Wednesday, 2 July 2014


I was out last month chatting to a friend about working with kids. She stated with complete conviction that people, when it comes to working with disengaged youth, have either 'got it, or they ain't.'

After hearing all about the badass rapport with young people that she'd honed over the years, I felt like someone had opened my eyes (and kicked me in the face at the same time) to how difficult I might find being at The Dusty Knuckle. Is it true that when working with young people some people either have it or they don't?

The following week Dais, Max and I went to East London to teach bread making to a group of kids aged 12-16. I spent the previous evening surrounded by bread books, trying to draw out the structure of gluten on Word. I worked out the lesson plan meticulously - start with the science of bread, move on to yeast types, then talk them through some European breads and finish with shaping Focaccias.

I arrived prepped to the max. Trying to be confident (bearing in mind my chat from the week before), I rallied up the troops and began the class.

Not even 1 minute in - I hadn't even managed to get past the scintillating structure of gluten or the benefits of sourdough - and eyes started wondering, I know I am losing people. If I carry on like this, these kids aren't coming back, they are going to start insulting me, they will tell their mates how crap the class was, and Anna will be right - it's a natural rapport that I just ain't got.

I realise I am going to have to switch up sharpish. I'm panicking. I forget about the lesson plan, my toiled over diagrams and detailed notes and I grab the dough.  I ask them to feel it, and surprisingly there are volunteers - albeit with trepidation - but before long, everyone has sticky fingers ad globby hairy arms. Fabio is even (without realising it) working out baker's percentages! It becomes clear actually what this is all about - me sharing something I love with these kids, and our mutual interest in making it. It fills me with warmth watching these hyperactive little hands disappearing into the dough, and I start to see the full potential of making bread.

The class is messy, loud and chaotic but they are interested. They all come back the next day, confident and ready for more, and they take home warm Foccacias to show off to their mums. It all makes me remember my weird hairy-eared maths teacher at school and how much we used to take the piss out of him all the time, but in his lessons we learned and respected him; we understood maths and we liked him.

I want to be like Mr Donovan, I think (without the hair). Working with young people is about finding a way to engage - but being yourself too.


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