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SD Department of Education
May 2017  
 

  Cathy Smith Dee Quinnett
Cathy Smith                Dee Quinnett

TEACHER FEATURE: Unlikely pair finds mentoring success

“If I wouldn’t have had Cathy as a mentor, I wouldn’t be teaching today,” said Dee Quinnett, a first-year culinary teacher with the Northwest Area Schools Education Cooperative. Her mentor is Cathy Smith, a special education teacher in the Faith School District.

Quinnett’s path to teaching is a unique one, as was the path to her and Smith’s mentoring relationship. Not the traditional fresh-out-of-college 20-something new teacher, she entered the profession last fall after a 20-year career as a paramedic, graduation from culinary school and two years as a chef in a Scandinavian restaurant in Minnesota. She is pursuing alternative certification.

As a teacher with Northwest Area, Quinnett teaches culinary courses out of a mobile unit and moves to a different school each semester. Northwest Area mobile units serve a total of eight school districts. Quinnett met Smith during her first semester of teaching, when she was stationed in the Faith School District. Smith’s son was in Quinnett’s class.

“I was nervous about who I might get paired with for the mentoring program,” Quinnett said. “When Cathy was chosen as my mentor, I was really happy. She was actually one of the first people to come and welcome me to the school in Faith.”

“As a special education teacher, I have a small number of students and usually work with them one-on-one, so I wasn’t sure I would have anything to offer Dee, since she teaches CTE in a general education setting,” Smith said. “I ultimately found that she needed a listening ear and someone ‘safe’ to ask questions of. We have a lot in common and quickly built a relationship of trust.”

Confident in her ability to teach her content, Quinnett says what she most needed help with was navigating the world of education, including its jargon and acronyms. Smith was a sounding board for some of the challenges Quinnett encountered with student behavior issues. And Smith was able to help Quinnett make some modifications to her lessons for students with special needs.

Seven Faith students cooking in classroom  A Faith student shows off his gingerbread house
Faith students                            A Faith student shows off his gingerbread house

Quinnett says she has a lot of fun with her students. She frequently teaches theme weeks, like egg week, burger week, Mexican week and Italian week. During burger week, students developed schematics for the kinds of burgers they wanted to make. They named their burgers and wrote menu descriptions. The week culminated with making not just burgers, but the buns too.

Sometimes Quinnett will simply give students a few ingredients and challenge them to decide what to cook. “I gave them grits one day,” she said. “One of my classes turned those into the best barbecue chicken grits I’ve ever tasted. Before that day, I don’t think many of them even knew what grits were.”

10 students from Dupree in kitchen
Students in Dupree, where Quinnett taught during the spring 2017 semester
 
 
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