Withitness in the Classroom (page 3)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Oct 14, 2011

Can X-Ray Vision be Used to Read Someone’s Mind?

Good teachers have a way of being able to read the emotional needs of their students. You must develop a keen sense of observation to develop this sixth sense. When a student is upset, depressed, or agitated, he will provide you with a set of cues. Some are visual (e.g., hunched shoulders, head tilting downward), others are auditory (e.g., a shaky voice), and still others may be more outwardly behavioral. Through observation, you must try to sense when a student is upset and “ready to explode.” Those are the times when you need to just back off. Conversely, teachers need to be able to sense when a student needs positive reinforcement and move to provide it. The same visual, auditory, and behavioral cues will help.

Just as important, good substitute teachers must know when they need to “read someone’s mind.” You’ll know when it is necessary to intercede to avoid disruptive behavior and act appropriately to provide positive reinforcement.

To illustrate this point, I want to give you a personal example. I was subbing in a ninth-grade classroom and encountered a young lady whose academic skills were weak. To mask her weakness, she enjoyed disrupting class as an escape from doing her work. Ignoring directions was a good way to procrastinate. Defying her teacher was another pastime.

I noticed that she loved to wear jewelry (a visual cue) and she had a wonderful sense of style (or at least as wonderful as any ninth grader could have).

During an unstructured time, I decided to compliment her on her style and good taste. I took the time to have a “fashion conversation.” I asked her for some shopping advice for myself. She responded well. After that, I was sure to notice her jewelry selections and comment on them whenever it seemed appropriate. Through observation, I “read her mind,” found common ground, and established a communication pathway. After that, I had very little trouble with her behavior.


X-ray vision is an illusion that effective teachers use to create an “all-knowing” image. As a sub, you can do the same thing, and, as a result, you will be better able to manage your classroom. The following guidelines will help:

  • Strive to achieve “withitness.” A good substitute teacher is able to anticipate situations before they happen by using a combination of multitasking, classroom awareness, alertness, intuition, and confidence.
  • Recognize that the “ripple effect” can serve you well. If you can correct the behavior of one student, your effort can ripple across the classroom and positively influence all students. To accomplish this, you have to clearly identify the behavior problem and address a solution firmly.
  • Focus on one-to-one interactions when behavioral problems arise. If you sense that a particular student needs your attention or is misbehaving, address that student privately rather than disrupting or punishing the entire class.
  • Use little tricks to establish the x-ray vision illusion. Wait a beat before you correct a misbehavior you’ve observed, allowing students to believe you have eyes in the back of your head. As you develop this skill, you’ll learn to take advantage of the illusion.
  • Use facial expressions to convey your reactions to student conduct. If you are pleased, show it. If you are displeased, you can develop your “look.”
  • Try to sense and anticipate the needs of individuals and address them individually with those students. Develop a repertoire of individual responses to particular students. They will appreciate your individualized attention.

Like many other aspects of effective substitute teaching, x-ray vision comes naturally for some and is a struggle for others. But with effort and practice, you too will hear a wide-eyed student ask you, “How did you know?”

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