In this second post to acknowledge the efforts of educators in hospitality and to celebrate them, GH-H hosts Mrs. Lucy Eyram Agbenyeke, a holder of M Phil Tourism management and a senior instructor at Koforidua Technical University (KTU), Ghana.
She insists I address her by her first name, so I will be addressing her as ‘Lucy’.A common ground Lucy and I share is that both of us worked in the industry before settling on teaching in the classroom.
GH-H: Thank you for granting me this opportunity to have a one-on-one with you as an educator of the hospitality industry. Looking at a profile of you, you have been in the teaching profession for 18 years. Congratulations!
I realize you worked in the industry before going into the teaching profession. Kindly give a brief of your work experience in the industry.
Lucy: During my internships in hotels while a student, I got the opportunity to work in almost all the departments; front office, housekeeping, restaurant, kitchen and human resources.
The hotels I worked in included M-Plaza, Accra, Capital View and Koforidua Guest Hotel, both at Koforidua. I also worked on the Onipanua Hospital ship. The duration of an internship ranged between one and six months.I worked in the positions of a room attendant and later as a waiter at Volta hotel for one year.
GH-H: I must say I find it quite adventurous for a young lady to work on a ship (referring to the hospital ship). How did you get this opportunity and what did working on the ship involve?Lucy: My father was working with Volta River Authority (VRA), thus I ceased the opportunity to carry out my internship with them. The hospital ship was under the management of VRA in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. I asked the supervisor, if I could join in the voyage as an intern, my request was granted and that’s how I got there; becoming part of the catering team.
We were cooking for the medical team and other members of the crew.
Follow-up Q: That’s interesting; I have heard about interns not benefiting much from their internships. Were you mentored during the internships? How different was the internship program then, compared to current times?
Lucy: I was attached to a particular staff on duty. In the kitchen, for example, the staff, a cook, demonstrated and explained what portioning and diet foods were all about.
Currently, the duration of internship is 8 weeks/ 3 months; in my opinion it is short. Interns are usually made to perform tasks not requiring much skill. They are also hardly placed in positions which involve direct contacts with guests. Subsequently interns may complete their internship but still lack confidence when they are put to the task in the industry.
GH-H: You were a Trainer for three months at the Volta Hotel; was it part of your internship?Lucy: Yes. I was then an HND (Higher National Diploma) student.
GH-H: What do you miss about the industry?Lucy: Meeting different levels of people.
Follow-up Q: Kindly expatiate that.Lucy: In the industry one meets different people with different needs and with people of different spending power; for example one afternoon we had a tip of 200 dollars. At a different occasion, in rendering service at the presidential lodge at the Volta Hotel we met the president (of Ghana). We also served vegetarians and people with other dietary needs.Meeting these different people and working towards meeting their needs ‘opened me up’.
GH-H: Indeed, I can relate to that; I was quite shy but had to kick it out of my system. The industry is quite exciting and feels like a complete world. Like you, I worked in the industry before stepping into the classroom. However, I found the classroom very challenging. How demanding is teaching in the classroom?Lucy: I found both the industry and classroom challenging. In the classroom there is need to explain theories to the understanding of students with different levels of understanding; in industry the work requires constant attention as mistake recovery is difficult. With students, there was always an opportunity to correct mistakes made.
GH-H: Tell me some specific challenges you had to deal with as a trainer in the classroom?Lucy: In the classroom a whole lot of preparation is required; reading and studying more about a subject before classes begins. Often, in a class of first year students, it is critical to establish a common understanding of what is being taught. I draw scenarios from industry as case studies to make the teaching relevant.
GH-H: Why did you enter the teaching field? How has it changed your life?Lucy: I entered teaching for two reasons:1. Constant stress of the work schedule in industry did not give me much joy and there were challenges on my health.2. I love the classroom because it has given me an opportunity to impart. The transformation I see in my students make me feel very fulfilled. Seeing my students grow and mature or my students performing tasks they could not do earlier and exhibiting professional attitudes is always a joy.How teaching has changed me…I used to have a perfectionist attitude, get it right all the time; now I am more relaxed, more tolerable.
GH-H: What changes have you observed during the 18 years of teaching and how are you coping or what efforts have you been making to overcome the general challenges?Lucy: Over the years I have realized that my interpersonal relationship with my students has improved since naturally I am an introvert. In overcoming the general challenges every lecturer faces I am building a relationship which is more personal with students and this affords me the opportunity to relate better with them well; I am able to identify what unique challenges or interest they also have so I will not treat them all the same.
Follow-up Q: You have just done a brief assessment of yourself. I admire teachers who are constantly assessing themselves. Kudos! What changes have you observed about status of students enrolled, text books in use and other teaching and learning resources, curriculum etc.Lucy: Students read wide, they use the internet a lot and they may challenge certain aspects of subjects being taught. Some students, for instance view preparation of certain foods on U-tube and they ask questions on the methods I may have used which is different from what they observed on the Utube.Many students who are focused indicate how we are doing as educators; their successes, however, is not the only area I look at. I try hard and bring the lowly ones up; this is where the real assessment is. Just last month a past student sent me a video of a salad she had made and served in an earthenware bowl (ayuwa bowl) this is the caption: “this is the result of the confident you placed in me, I would have changed my course to pursue that I did not like, thank you madam, this is my own creation” . I was happy reading that.
GH-H: Great! As a Senior Instructor \ lecturer (Mphil Tourism Management ) are you restricted to teaching only level 3 students?Lucy: No. I teach level 1 students as well as level 2 and 3 students.
GH-H: How different is your delivery style when handling the different levels of students?Lucy: Students in level 1 need much attention and encouragement while the 2nd and 3rdlevel students need guidance and praise. Letting them know they have improved helps them to forge ahead more. Engaging 2nd and 3rd years’ through brain storming, discussions on best practices have been very useful.
GH-H: What undermines your efforts to excel in teaching?Lucy: Classroom climate. The conditions in the classroom are sometimes not favorable and I need to constantly adjust to be able to teach well; lights, P A systems and projectors not working, are just a few .Follow-up Comment:Classroom climate could also refer to the prevailing mood, attitudes, standards, and tone that you and your students feel, everything from the color of the walls to the arrangement of the desks sends impressions to students and can affect the way a student learns. A negative classroom climate can feel hostile, chaotic, and out of control. A positive classroom climate feels safe, respectful, welcoming, and supportive of student learning.
With this understanding, What are some of the challenges in teaching Hospitality subjects such as: Menu planning, Cookery theory, First aid and safety , Sanitation and safety and Food Production PracticalLucy: Challenges include getting projectors and PA systems to be functional, unavailability of gas to cook, unavailability of first aid kits, storage facilities and bureaucratic processes in acquiring items for teaching and learning.
GH-H: What is the largest class size you have handled?Lucy: 170
GH-H: That must have been a nightmare! Tell us about it.Lucy: This was a level 100 class. The course was Food productionInstilling professional behavior was very challenging. In such situations I employ the assistance of my Teaching Assistant for monitoring.For practical sessions students are placed in groups of ten. This works well as it affords me the opportunity to see what each student is doing, however it is time consuming as each set of dishes or menu will last for a month before each student has a chance to try out the menu on their own. With ten students instilling the professional behavior becomes less cumbersome.
Follow-up Q: Professional behavior is quite broad; most of them are soft skills (personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people). They include commitment, interpersonal skills, acting as a team player, problem solving, time management etc. Are these what you are referring to?Lucy : Yes such as interpersonal skills
GH-H:Sorry, I interrupted you earlier. You made mention of classroom managementLucy: Yes, with the aid of a PA (public address) system and a teaching assistant, large classes can be managed. Attendance is taken at each session and it forms part of the continuous assessment so students usually attend classes and they are usually punctual.Imparting my beliefs(particularly having worked in industry for sometime before entering full time teaching profession); it is most of the time very interesting as students have weird expectations about work schedules, salaries, types of work which are entirely different from what the industry is.
Follow-up Q: True. There are lots of misconceptions out there. Is that a signal for professionals in industry to team up with hospitality educators to come up with a series of events such as mini ‘EDUfairs’? These could provide better orientations for the youth and career seekers in the industry.
Lucy: Yes, the just ended IH conference brought industry and classroom on the same platform; we need to do more. The ‘edufair’ concept for the hospitality industry is a good idea.
GH-H: For a long time now, and indeed generally, industry experts criticize educational establishments for not being attuned to industry needs. In Ghana, the industry is lurking behind the origin of the text books we use to teach our students.Lucy: This is true to an extent. The classroom environment is different from the industry environment, we are not able to bridge the gap as expected; that is why the technical universities make provision for industrial placement.Equipment, portions and environmental settings are quite different, what is in the text books are not found in the teaching institutions, for example the two basic books: theory of catering and the practical cookery by Kinton et al., 2008are all industry
Follow-up Q: Generally what changes would you like to see in industrial placement to make students more ready for to work in industry?Lucy:There is the in-school training where students go for industry training while still in school; a pilot project we are doing now at KTU,
GH-H: Learning is an active process rather than a passive one; how do you generally involve students beyond the all too familiar lecture and test regimen? How are you able to engage students for the duration to the different levels of students?Lucy: I engage students a lot in discussions and on case studies.
GH-H: It doesn’t matter how well students excel in class, I have observed that when they get to the industry they tend to develop low morale due to diverse poor working conditions. How do you impart self motivation into students particularly in 1st year and 3rd year students respectively?Lucy: In the first year students are very enthusiastic and optimistic about the job opportunities and how they will turn the status quo around, however I help them to understand it is a gradual process and in the third year after the industrial attachment and internship, their orientations change
Follow-up: Kindly describe how the third year students perceive the industry.Lucy: They are generally very optimistic and want to experience the world of work.
GH-H:What suggestions would you give fellow educators towards integrating real service situations in the classroom?Lucy:Change the bad and unprofessional attitude, keep up to the standards if nobody else is doing.
GH-H:Thank you, Lucy and once again, congratulations for sticking to the teaching profession despite its ups and downs.