story by Claire Miller
From an early age, Keio Gayden developed a passion for food while cooking with her mother and grandmothers.
She parlayed this passion into a successful career in the culinary arts, working for Culinard, The Culinary Institute of Virginia College in Birmingham, Ala., and Le Cordon Bleu of Atlanta as a high school public relations representative talking to high school students interested in becoming professional chefs.
Teachers would often ask Gayden if she had thought about becoming a teacher herself, but she didn’t seriously consider that path until she met Ralph Simpson and Carolyn Ford, the former principal and family and consumer science teacher, respectively, at Miller Grove High School in DeKalb County, GA.
“Dr. Simpson was a principal whose leadership style I admired. His dedication to the students, faculty and staff displayed a true passion for the growth and development of our children,” she said. “Mrs. Ford became my teacher mentor and close friend, making my initial transition from industry over to education effortless.”
Gayden earned a certificate in career and technical education from the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Learning Sciences at Georgia State to gain the classroom management and curriculum development skills she needed to become a full-time teacher.
“In the Career and Technical Education program, I learned how to bridge the gap between industry and education,” she said. “Working in this program under Clinical Professor Janet Burns and her staff demonstrated how I could combine two things that I was passionate about: Culinary arts and mentoring young people. Having experienced this helped me to become the teacher I am today.”
Gayden’s success as a culinary arts teacher recently earned her the 2020 Teacher of the Year Award from the Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education. This achievement recognizes her accomplishments and contributions to the field of career and technical education, including her time leading teacher workshops across the state of Georgia, serving on curriculum development teams and maintaining an industry-certified culinary program.
But some of her proudest moments as a teacher have come when she’s seen her students succeed – like watching them compete against professional chefs at the 2019 Southern Wing Showdown, Atlanta’s annual chicken wing festival, and winning first place.
“When considering a future career in culinary arts, the advice I give my students is to be driven but patient,” Gayden said. “Working in a kitchen is fierce; therefore, you must be open to constructive criticism and know that learning never stops.”