Steap’d In Storytelling: Traci Levy Shares the Power of Inclusive Education

Traci (she/her) lives on Long Island in New York. She created an Instagram tea account in 2015 to connect with other tea lovers and started a tea blog (Tea Infusiast) in 2020, where she shares her research on tea history and culture, an occasional recipe, and how tea helps her cultivate mindfulness.

Recently, she completed the Being Tea Teacher Training, an experiential learning program aimed at building effective tea educators. The program is facilitated by Suzette Hammond, a tea trainer, educator, and professional located in Chicago.

As I traverse through the Being Tea Teacher Training myself, I’m interviewing others who have completed the program. My aim in these interviews is to share their stories and bring awareness to the depth of Suzette’s curriculum explores.


Marco Namowicz: Hi Traci! It’s great to connect over tea and it has been a pleasure learning from your experiences in the space. What is your professional background? Describe your connection to tea.

Traci Levy: Tea is a passion, not my full-time job. I am an associate professor of political science at a liberal arts college on Long Island in New York. I love teaching! It’s usually the highlight of my work week. My research and pedagogy focus on care. I think a lot about our responsibilities to give care to others (and ourselves) and how public policies can help or frustrate those efforts. Tea has been a central part of my life since I was a small girl. I grew up drinking black tea with milk and sugar. Tea was always more than a delicious beverage—it was how my family connected with eachother daily and at every family gathering.

Eventually, I discovered the world of loose-leaf tea and my tea practice evolved dramatically. Searching for other tea lovers, I began @teainfusiast, my Instagram account, in 2015. In December 2020, I began the Tea Infusiast blog. I began organizing online tea events and my first local tea meetup in 2022 (after I began tea teacher training).


What inspired you to enroll in the Being Tea Teacher Training Program?

I was a Being Tea member before I joined tea teacher training. I loved Sooz’s workshops and events. Quiet Tea Sunday was also (and still is) a favorite. I admire Sooz’s teaching, how they run events, and the community they create. I often toggle between being in the zone and “simply” enjoying their events to going “meta” and marveling at Sooz’s teaching skills. I did not plan on necessarily teaching tea classes or running tea events when I joined the tea teacher training. As a pedagogy geek and someone who teaches a lot (but not, at the time, in tea spaces), I thought I could pick up some new insights by attending Sooz’s class. I also thought it would be fun! I was right on both counts! It wasn’t long before the program captured my imagination, and I began organizing tea events.


Before the program, what would you say your experience had been facilitating learning experiences for others?

As I mentioned, I am a professor. I have been teaching in Higher Ed for over twenty years. I love teaching, and learning new ways to better reach, serve, and connect my students to the material. I have increasingly used role-playing pedagogy in the last eight years or so. I have even created an extended live-action roleplaying game for college classrooms. My game, “The Challenge and Inequality of Care,” focuses on informal caregiving in the United States. It immerses players in the difficulty of meeting care responsibilities while meeting employer expectations without robust federal or state care policies.


How have you taken the lessons you’ve learned through your cohort and applied them out of tea-centric experiences?

From the Being Tea Teacher Training, I’ve started to think from a more trauma-informed and inclusive perspective. I’ve thought even more about providing flexible frameworks to help people feel more comfortable. I’ll give you two examples of how I have integrated insights from tea teacher training into my college classes.

When I first taught on Zoom, I automatically put everyone in a breakout room and required interactive small group work. Sooz’s guidance for cultivating a less-stressed learning environment led me to question why I was doing that. To honor students’ preferences, I started offering a choice sometimes. I asked whether they wanted to stay in the main room and work alone or move into a breakout room to discuss the class topic with others. Since then, I’ve introduced more choices like this to my in-person classes, too. I hope this practice helps students work through class material in a way that feels more comfortable for them. Less stress and meeting more students within their “window of tolerance” contribute to better conditions for what I am trying to accomplish.


What advice would you provide for someone interested in taking the Being Tea Teacher Training program?

Although there is a lot of (understandable) emphasis on the subject matter of what we teach, HOW we teach is every bit as important. We’ve all attended classes and workshops that were less than inspiring. Teaching is not an innate ability. Good teaching is primarily a set of skills that can be learned and honed with time, attention, and experience. Building teaching skills helps us create better spaces for people to learn and have meaningful experiences.

Having someone with Sooz’s teaching skills, industry experience, and deep learning walk you through the technical and pedagogical aspects of teaching and tea is such an incredible gift to anyone who would like to be in tea education and event spaces. Learning how to be more effective and inclusive in these spaces is going to be such a boon to you and the participants at your events. It was so interesting and felt meaningful. Enroll in Sooz’s program! One more thing.

Another incredible aspect of the Being Tea Teacher Program is the community Sooz helps cultivate among the students. It’s so creative and warm and helpful! You get to bond with your cohort AND build connections to other cohorts through the all-teacher events that Sooz organizes regularly. The community-building is another reason to enroll. I look forward to seeing my tea teacher friends.


Why is accessible or inclusive education important?

What do we crave more in this world than being seen, included, and respected? Spaces that welcome people as their whole and authentic selves—that’s where true community and deep learning can blossom. Inclusive education is also crucial to dismantling oppressive structures that “other” anyone who doesn’t fit into dominant ways of being and doing.


What is your hope for the future of tea education in the U.S.? 

It would be wonderful to see more tea educators committed to developing their teaching skills and thinking comprehensively and inclusively about the tea spaces they cultivate. I’m so grateful Sooz is doing this important work through Being Tea Teacher Training.


Do you have anything in the works you’d like to share with the tea community or coming-soon content inspired by this program?

I am inspired by how tea and our stories can connect us. To create a space that fosters those connections, I’m organizing “Story of a Teacup”. It will be a cozy virtual event centered around drinking tea together while we each share a story about a piece of our teaware. (It doesn’t have to be a teacup!) The stories can be funny, nostalgic, happy, serendipitous, etc. I am looking forward to making time for sharing tea and swapping stories with other tea lovers. We’ll gather online for that event in 2023. A special guest will join us, too. Full details coming soon!


CONCLUSION

It’s clear to see how Traci’s commitment to inclusivity and meeting students where they are, both in the classroom and around the tea table. Her work within academia supports the idea that concepts through the Being Tea program apply outside tea spaces. I look forward to participating in Traci’s future programming!

For more information on Traci Levy and the full scope of the Being Tea educational programming, links are below!

Learn about Being Tea
Teacher Training Program / Instagram / Facebook

Join Traci Levy
Website / Instagram / Facebook

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