Mrs. Ryan's Class

A Digital Learning Hub for students and parents

Biker Bar Moment

on September 2, 2015

I chose to use my blog to tell the story about a moment when I felt like the “other”, or what James Paul Gee refers to as a “biker bar” moment in his introduction to “Social Linguistics and Literacies”. Blogging feels like the most appropriate and comfortable tool to tell this story and reflect on my students and teaching in this context. As Sherry Turkle states in her Ted Talk: Connected but Alone?, technology affords me the ability to “edit, delete, and retouch” my writing before I send it out into the world to make sure I represent myself in the way I intend. This is comforting, especially when telling a personal story that makes me vulnerable.


Me: age 6, walking into my first day of first grade

Despite my edits, deleted sections, and retouching, the following story is 100% true: My biker bar moment happened when I was 14 years old on my first day of public high school. I attended a small, close knit Catholic School for all 9 years of my primary, elementary, and middle school education- I didn’t know anything else. My family was very involved in the school and church community and all of my friends were from my school. To provide you with a frame of reference of the culture at my school, I was not allowed to wear any makeup, nail polish, color my hair, or wear any non-religious jewelry. My skirt could be no more than half an inch above my knee, and the heels on my shoes could not exceed ¾ of an inch. (I wouldn’t dare push these boundaries because the nuns used rulers to measure.)

I did not know what to expect out of my first day at a large public high school, but I was definitely not prepared for what I experienced. I walked into the building and immediately heard kids talking loudly to their friends and using curse words. They were wearing tank tops and jeans, and I could see some of their “exposed midriffs.” (Gasp!)  Then I passed by a 6 foot tall teenager with a lime green mohawk listening to music in headphones. Everything I saw and everyone I met that day scared me – it was so different than everything I was used to. I didn’t look like anyone, didn’t talk like anyone, and didn’t fit in.

Eventually I made friends and found a group of people that I could relate to, but I was not prepared for what to expect when I went to high school. With a little pre-teaching to provide me with perspective on the reality of public high school, I might have been able to enter that new environment without fear and worry that I was an outsider and everyone was looking at me.

Boy in the middle looking nervous and confused. Photo labeled for reuse from USAG- Humphreys

Boy in the middle looking nervous and confused.
Photo labeled for reuse from USAG- Humphreys

I teach 3rd grade at a 3-5 school, so my students are brand new to the building, teachers, and many classmates. As I get to know my kids this week, I have begun notice the evidence of their fears and insecurities. This class of eight year olds look to each other and mimic behavior that they think is expected. They start out very quiet, and gradually build up courage to talk to the people sitting near them or at their lockers. Students at my school are allowed to use e-readers or personal devices during school, but are blocked from social media resources.

In a way I am grateful that my students do not have the opportunity to hide behind a device and are encouraged to communicate directly with peers, though at home I know that social media prevails, even at the age of eight. In years past my students have talked about Facetiming, texting, and video-chatting their friends at home instead of participating in clubs, sports, or play dates. I agree with Turkle when she says, “technology not only changes what we do, but who we are.” My students are learning how to be social and interact with peers in school, but at home they interact with each other at an arm’s length. They are able to “edit, delete, and retouch” the conversations and experiences they have with friends.

As my students navigate their new school, it is easy to see what background knowledge and understanding of school expectations that they bring. Each child has different experiences that inform their decisions and understanding both behaviorally and academically. Gee highlights this idea of perspective through the discussion of Patricia William’s 1991 Court Case involving sausage. Different people can draw much different conclusions from the same scenario based on their prior knowledge and experience. (p. 11)

I believe that ensuring a common understanding is essential before I can expect students to perform in a certain way. For example, I do not assume that students automatically or intrinsically know what I mean when I say, “Take out your whiteboard, dry-erase marker, and eraser and set up your whiteboards for the Trash Can Game. Then come to your rug spot for Math.” During these first few weeks of school I model and explicitly teach every transition, routine, and expected behavior one at a time. I also provide ample time for students to observe their peers, practice in groups, and practice individually. It is not expected that all students master every transition, routine, and expected behavior right away, but each child has an opportunity to learn what to expect, even if it is a brand new situation or task.

This type of common understanding of classroom expectations ensures that each student knows what to do and how to do it. My hope is that this will diminish the “biker bar” feelings that my students may have in my classroom so they can focus on learning, connecting, and having fun.


3 responses to “Biker Bar Moment

  1. keelygarden says:

    Great post! At the middle school most of my students are on social media. The school blocks Facebook but kids don’t really use it anymore so it is kind of funny that it is blocked. There are a lot of valuable educational groups on facebook that would benefit my students. Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Vines are not blocked making the Facebook block totally inexplicable.


  2. Susanne Murphy says:

    Got it, thanks


  3. John Vieira says:

    Great job connecting your experience to that of your students!


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