On any given day at Norwalk High School, in Norwalk, Iowa, Andrew Mogle can be found melding his love of history, food, and teaching in a way that never ceases to excite his students. That might mean, say, talking to students about A Tale of Two Cities, investigating what the royalty and the peasants may have eaten during the French Revolution and then making some of those meals. Education never tasted so good.
Mogle’s love of teaching didn’t begin in a classroom, but in a commercial kitchen. He started working at restaurants when he was still in high school, honed his talents in culinary school, and eventually settled into a job as a manager at an Olive Garden. As the years passed, Mogle realized that the part of his job that interested him most wasn’t so much the food, but the young adults and teenagers he was constantly training and learning from. After some soul-searching, he decided to hang up his ladle and hit the books, and at age 30, he went back to school and got a degree to teach history and government.
Upon graduation, Mogle began substituting at local schools and applying for teaching jobs, but he kept stumbling on one roadblock. “I found that most of the social studies teachers were also expected to be coaches,” he says, “and I didn’t have any desire to coach.”
The realization that his lack of interest in athletics might hinder his chances of getting hired in his county almost sent Mogle back to the Olive Garden. But things turned around when a colleague told him about a grant that was available for people with teaching certificates to go back to school for a master’s in teaching family and consumer science. As part of getting this second master’s, Mogle took a course in entrepreneurism and wrote a business plan for a student-run restaurant that would help students learn about both economics and cooking.
After graduation, Mogle began teaching culinary arts at the high school level. Using both his education degree and his kitchen know-how, he created a curriculum where classes in food preparation and nutrition prepared kids to manage a restaurant. Each week the students spend two days doing food prep, two days opening the establishment to the public, and one day discussing what they’ve learned. Just a few years into his tenure, half of the student body was enrolling in Mogle’s classes and applying to work at the Warrior Cafe, where teens stock the kitchen, prepare the food, manage employees, and balance the books. “I have had kids tell me that their parents moved to this area so that they could take my classes,” Mogle says. In addition to the restaurant, he now also oversees a student-run catering company. He aims to teach skills that will apply to students’ lives, whether or not they ever enter a kitchen after graduation.
Indeed, Mogle’s students walk away with much more than a stack of recipe cards. “My real goal is to help kids understand that whether they’re going into post secondary school or the world of work, they have to know how to learn, how to communicate, and how to take responsibility for themselves,” says Mogle, noting that positive feedback is a big part of his success” he’s quick to call parents just to tell them how great their kids are. “The restaurant gives them a sense of responsibility and the ability to teach and learn and take ownership for what they’re creating in their lives.”