When it comes to the profession of teaching, there can be perception that learning ends when a person gets their degree and starts instructing others.
However, for educators such as Cheshire High School’s Eileen Wildermann, learning is a skill honed every day.
“Every single teacher I know (is a) life-long learner,” said Wildermann. “There is a saying that boring people get bored. If you are interested in the world, you will find new things to learn.”
Using her drive to try new things, Wildermann chose to change jobs at CHS three years ago and follow a lifelong passion. Wildermann, who came to Cheshire in 2008 to teach English and coach field hockey, dedicated her free time to pursuing a career in the culinary arts and now teaches subjects such as cooking, nutrition, and wellness in semester-long courses.
“From, really, the time I could stand in front of an oven, I was interested in cooking,” explained Wildermann. “There is so much information available out there that you can learn something new every day.”
Since coming to CHS, Wildermann recalls proctoring with former culinary arts teacher Paula Smalec. When Smalec retired in 2018 after a 37-year career, Wildermann was hired to take her place.
“I thought she had the coolest job because you get to move kids into the culinary industry and also teach them a life skill,” stated Wildermann, who spoke with Smalec about changing positions. “I wanted to do something that I’m passionate about and have balance in my life.”
Wildermann admitted it was a tough decision to give up teaching English. She earned her bachelor’s degree (English) and master’s degree (teaching) at Quinnipiac University and taught at Hamden High School before coming to Cheshire.
“I absolutely loved teaching English, but I found the level of grading to be very difficult,” recalled Wildermann. “If you give the right level of essays to help the kids grow as writers, it is so much work to go through them.”
To pursue her second career, Wildermann took a combination of courses in 2017. She enrolled in the University of Nebraska online program and became certified in family and consumer science.
Wildermann also signed up for a class — Principles of Food Preparation — at Gateway Community College. Jean-Pierre Vuillermet, who owns the Union League Cafe in New Haven, taught cooking every day. Students also studied from textbooks and took weekly tests.
“I loved it,” recalled Wildermann. “Since I was still teaching English at that time, I started doing a lot more lessons while moving. Having the ability to get up is great. Sitting down can be exhausting.”
Wildermann credits her husband and CHS English teacher, Ian Wildermann, for supporting her through her classwork, teaching, coaching field hockey, and raising her son Henry. She also has a daughter, Jane Eleanor.
“I look back and can’t believe that I did it all,” reflected Wildermann, whose son was six months old when she started taking courses. “Sometimes you don’t realize how much work something is until it is over.”
In the fall of 2018, Wildermann started her new job working out of two classrooms at CHS. Room 9 has a stove, an oven, and a microwave, while Room 7 has an industrial-size oven, a convection oven, and a stove.
“The first day of school, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, is nerve-wracking,” said Wildermann. “I had to figure out the rooms. It comes down to efficiency”
She teaches an introductory course in culinary arts and an advanced class called food service.
“It (culinary arts) is one of most requested electives at CHS,” said Wildermann. “Students get excited to have a food elective and do something different.”
Wildermann also teaches a class in nutrition and wellness. She likes to create projects where students need to research on their own.
“We talk about body image and mental wellness,” said Wildermann. “You can eat the most healthy meals, but you also need to be healthy in your mind and be able to deal with stress.”
Wildermann puts students together for almost all of her projects.
“They need to delegate responsibilities. They work as a team and I think that is as important as the cooking,” explained Wildermann. “Working in groups is such a life skill.”
For final exams, her students are working in groups of four to create cooking videos that do not utilize audible instructions.
“They need to condense making a recipe in two minutes,” said Wildermann.
In her culinary classes, she uses a lot of fresh herbs and enjoys making recipes with vegetables. She also likes teaching students to make sauces because of their versatility in dishes.
“One of the students said that ‘my mom won’t believe that I’m eating a vegetable and it is good,’” recalled Wildermann.
As a field hockey coach and former player at QU, Wildermann stresses fitness with players and students.
“My athletes know that health is important to me,” said Wildermann, who has coached the Rams to three Southern Connecticut Conference tournament titles and a Class L crown in 2011. “With my students, we talk about nutrition from conception to death.”
In her department, Wildermann has sought the advise of teacher Rebecca Daddio.
“She is really fun and highly energetic,” stated Wildermann. “She has been a good guide for me.”
Along with teaching in the classroom, Wildermann also has her food-service students prepare meals for catering activities. She loves how students still want to help out even after they’ve finished the course.
“When I took over, they were working at the new students breakfast at the beginning of the year and also making meals for the National Honor Society (induction),” recalled Wildermann.
Since last fall, she has helped schedule catering for events like the Ryan T. Lee Memorial Foundation Excellence in Leadership Conference, Poem in Your Pocket Day at CHS, a Cheshire Board of Education meeting, and a real estate meeting. The students also hosted a breakfast for 16 teachers.
“I’m trying to be as hands-off as possible,” stated Wildermann. “I want the students to do the planning and make a meal that satisfies people.”
When she couldn’t attend a robotics competition at Lyme Rock Park in Salisbury, Wildermann fondly recalls how her students worked together to cater their first tailgating function.
“They ran into problems, but fixed all of them,” Wildermann said.
Wildermann also liked how her students got to be part of last year’s Excellence in Leadership Conference. Organized by Physical Education Teacher and Coach Dan Lee and the CHS Peer Health Educator program, the annual event brings students from area schools to Cheshire to participate in activities and discussions.
“Dan and his wife (Theresa) do such a good job at getting people excited to help each other and other people,” explained Wildermann. “My students loved to cater there and make desserts like cupcakes. In talking with the peer-health kids, we wanted to do something that would make people say, ‘Wow!’”
In the future, Wildermann would love to create a partnership with at least one local restaurant.
“I’d love to have that restauranteur help guide those who want to go into the field (culinary arts) and also teach students,” stated Wildermann. “I’d like to see food service become a full-year course and do more catering events. I could do so much more with them (the students) over a whole year.”