Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tea Running

I certainly never intended to make my hot tea a ritual for the students. It happened organically. I drink a lot of tea during the school year. I have a very specific travel mug for my tea. I keep boxes of my favorite tea in my desk drawer so that it smells delicious even in the summer, long after the boxes have been removed. When I am cold I hold my tea mug as I teach. When it has been a particularly trying day, I hold my tea mug as I teach. Sometimes the tea drinking is secondary to the tea ritual. The smell, the feel of the mug in my hand, the simple ritual of pouring the hot water over the tea, watching the water dance with the bleeding tea. Taking a moment to remember to pick up my tea, relax and then respond rather than hastily react to a particular situation.

Strangely, the kids caught on. "Oh, Ms. Mitchell has her tea, someone is pushing her limits." "See Ms. Mitchell, even you are cold-- you have your tea!" "Uh! Oh! Ms. Mitchell has her tea..."and then one day, "Ms. Mitchell, can I get your hot water?" This from a child who was often the impetus for me latching onto my tea mug in anticipation of its calming effect.

Two things happened in that moment. The first positive effect was the easiest to recognize: a very trying child left my room happily to get me some hot water from the office. No need to follow up and make sure they got where they were going. No need to buzz the office to let them know a child needed to talk with someone. No need to take my lunch and their recess to discuss what to do about their trying behavior. No need to apologize to the neighboring teachers about the angry child making their way down the hallway.

The second positive effect took longer to recognize: a child, trying very hard to find their way, found purpose in my classroom community. I didn't see it immediately because while the first effect was all about my needs, the second effect was all about theirs. It took the kids to teach me that the best lessons in the classroom very rarely center on academics alone.

What started as a student asking to get my tea led to me recognizing that sometimes a student needs to be asked if they'd like to get me some tea. This has certainly led to more than one burnt throat as I chugged my recently brewed tea in order to actually need the child to go get hot water. But if you've ever been in a situation where a child really really needs to get out in order for one of you to not blow, you'd recognize the necessity of a temporary loss of feeling in your mouth and throat.

Teaching those students who most desperately need a break when to ask for it is easier if the purpose of the break leads back to a classroom need. Students who are acting out don't always want to leave, instead they want to know why they should stay. Even more, they yearn to know they are wanted in the room. Sending a disenfranchised child away from you with the express purpose to return is a much better message than to send that same child away with no other purpose than to shape up and then return when they are ready. How many kids being sent out of a classroom knew they "weren't ready to be there" let alone can figure out what it feels like to be "ready to return"?

It has been interesting to note that students who know where they belong, know what they bring to the community and know what they can expect of their teacher and peers rarely ask to get my tea. It's the students on the fringe, the loudly bold, the violently tempestuous, the silently hiding ones that notice when Ms. Mitchell needs her tea and offer to go get it. They trot off with excitement to pour the boiling water from the office pot. Then very carefully, they walk back to the classroom careful not to burn their hands, careful not to spill the water and every so often I notice that they, too, are slowly inhaling the scent of freshly brewing tea and perhaps feeling that much closer to their teacher who relies on that scent to get her through.

1 comment:

  1. This warms my heart - makes me crave tea, and (as always) I crave your company. I love thinking of you in the classroom and I'm looking forward to reading more about your musings. As always, you have an automatic (unpaid) job available anytime you want to come teach in my homeschool co-op. You can teach the art of being human - and being magnificent at it. <3