Should schools provide a tea trolley for teachers?

Covid has put paid to the quick trip to the staffroom for a breaktime cuppa. Is there an alternative, asks Sarah Ledger
19th October 2020, 1:39pm

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Should schools provide a tea trolley for teachers?

https://www.tes.com/magazine/archive/should-schools-provide-tea-trolley-teachers
Tea Trolley, With Pot Of Tea & Two Cups On It

The very mention of a tea trolley recalls happier times. The gentle hiss of a steaming urn, the rattle of china, as a rosy-cheeked purveyor of hot beverages makes their way down the corridor - accompanied perhaps by the fragrance of freshly ground coffee and - what's that? - gingerbread, warm from the oven. 

"I'll have a slice to go with my cuppa, Mrs Miggins," I say, and as she pours a mugful just as I like it - strong, no sugar; plenty of milk - she slips an extra slice into a bag. "Save that piece for later, my love," she beams. "You've been looking a bit peaky lately, and Mr M always says the treacle in my gingerbread makes him feel twice the man."

You see? It only took seconds to go from "tea trolley" to a clumsily stereotyped spin-off from Acorn Antiques. But it's more than a wild fantasy. John Hardy, chair of Schools North East network has brought back the tea trolley, to raise staff morale in his Hartlepool primary school. 

Coronavirus: New, brew-unfriendly working practices

This makes sense. New working practices, where movement around the school has changed the way teachers rehydrate, mean it's no longer practical to carry around an insulated flask along with a laptop, this week's photocopying, extra pencils and a set of The Machine Gunners.

And the days when you could pop back to the base for a swift brew and a handful of Quality Street left over from the NQT's birthday without taking a half-mile detour from the Year 7 bubble in maths to the Year 13 bubble in drama and back again are long gone. 

A tea trolley may be just the thing in a primary school. But - and there's always a "but" - how can it be managed on a large site in a secondary school? My imagined tea-trolley operator would have to be suitably shod - I'm thinking New Balance trainers - and the trolley equipped with multiterrain wheels and suspension. 

The urn might be bubbling away merrily on the way out of the kitchens, but how long would it take during the trek across the top yard for the water to cool and a disappointing trickle of tepid liquid - barely enough to dampen the teabag - to dribble out of the spout? 

A precisely timed operation

Timing would be critical. Breaks are spent sanitising, unplugging, packing up, wiping the board, sanitising, moving from room to room, sanitising, wiping the board - for the love of God will you wipe the board before you vacate the room? You know who you are - unpacking, plugging in (who knew that science labs had a separate switch to isolate all the plugs sockets? Not me, that's for sure. I had to learn the hard way), sanitising, and finally checking Year 10 are in the exact same seating plan as in the other room you teach them.

Even if the tea trolley reached you, and even if it's carrying your favourite organic elderflower infusion - because let's face it, a choice between Aldi Colombian freeze-dried granules and Red Label value teabags simply isn't good enough - you'd barely have time to stir the cup before having to dash off to the humanities annexe. 

We need to take our cue from F1 and organise pit stops. A tea urn - close to power and water sources - lavishly furnished with both healthy options and turbo-charged caffeine, dotted around every 500 metres or so will do the trick. No faceless vending machine: a steady hand on the teapot and a friendly smile is what's needed. 

And, when this is all over, we'll be grateful for the time and space to pour our own tea without wondering if it's quicker to get to the next lesson via the car park, 

Sarah Ledger is an English teacher and director of learning for Year 11 at William Howard School in Brampton Cumbria. She has been teaching for 34 years

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