Pre-teaching rituals: it’s more than just a coffee

di Gemma Jackson

You may have often seen, as you made your way out of or into the Oxford School, a collection of native speakers, huddled around the coffee machine, with tiny cups of quality-lacking coffee clutched against our chests. We probably spoke faster than you could keep up with and more often than not, in accents you weren’t used to hearing bubble up out of us. Slang would have marred the coherency of our sentences. And we were most likely doing what teachers do best when they have a ton of planning or marking to do: procrastinating.

It is difficult to put into words just how difficult it is to plan efficiently when you like the people you work with. This is the enduring problem of the Oxford School. Therefore, to get our lesson planning done in this environment, we have to be tactical. This is where the coffee machine comes in. Why? You ask. Why do our teachers drink coffee from a machine when they live and work in Italy? You probably assume it’s because we’re not Italian; we know no better. Except the Italian staff members do it too (sorry for being the whistle-blower, but we are a team after all).

In short, the coffee machine is our compromise. Picture this: it’s Monday morning; we have at least 2 hours of planning to do and that doesn’t even cover us to mid-week of our classes; the phones are about to start ringing off their hooks; we are bracing ourselves for an intense working week that won’t let up until Saturday. We need to compose ourselves. Get in the zone. What better way than the lightness of a quick, guilt-free, chinwag? We empty ourselves of our weekend tales and move our focus to the tasks at hand of that working week.

Does this eradicate procrastination amongst staff members? Absolutely not. But it does create a balance during our long days. It allows our minds to relax and think about something other than conditionals or the present perfect. We can then step into our classes, fresh, focused and ready to teach. Time away from teaching and planning is just as vital to ensuring a teacher is able to do their job well. Teaching is intellectually and emotionally draining. We need to rest, to laugh, to move, to remember we’re not just teachers, though our job can feel all-consuming at times. When at the school, that can be done with something as small as a 10-minute coffee break.