The brown teapot

My mum was a child of the 1950’s, a very different world that seems to have been absorbed into history. What do you know about the fifties? Anyway her mum had a brown teapot. It was used every afternoon; my mum would sit there at the table and her afternoon cup of tea would be poured out.

One day my mum was given the auspicious task of making the tea. This was even more important because a guest was visiting. My mum nervously boiled the water, poured it into the warmed teapot (everything had to be warmed up in those days) the tea cosy fitted before bringing it through. The cups and milk were in place. It was at this point she handed the teapot over. Her mum poured the first cup. To be honest I’m not sure if they were milk in first people. Shock! Plain water came gushing out! In all the occasions my mum had observed her mother she had never once seen her add tea leaves (there were no bags in their house) My mum thought the brown teapot created the tea! There was a slight awkward moment and her mother took things in hand. Tea disaster averted. But it was an event that stuck with my mum so long that it was a story she told me when I was younger.

This innocent story revealed several things: something’s cannot be learned by osmosis (or is that Brownian motion in terms of tea?) some things have to be made explicit. Teachers cannot always expect students to get it just by modelling outcome, although the ‘here’s one I made earlier’ approach can really help.

No, students sometimes need to see the obvious. I have joked with primary colleagues that Primary teaching is the art of stating the obvious. Most of them have understood my gentle jibe, laced with respect. Without a firm base of basic understanding, students can have no way of building a more complex understanding.

For my mum to honestly believe that tea came from a brown teapot showed that she had glaring gaps in her knowledge. If her mum had been an educator, professionally or home based then that would never have occurred. Her embarrassment would have been averted and her confidence developed.

I have several students from various countries, a few recently arrived and part of my EAL group. This year I have had to start again. Last year’s group needed socialising support and now have gone on with their friends and manage well. This year’s group are younger, more unsure and need support with homework, ironically we had to do French yesterday! They need to fill the basic gaps in order to avoid embarrassment. Hopefully allowing them to make mistakes with me in a small trusting group, allows them to gain confidence to be sure in their normal lessons. No teapot moments for them.



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I have been teaching English for 20 years. HOD. T and L. Runner.

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