Don’t Drink and Teach! #TeaTeaching by @TeacherToolkit

Reading Time: 4 minutes

This is a simple blog post about teaching and learning, one which will divide the profession between ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the name of teacher wellbeing versus quality of teaching.

“Just put that cup of tea down for a moment and give your students 100%!”

When I first tweeted about this idea in the summer of 2013, the #TeaTeaching question was picked up by The TES after trending on Twitter for 3 or 4 days. They featured my conundrum in their newspaper, so much so, that the evidence is still available on Twitter here. You can see from the results, that 66% disagreed with my own views.

“I’m old-fashioned and trained under the guise of intensive and soldierly practice…”

Call me old-fashioned?

Well you could, but I’d just say I was traditional with a progressive outlook on the quality of teaching in my classroom and of others.

This blog will stir controversy. It will divide opinion and perhaps go down like a ton of feathers, but give it some thought the next time you see a mug of tea in a classroom. I am not advocating dehydration in return for teaching great lessons over time; just posing a question of professionalism versus practicality. Perhaps exchange the coffee cup in your hand whilst you teach the students, with a bottle of water and keep rehydrated this summer?

shutterstock tea classroom woman thinking

Image: Shutterstock

Context:

The formative years of my career were in a brand-new school with a headteacher passionate about comprehensive education. I also worked with @headguruteacher at the time. Rigour, routine and high expectation were the norm. The same expectations were set of staff … The headteacher was adamant that cups of tea were not allowed in the classroom; particularly when ‘a cup of tea’ equated to a teacher be late to the classroom for a lesson! These views were ingrained into me early on in my formative years of teaching and as a middle leader, and they have never left me.

Whether these opinions are right or wrong, I cannot seem to shift this attitude; that a teacher standing at the front of the classroom, supping on a cup of tea whilst teaching, just makes my spine shiver!

Now I know, don’t shoot me down! Teachers are very busy people. We need to look after our wellbeing. I get it, I get it, I get it …

The quality of a teacher is not determined by what they drink in or out of the lesson, or what and when they drink. I know that. And I do know that we all need to stay rehydrated so that we can be fully functional in a very demanding profession. But, I ask the reader, why do you think that I have become to believe in this opinion? Particularly during a time of high-stakes teaching, demanding full-time timetables and cognitive science suggesting the need for brain hydration = equates to high-order learning.

Scenarios:

Allow me to explain the reasons why I’ve formed this opinion; that drinking cups of tea during a lesson in front of your students is far from ideal;

  1. Your school may have a behaviour policy; perhaps even a drinking rule in class. I know it is archaic, but trust me on this, some schools still do not allow students to drink water in lessons! Why should a teacher be able to drink and students cannot? It happens!
  2. The kettle is boiled over a break or lunch time. The teacher arrives late to class and because of this delay, and is seen to be carrying the cup of tea down a very busy corridor whilst you – the busy colleague or middle leader – organise their students lining up at their door … (and not for the first time!)
  3. Worst-case: you share a classroom with a colleague and you arrive to the teacher-desk and find a half drunk cup of tea. Before you know it, you’ve knocked the cup of tea all over your student books!
  4. Worst-still: you arrive after half-term to find the same mug has grown a full-range of bacteria and fungi!
  5. Even worst-case scenario: you are teaching a health and safety lesson to students in a technology lesson and you accidentally spill over the boiling cup of tea onto a student’s arm! You call home to explain the situation …

Futile versus focus?

Why Drinking Tea in a Lesson, Doesn’t Work?

  1. Drinking tea during a lesson is simply lack of due care and attention.
  2. Professional standards. Would you accept students drinking hot-chocolate in your lesson? I know some teachers do. But in my comprehensive experience, low-level behaviour makes this luxury a very rare occurrence. It has happened, but it’s rare …
  3. What if… accidents! The mug falls over and burns you or the student? Damages the internal workings of a keyboard? Stains the text-book or student’s exercise book? A piece of coursework?
  4. What if… you were being observed? You should treat every lesson as if you were being observed. Have you watched someone teach a class with one hand holding a mug whilst they waltz across the classroom? It looks awful! I’ve never seen my dentist or doctor supping a cup of tea whilst they interact with me …
  5. Can you teach a consistently good lesson with one hand attached to a mug? And in a practical subject with 25-30 students? I know I can’t!

Questions:

  1. To drink tea, or not to drink tea? That is the question here.
  2. How much time to drink a cup of tea during a lesson? Instead of drinking, what could you do instead?
  3. When last did you wash your coffee/tea mug? Look here! There’s nothing worse than arriving in the classroom and seeing a coffee mug after the school holidays covered and fungus! It’s disgusting …
  4. Some teachers do agree with me here and here (replacing tea with bottled water).

This will divide opinion I’m sure. What do you think?

You can read more here.

TT

@TeacherToolkit

In 2010, Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit from a simple Twitter account in which he rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on social media in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in Britain' in The Sunday Times as one of the most influential in the field of education - he remains the only classroom teacher to feature to this day ... Sharing online as @TeacherToolkit, he rebuilt this website (c2008) into what you are now reading, as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK', winning the number one spot at the UK Blog Awards (2018). Today, he is currently a PGCE tutor and is researching 'social media and its influence on education policy' for his EdD at Cambridge University. In 1993, he started teaching and is an experienced school leader working in some of the toughest schools in London. He is also a former Teaching Awards winner for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School, London' (2004) and has written several books on teaching (2013-2018). Read more...

28 thoughts on “Don’t Drink and Teach! #TeaTeaching by @TeacherToolkit

  • 13th May 2015 at 11:46 am
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    I wasn’t aware that water didn’t ruin work or break electronic device when you split it.

    Reply
  • 13th May 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    Straw man argument I’m afraid and another sign that controlling teachers is seen as important. In terms of professional behaviour everyone has their own ideas. However, I would like to point out that many of the professions you point out have time to have a cup of tea in between appointments. If they did have a cup of tea on the side – I have never noticed or cared. It would not bother me one bit. I would simply assume that like me they need some caffeine and have not had a proper break to drink one.

    I think that so much focus has been shifted onto teacher’s behaviour and it is usually to deflect from the behaviour of the children in school… The reasons you give would be fair enough for a child but not an adult – the vast majority of us have managed to drink tea without doing any of those things. The only reason I have not let children drink water in class whenever they wanted is because they would spill it, not pay attention, etc. As an adult I am capable of realising whether the cup of tea is distracting me or not. Usually these days most teachers are told to bring in some sort of covered mug to carry the tea around.

    As for being late, well you know if in some schools SLT actually helped with behaviour teachers would not have to spend as much of the playtime/lunchtime keeping children in!! I am talking from a primary perspective here. In addition, the little time we did have now gets eaten up by having to be out 5 minutes early, etc.

    More to the point if the teacher is good – why would you care? Nitpicking at its finest.

    Reply
    • 13th May 2015 at 5:27 pm
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      I entirely agree with all of your points. We all need to hydrate within a very busy and stressful schedule.

      Reply
      • 13th May 2015 at 9:06 pm
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        I just think it is personal – if we could actually have proper breaks then I would agree with you to not have them in class but until then….

  • 13th May 2015 at 5:46 pm
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    If I’m in the lab: no tea. Absolutely.
    If I’m going to be doing a lot of the work during the lesson: no tea. It will only go cold.
    If the students are going to be doing more work than me (for example, they are researching a project, editing videos, recording podcasts, collaborating on a website etc): tea’s probably ok for when they don’t need me.

    It’s more like: if you worked in an office, would you respect the head of HR if they were drinking tea at their desk? (yes, obviously, why wouldn’t you?)

    But I understand what you’re saying. I never ever drank anything in lessons when I worked in the UK. I had to micromanage students’ behaviour as well as teach, so hydration had to wait. Now I work in Denmark and my students are a lot more independent and well behaved, so I can drink and teach.

    Reply
  • 13th May 2015 at 7:30 pm
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    I totally agree with no drinking tea when teaching. I hate it, I think it is unprofessional looking and would not allow students to do it. If it is a hydration argument then it’s failed as tea and coffee dehydrate you!

    Reply
  • 13th May 2015 at 9:02 pm
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    I thought it was simply a health & safety issue! An absolute no no in our primary school – hot drinks never leave the staffroom.

    Reply
  • 14th May 2015 at 3:10 pm
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    I am so surprised this is even a discussion. It must be a secondary thing because it is unheard of in primary schools these days. I work in teacher training and visit hundreds of primaries doing lesson observations each year and never see it and never saw it when I was teaching. Its a straight forward health and safety no no.

    Reply
  • 14th May 2015 at 9:48 pm
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    Life is too short……..

    Reply
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  • 23rd May 2015 at 8:30 am
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    Must be a slow news day Mr Gill 😉

    Reply
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  • 27th May 2015 at 9:20 pm
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    I’ve seen both sides of this particular coin. My last head of department positively encouraged it, bringing cups of tea when he felt we looked particularly frazzled. This had the bonus of making us feel looked after and valued. A small thing but definitely made me feel the work I was doing was appreciated.

    My latest HOD however hates it for the exact reasons you have set out above.

    I am happy to comply with either sentiment. I don’t think I’m a better teacher for NOT drinking tea but I know some teachers in my department who would rush out to get tea after a lesson has started. Completely unacceptable obviously but not my place to say anything.

    I think it depends on whether it is affecting the quality of teaching. I just do what I’m told!

    Mostly…

    Reply
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  • 3rd August 2015 at 4:20 pm
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    I have a thermos mug with a lid which means I don’t have to worry about it spilling. If I have a lesson where I have to be massively involved then I can drink it later, but if it’s a lesson where the kids are getting on then I can grab a sip. Though I will say with higher age and abilty set having debates and discussions about delicate topics sitting with a cup of tea can create a chilled and relaxed atmosphere, which can be exactly what is needed.

    Reply
  • 13th September 2015 at 3:41 pm
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    I have hit a middle ground and bought travel mugs with lids on so staff who are on duty can still have a drink. No drinks allowed on duty for health and safety. I loathe finding mugs etc round school from early morning/after school brews but I will take them to staffroom, wash them & put them away as well as remind staff. As head I am really aware that I am able to drink tea all day long if I choose and that my working day has different timings and expectations e.g. how many meetings do I have where I feel it common courtesy to offer a drink, and have one myself? I don’t think a slurp of tea affects teaching but I do know that messy classrooms at the end of a day are my bugbear – with my own children I know to choose my battles carefully, with my staff I use the same mantra.

    Reply
    • 13th September 2015 at 6:36 pm
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      Travel mugs with lids should be given to all staff for office space. Bottle of water should be free and in classrooms.

      Reply
  • 14th December 2015 at 4:13 pm
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    I’m a parent who the other week seen a teacher with two cups of coffee , a book under her arm and holding the door open with her foot while my child who is 6 and her class mates where going through the door on a busy morning. I Contacted the head teacher,he apologies and said he would deal with it. A few weeks later I take my 6 year and 4 year old to school teachers are stood at the start of the day with a cup of coffee and in my 4 year olds class there was a coffee on a table were the children could reach it. I don’t understand why coffee can’t be for staff room only hot drinks and children just don’t go. How can you look after 24 children and look after a coffee. Does someone need to get hurt before laws change.

    Reply
    • 13th January 2016 at 7:59 pm
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      Perhaps parents could teach their children about the dangers of touching hot drinks before we have to make a law to prevent household accidents too! Just a thought… Am assuming that holding open a door for an adult is also beneath children too.

      Reply
    • 13th January 2016 at 8:13 pm
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      Tbh is smacks of micro management at its finest. Teachers are adults and need to be treated as such. There can be a tendency within education to treat staff as if they were still pupils themselves. If staff choose to have a cuppa in class they will certainly be careful as they are not a profession who have a cavalier disregard for children’s safety.
      As for suggesting that a hot drink impairs ability to teach how would a water bottle be any less of a distraction?
      The computer equipment argument is spurious unless all liquids are banned near computers including water…
      Looking after a voice is far more important than an appearance of relaxation. Water doesn’t soothe a sore throat the same way I’m afraid.
      Finally teachers who turn up late because they waited for kettle to boil or who leave the class to get a cuppa are slipshod. There will be plenty of other evidence to challenge their attitude on which will be far more relevant than them having a hot drink.
      As you can see I am totally opposed to your argument but it is great to have the debate so both sides can understand how the other perceives matters so thanks for raising the issue.

      Reply
  • 12th January 2016 at 7:10 pm
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    I’m a ️food teacher and drinking tea is seen as a privilege in my lessons. When pupils reach A level they are independently working on tasks, if they are frazzled or stressed I make them a hot drink. I had pupils walking into my room at lunch time upset and a cup of tea works wonders. Tea calms down my staff when they have worked through lunch and are stood up eating a sandwich while helping pupils make progress.My technician makes me a cup of tea when she knows I haven’t drank all day and my line manager makes me tea if I’m having a bad day. When we have meetings the kettle is on and people can help them selves. But I am very insistent that pupils and staff wash out their own cups. I cannot understand people who think a kitchen fairy is going to pick up their cup and magically clean it.Yes I agree that hot cups of tea should not be drank around or near young children and yes it looks unprofessional to walk into a whole school assembly with a mug of tea. However, tea makes pupils and staff feel welcome in my classroom and yes sometimes motivates them to learn or offers them comfort when upset. The most important things in classrooms should be pupils and staff well being followed by their learning. Tea has a role to play in my classroom.

    Reply
    • 12th January 2016 at 8:53 pm
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      I’ve taught food technology for 15 years and have lived in food classrooms. I know exactly what you are saying.

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      • 12th January 2016 at 8:59 pm
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        Wow didn’t know you taught ️️food. I’m even more impressed now. I suppose it’s like everything it depends on the context but Tea will stay in my classroom as long as is possible!

  • 19th March 2016 at 11:21 am
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    Give staff regular , uninterrupted breaks then this won’t be an issue. We are human beings in case anyone forgot

    Reply

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