Who would want a former U.S. Marine drill instructor as a teacher? Turns out, a lot of students at Potomac High School in Dumfries.
“Ronald Evans, also known as Chef Evans, was my culinary arts teacher,” says Amari Scott, a former student. “Everyone deserves a teacher just like Chef — he’s the best teacher, mentor, ‘school dad,’ and friend.”
Evans became an educator after retiring from a successful 20-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his enlisted military service, he worked as a cook, gunnery sergeant mess chief, teacher, and drill instructor. Now in his high school classroom, like in the Marines, Evans makes everyone feel like they belong.
“Everybody’s a part of this family,” he says. “It’s important to be a family to them no matter what — once you get that rolling, everybody knows they have a role to not let down the next family member.”
As focused as Evans is on succeeding in the kitchen — his classes consistently win national high school cooking competitions at Disney World — he is even more resolved to help students succeed.
“This is not a home economics class,” Evans says, explaining that he devotes class time weekly to getting to know students better. “My class is like life skills.”
Evans teaches culinary tricks of the trade, for example, practicing making challah bread by first braiding play dough. Creative aspects like cupcake decorating are fan favorites, as well cooking competitions and guest speakers from the restaurant industry.
“He was very innovative in providing real-world opportunities and experiences,” says Jim Wilson, coordinator for ProStart, a career and technical education program that partners with Evans.
Evans happily cites a multitude of former students who are now attending culinary college at globally renowned Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. They visit his classroom annually, even joining in friendly cooking competitions against current students.
Co-workers are inspired by his extreme commitment to students.
“I have never seen such a caring teacher, one who donates his time, money, and resources in order to meet whatever need arises,” says Rashanna Jones, a colleague. She calls Evans “the epitome of self-sacrifice and excellence.”
Evans says his top priorities are motivating students and encouraging them to never give up. Even students he has never taught tell him he’s their favorite.
“That’s why they call me Dad,” Evans says. “I want to see these kids succeed; I want to see everybody have a happy ending.”
This story originally appeared in our October 2022 issue’s Teacher of the Year cover story. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.