“Who’s the most important person you will ever talk to?” I ask my sophomore English class.
Among the garbled responses such as “the President” and “my parents,” I hear a tiny female voice say “me.”
“Me?” I asked, smiling, and locking eyes on the girl who said it.
The class snickers and I snap my fingers. “That’s enough,” I say. “So you all think it’s funny to listen to yourself?”
I boost myself onto my stool. “Alright then. We’ll conduct an experiment. Everyone, when I say, “‘Go,’ you will close your eyes and be silent for one minute. Ready. Go.”
My seasoned student’s were quite accustomed to my unique experiments, but the new boy, Toby, in the back is unaware that he’s subject to being called on for insight after the seemingly frivolous assignment. He glances out the window and slides his cell phone out of his pocket as if this is Day 1 of student teaching for me.
I clear my throat and raise my eyebrows his way. He points to the device in his hand. It’s like charades.
I dip my chin to my chest, my eyes fixed on his, until he shrugs and closes his eyes.
Several seconds later, I snap the class out of their momentary isolation from the world.
“Raise your hand if you heard total silence,” I say. Four hands float toward the ceiling. “If you raised your hand, I want you to reconsider as we discuss. So, the rest of you must have heard something. Toby, what did you hear?”
Toby stomps his boot on the floor. “Me thinking that it’s messed up that I can’t even look at my phone to see what time it is.”
“Oh, so you were talking to yourself,” I say, not indulging his ploy to have a debate on the school cell phone policy.
Giggles ripple across the class. “What about you?” I say, calling on Brittany.
“How I’m going to break my record at the track meet this weekend,” she says.
As other students relate their inner musings, the giggles subside and reflection sets in.
“Think of your voice, the one you hear all day, every day — the voice you can’t get away from even if you do this,” I say, placing my hands over my ears. “Think of how important a voice that speaks to you that often must influence you. You are the most important person you’ll ever have a conversation with.”
I touch the podium to my right and tell the youth staring at me that when I debuted my first lessons, my insides shook so badly that I had to stand behind the lectern to steady myself. I told myself that no one in the room really wanted to be there — that they didn’t really want to listen to my lame lesson.
I pictured how silly I must look and how stupid I must sound. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted to vomit. But as the school days passed, I realized that how I talked to myself mattered more than the assignments I was giving — mattered more than the demographic of student’s in the classroom — mattered even more than my master’s degree.
The voice inside my head determined my ability to convey a point or model a skill successfully.
Once I caught on that my self-talk was the foundation of my reality, I’d grab a rampant negative thought before it had a chance to foster. Whatever it said, I said the opposite. If I heard, “You aren’t interesting enough to keep the class’s attention,” I said, “I’m creative and my student’s are curious.”
I got good at nabbing that nasty voice in my head and twisting it to say what I wanted it to say. It’s my head, after all.
I’ve heard people say they talk to themselves because they like the answers they get. I like mine, too. The nicer I speak to myself, the nicer I speak to everyone in my path. Double-talk redefined.
Now how amazing is that!
Michele Zirkle Marcum is a native of Meigs County and an author. Her column appears each Tuesday.
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