California Educator

February 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 19 of 59

E A R L I E R I N T H E Y E A R , Victor stayed behind after class to ask about his grade. For someone doing well, I love to be the bearer of good news. But there was no joy to report to this young man. ough I knew his grade, I turned to the computer and brought up the gradebook, hoping the delay might soften the blow. He stood nervously as I announced, "Sorry, Vic- tor, you've got a D." Inst ead of b eg gin g for an extra credit a s s i g n m e n t o r w h i m p e r i n g , " I ' l l b e grounded till 2017," Victor raised his arms and hollered, " Yes!" A D is a pass, and that was good enough. Victor is in a class with lots of Victors. ink Lord of the Flies. is particular class is rowdier than my others in the same pro- portion that the football team is rowdier than the chess club. Once a month, the boys play the [male appendage] game. One student whispers, "[male appendage]." His competitor whispers it louder. They go b ack and for th , each tim e a littl e loud er, unti l "[male appendage]!" is screamed across the room . I yell. They laugh. Once while I was working with a small group, there was cheering from the other side of the room as two boys were arm wrestling. I rushed over. Instead of being cha- grined at being caught, the winner held out his open palm and smiled, "C'mon, Biers, let's go!" One may wonder why so little learning takes place given that I use research- based pedagog y, and the "you-must-go-to-college- to-succeed-in-life" mantra has been hammered into t h e i r h e a d s b y e v e r y t e a c h e r st a r t i n g i n k i n - dergarten. While there are many reasons for the lack of learning including poverty, language barriers and dys- functional families, it's impossible to tease out a single culprit. But forget all that. ey don't learn because they don't read, and they don't read because paper books can't compete with the electronic hegemony of YouTube and Facebook. is is old news. Out of desperation, I laid out a selection of classic novels from The Catcher in the Rye to The Stranger and gave a quick overview of each. "Pick a book. We'll be reading every day for 15 minutes." ey laughed. Victor said, "I've never read an entire book in my life." "No way," I replied. He smirked in that way that said, "Way." On the first day, a third of the class read, a third pretended to read, and a third did n o thi n g b ut w hi sp er thi n g s li ke " [m a l e app en d a ge] ! " an d " Bi g ! " Th e y kn e w th e experiment would end like my other failed teaching attempts. But week 2 rolled around, and each class started with, "Take out your novels," and each day a couple more kids got beyond page one. By week 3, when the 15 minutes were up, they asked for more time. Victor was well into Lord of the Flies. A miracle. Even in our day of ubiquitous Internet and incessant texting, it is possible that a good book can still hold a student's attention if given the time and space. I tell my colleagues only half-jokingly that out of all the work- shops on lesson planning and all the times burning the midnight oil trying to come up with lessons that capture the students' attention, the most successful lesson with my class of Victors is: "Take out your book and read." A book provides a respite from the yoke of being perpet- ually wired. e psyche breathes a sigh of relief during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading). e satisfaction of watching them read is sublime. e only thing that could top this would be if Victor were to finish Lord of the Flies and reflect, "You know, Biers, this book sounds kind of like us." If that were to happen, I'd give him an A. Matt Biers-Ariel teaches English at Winters High School and is president of the Winters Area Education Associa- tion. When not teaching or unionizing, he writes books. A Miracle in English 12 By MATT BIERS-ARIEL Matt Biers-Ariel Your Voice "Your Voice" is for you. Have some- thing to say about your students, or the art and science of teaching? Tell us a story that illustrates your experience or opinion, and it could be published here. Send no more than 650 words to, with "Your Voice" in the subject line. Submissions are subject to editing for clarity and space. 18

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of California Educator - February 2016