Do you ever get the sense that someone is talking about you?
If you are a teacher, that happens pretty much every single day. From students complaining about something you said, an assignment that you’ve given them, or just using your name in conversation for who knows what, it’s very easy to become paranoid in your own classroom.
What students don’t know, but no one ever tells that, is that teachers are blessed with hyper-hearing, sensitive to anything that even remotely sounds like his or her own name.
From the back of the room, I hear it: A whispered “Ferro” and my ears perk up. I don’t know the context, but I’m not sure that I care. It isn’t accompanied by hand-raising to get my attention, so I’m suspicious. My defenses are triggered. I lean closer, hoping to get the rest of the conversation. No, I can’t make it out so rather than try to understand the context, I immediately say: “Did I hear my name?”
Now pardon me if this seems an accusatory tone, but I’m a little sensitive about hearing my name when I don’t think that I should be hearing it. Of course, they could be complimenting me, but I teach middle school. What is the likelihood of that? Pretty much slim to none, especially when not aimed directly.
Usually, I catch them, those name-whisperers, like deer in headlights, trapped in my gaze. Immediately, after recovering from the shock, the student usually asks, “How did you hear me?” Notice: the student does not apologize. Notice: the student does not try to explain what he or she said. Notice: the kid acknowledges my superhuman hearing. Suddenly, I feel a bit like the narrator in a Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell Tale Heart,” not the completely-mad-so-I-stalk-and-kill-my-neighbor lunatic part, but of all my senses, my teacher sense of hearing is certainly more acute, and I hear all things in room 501.
“Don’t you know,” I begin to question, “That teachers can hear their name in pretty much any noise level? It’s something that we are taught in teacher school.” I know that they don’t buy the second half of the remark, but the first half makes them think. After all, I did just catch them sullying (aren’t they?) my name.
“Here’s something to think about,” I continue. “If you ever want to talk about your teacher,” I tell them, “You use some sort of code word. Something super innocuous like, let’s say, ‘basketball.’ If you’re talking about basketball, it’s likely that I won’t suspect anything.” In most settings, talk of basketball would be, at most, off task, but not suspicious, and it wouldn’t warrant the hyper-vigilance of saying my name.
“So what you’re saying is that we should have a codeword for our teachers?” asked with a level of incredulity.
“Well,” I go on, violating some unspoken teacher code, “Yes. Unless you want to explain to everyone of your teachers what exactly you were talking about when you say our names.”
I won’t lie, I probably will react this way as long as this scenario persists, but I haven’t heard my name as much lately. Come to think of it, there’s been a lot more talk about basketball.
Maybe, I tell myself, it’s just the March Madness. Yes, I insist. Madness.