student, and parental choice”. He is among the reformers calling for the creation of charter schools and school choice. A view I and many teachers might not share with the same degree of conviction. I think that discussion is better left for later. In short I think we in schools have come to question the wisdom of many new initiatives since we see the impact first hand. We can put a face on those percentages of kids we are not doing well enough with. We also see the ripple effect efforts to better serve students have on our school. My advice? Keep schools small, control them on site, allow more flexibility and expand efforts to better serve our communities, in a way that the big donut factory cannot. The world changes and educational systems need to adapt, but humans don’t change as fast and we must not ignore what teaching has been, is now and always will be, an art.

  2. Man - I just spent a bunch of time typing a work of art and didn't sign into to blog correctly and lost it. I'll try again my friends when I'm less sleepy. Logan

  3. After reading your blog, I love what you guys are doing and really enjoy this post.

    Would you mind if we republished your article on Our site is a resource for K-12 teachers and I think our readers would really enjoy it.

    We're always looking for good stories if you're interested in writing anything else for the site as well.

    Email me at