My stomach lurched and my heart stopped, just for a moment, when my lead teacher called across the room, "I have to take him to the potty. Are you good?"
I looked up from the two children working on tracing Bs and smiled, "No problem," I answered. Then I surveyed the room. There were 12 children engaged in a plethora of activity. A small group near me had set up a restaurant in the kitchen. Another group was playing with the train set. A pair of boys had the bucket of toy animals spread across the rug. Across the room, which suddenly seemed cavernous, two children worked on their craft and two more stood at the easel. In the space of a second, this mother of twins had gone from my comfort zone, working with two preschoolers at once, to a place of anxiety.
I stood, moving across the room to the craft table, where the children looked like they needed some help. My gaze swept back to the Bs. How would I keep them on task while I was across the room? My gaze swept to the kitchen. What if they started throwing the food? I thought their rebellion was imminent with one teacher out of the room. Rebellion would most certainly happen in a high school classroom under these circumstances, and I've even seen graduate students who have failed to remain on task when I've run back to my office to grab some supplies.
In the two minutes it took for the boy to go to the bathroom, somehow I transitioned two children into the craft and one more into the easel work. I helped those who were finished to place their work on the drying rack, and I replaced all the supplies the new workers would need. When my mentor teacher returned, she said, "You're good!" I didn't feel it. I felt I had completely abandoned my charges at the B table, but what I realized was that the room continued to run smoothly despite her absence. The children remained on task, not looking for a way to push their boundaries while their teacher was out of the room.
Though the preschool classroom is not always a panacea of behaved youth, it is a far cry from the secondary rooms where teens try to work the system and to get away with as much as possible. Motivation is so much different in these two settings, and I wonder how much can be attributed to age and how much to the demands that we place on students as they mature. As I picture the sweet faces of the 3- and 4-year-olds, I wonder what they would look like in my high school English classroom a decade from now.