More than a month into school, and I am struck by how busy life in the K/1 world is. My mentor teacher and the rest of the teacher team have been focused on getting the children comfortable with new expectations and new routines. I’ve seen first-hand the patience and focus that goes into repeating norms, expectations, and the schedule to children for weeks to help them feel secure with their new roles as kindergarteners and first graders. Ironically, I am negotiating my identity as a teacher in training, and some days I feel as clumsy as any kindergartener on their first day of school. My mentor and I have told our class that they are teaching me how to be a teacher. They seem amazed that someone as “old” as me could be in college. One of my first grade friends said, “college is where you go to school when you are eighteen”. He seemed disturbed to learn that someone can go back to college at any age.
So here I am, “at any age”, humbled by the mastery of my mentor. I have witnessed dozens of teachers in action, and have never seen a teacher with more “withitness” than my mentor. In the teacher world “withitness” is a proactive awareness of what is going on in the classroom. Of course, withitness is a classroom management skill that I hope to master someday so what great fortune to have a mentor who has mastered it! In my daily observations I have noticed that she puts a great deal of time and energy into learning each child in the first month of the year. The school program requires each teacher to conduct a home visit before the year starts. On top of this she does many things to make sure she is meeting each child where they are. I sat in on three meetings with families to discuss special accommodations for their children. But beyond this, she had the ability to see a child’s learning profile after a brief two weeks of working with them. I think this keen insight can be attributed to her six years of teaching K/1; but perhaps more weight can be placed on her tireless passion for ensuring that each child reach their personal best. So, I think her withitness has been achieved by having endless tricks in her bag, and then applying them according to the differentiated temperaments and learning needs of the children.
Another way that my mentor exhibits withitness is in her ability to balance presence and pacing throughout the day. She has a gift for keeping the class on schedule, while maintaining contagious enthusiasm for the task at hand. There have been times when an activity needed to be delayed or excluded. She has a knack for prioritizing what can missed at no cost to the childrens’ learning. My mentor has high expectations of herself to continually refine her craft of teaching. This high expectation translates to high expectations of the children to take themselves seriously as “mathematicians” “scientists” “authors”, etc. She dedicates Sunday afternoons and many after school hours to ensuring she is prepared to give masterful instruction.
When I was first introduced to the attribute of withitness in teaching, I thought it must be some kind of magic that came with many years of teaching. And it is, yet my mentor is showing me that withitness is much more. It is dedication to meeting each child’s learning needs. It is a tireless passion for refining the craft of teaching. One must have a big collection of tricks in their bag, and know just when to use each one. And finally, I must face the fact that withitness means working late. I think withitness is when all of these components of teaching are orchestrated. Gratitude to my mentor teacher for sharing her mastery of withitness!