Teaching

Let the tea steep: Why waiting is OK

Quick action produces change, but letting ideas settle in your brain can be powerful. Let the tea steep. (Flickr / Evan Bench)

Quick action produces change, but letting ideas settle in your brain can be powerful. Let the tea steep. (Flickr / Evan Bench)

Where I live in Indiana, two beverages are almost always available at get-togethers and pitch-in dinners — tea and lemonade. If only one of them is available, it’s usually tea.

My mother in law almost always has two large pitchers of sweet tea on hand whenever family comes to her house for dinner. And when I say sweet tea, it’s really sweet. We sometimes joke that the family’s sweet tea resembles molasses more than tea!

This was a problem for me when I met my wife and we started dating. I didn’t like tea at all and had to develop a taste for it. Since then, I’ve developed an appreciation for tea and will now choose it over other drinks.

I have also developed an appreciation for the process of making tea. It takes time. If you want to have a cup of tea or make an entire pitcher, it can’t be done immediately. (Unless you’re using that gross powdered mix stuff. That’s just not tea, in my opinion.)

You have to boil water. When it’s hot enough, you add tea bags to the water.

Then, you wait. And wait. And wait.

Eventually, the water immerses the tea leaves. The flavor permeates the water and increases the longer the tea bags are in the water.

Good tea takes time. Sometimes, so does good teaching.

I get good ideas from my classroom from Twitter, from reading other teachers’ blogs, from attending conferences, and from chatting with other teachers. I’m often intrigued with what I hear, but sometimes, I’m not quite ready to implement it.

Those ideas have to steep in my mind. They have to blend with other ideas. I have to let them permeate into my existing ideas and the classroom environment I’m trying to create.

I was like that with using Skype and Google Hangouts in class. I loved the idea. I read and listened to other teachers about how they used it, but the idea stayed in the back of my mind for a while. Eventually, it was time to take action, and the Mystery Skypes and classroom collaboration was memorable for my students.

The tea was ready, so to speak.

All of this isn’t to say that inaction is always productive. Often, I tend to sit on my good ideas too long. At some point, our inaction robs our students of opportunities. Eventually, steeping the tea won’t add any more flavor to it. When it’s time, jump in, create and adjust on the fly.

There’s a great quote by Amy Poehler, formerly of Saturday Night Live, about how great people do things before they’re ready. (It’s illustrated masterfully in this “Zen Pencils” comic.) She says:

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that … that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special. And if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself.”

Quick, decisive action is great, but there’s definitely value in taking your time and letting your subconscious work through the details a little. A nice mix of both probably is a good idea.

So don’t be afraid to let the tea steep. The results might just taste much better.

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