Teaching With Tea

An oversize electric teapot rested on the windowsill when my eighth grade students walked into the classroom one cheerless day. Plastic gallons of water and a large pitcher occupied the front table, along with two stacks of cups, a plastic canister filled with sugar, and a serving spoon.

“Clear your desks,” I told my class as I welcomed them at the doorway. “We are not going to fight the malaise today.”

No one, including me, was in the mood for the rigors essay writing brings. Our writing assignment could wait. The bleak weather had dampened our spirits long enough. Gray skies and sharp, bitter winds had continued day after day.

“Are we having a test?” one student asked as she made her way into the classroom. Young faces turned to me with expectation.

There wasn’t much ceremony as I filled the clear, plastic pitcher with boiling water and a few tea bags. As I stirred with a serving spoon, the infusion deepened to a lovely rust. All eyes were on me. I needed no motivational technique to hook my kids; they were all there—their faces filled with genuine wonder.

Each student thanked me as I served them a hot cup of tea with or sans sugar; some even told me they had never had hot tea before.

While the tea cooled, we talked about what we collectively knew of different tea ceremonies. Those who were initiated in the ways of tea chatted about their favorite kinds of teas. We shared family tea-drinking traditions. I told them that in my childhood, tea was the drink of choice for difficult family talks—always followed by a hug and a slice of cake or a cookie or two.

My students held their cups, fingers laced, careful not to spill. Some blew on the hot liquid; some closed their eyes as they swallowed. A few sighed. I observed their wave of rosy-cheeked contentment.

We also talked about what living in the moment really means. We were doing exactly that. Taking tea in class was not a waste of time. It was a way to revitalize our classroom mood and regroup our thoughts. When the students were ready to return to their writing that morning, one boy shared that he was going to change the direction of his piece. “Tea restoreth the soul” seemed like a better topic to explore. 

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