Grow Eyes in the Back of Your Head
Only the most skilled teacher can turn from his class, begin writing information on the instructional whiteboard, and then, as a student begins whispering and snickering, comment without ever turning around, “Suzette, you're supposed to be taking notes. Let's get to work, please.” You remember such a teacher from your own schooldays, right? When you asked how she could have possibly known who was talking she replied, “I've got eyes in the back of my head.” But how did she really do it? And how can you do the same thing?
It all boils down to your sense of hearing. If you can significantly improve your listening skills, you can amaze your students with your uncanny ability to identify yakkers even with your back turned. Then you can redirect the culprits to the lesson at hand so they can fully benefit from your instruction.
If you use the eyes-in-the-back-of-your-head technique and misidentify a talker, you risk some embarrassment. Initially, try rephrasing a remonstration as a simple question: “Emma, are you talking instead of taking notes?” If Emma protests her innocence, say, “Well, it certainly sounds like you. Please make sure you're working.” Usually, the talking will cease at that point.
Here's a suggestion for improving your hearing. A psychiatrist, Dr. Alexander Stevens of the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon, has reported in the October 3, 2007 issue of The Journal of Neurosciencethat many blind people hear better than sighted people because they've trained themselves to rely heavily on aural cues. The blind co-opt an area of the brain called the medial occipital,normally used for seeing, and use it for significantly enhanced hearing instead. How this is done is not fully understood, but in his experiments Dr. Stevens learned that when sighted people want to concentrate on outside stimuli, they use their medial occipital to focus their eyes; but when the blind need to concentrate on outside stimuli, they use the same region of the brain to “focus” their ears.
Simply put, when your back is to the class for any reason, concentrate intently on sounds rather than sights. Over time — although you might not be able to substantially rewire your brain as many blind people have done — you may nonetheless greatly increase your listening skills. In this way, you may be able to pick out the individual voices of each of your students and correctly identify a kid even if your head is down or your back is turned. Your students may be sufficiently awed by a few demonstrations of your invisible second set of eyes to never dare throwing crumpled paper or starting to talk while your back is temporarily turned.