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Classroom Casino

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

Day 7 of my 21 day writing challenge

In 3rd grade I liked this girl named Vicki.

She was smart, I was smart, we were made for each other.

I’m not sure what she thought of me but I wanted to jump in bed

and read books with her.

Each week our teacher gave us a list of words to learn.

I don’t remember learning any other word as much as I remember learning the word “photography”. I had heard a lot of words and read a lot of words but this word was new and fascinating, all 11 letters and 4 syllables of it.

I knew “ph” was pronounced like “f”.

I immediately saw “photo” which I had heard before and I saw “graph” which was a word I knew. Then there was the letter “y” at the end.

I knew that sound because I have a “y” at the end of my name. It could be tricky though when you consider “my” and “Amy”.

Every Friday, we went over vocabulary homework.

Mrs. Jones* would call on students who would pronounce the word, give the definition and use it in a sentence. This brought excitement, tension, suspense and stress. Some of us completed the assignment, some of us didn’t. Some of us were confident and some of us weren’t. Some of us figured out this vocabulary thing and loved showing it (ME) and some were struggling and weren’t so enthusiastic.

When it came time to go over the homework, prepared or not, all of us were gambling with our academic reputations and social pecking order.

We didn’t just turn in our homework. We went over it as a group, word by word. Mrs. Jones would start by saying “Who wants word #1?”

I wanted to do every word so I would throw my hand in the air so fast & so high it was like NASA commandeered my arm for test shuttle launches. I would shoot invisible lasers from my retina directly into hers. Then I’d wave my hand to make sure she could see that I was indeed the one who wanted it most.

The kids who didn’t want to be picked would shrink themselves till they were tiny as a grain of sand or they would disappear by looking down and away believing if they couldn’t see her, she couldn’t see them.

You could feel the tension and anticipation. I was betting I would get picked while others were gambling they wouldn’t. Mrs. Jones was the pit boss of her own little classroom casino and the only thing missing was the cigarette smoke and the waitresses serving alcohol. The winning and losing was just as palpable and real.

She would look around the room slowly and say,

“how about………………?” with a long pause and then she’d name a student. I felt sorry for the non-shrinking grain of sand students and those who’d hoped they’d disappeared because in fact they hadn’t. For me, NOT getting picked was mere disappointment. For them, getting picked was like getting stabbed in the forehead. Deidra* would close her eyes and start mumbling. It wasn’t until 3 weeks in that we realized she was praying, “Please don’t let her pick me, please don’t let her pick me.”

Who knows how Mrs. Jones decided who to pick but looking back on it now, she knew exactly who she was making sweat and exactly who’s gratification she was delaying by pretending not to see my hand which was obviously held the highest and shot up the fastest. Oh yeah, she knew exactly what she was doing!

There were about 20 kids in our class and 10 words on the list.

Even as 8 & 9 year olds, we had crude ways of estimating our odds. Sometimes I think maybe that was a secondary lesson she meant to teach. That and being prepared.

As the weeks passed, I noticed Mrs. Jones would pick a different student for each word but never pick a student twice. This meant 10 of us would get picked and the rest of us wouldn’t. I figured for the first word, the chance I’d get picked was about the same as anyone else’s. As we got to the 5th or 6th word I was raising my hand so high my arm was nearly coming out of it’s socket. By the 8th or 9th word, I’m the one who got religious, as i chanted “Pick Me, Pick Me, Pick Me”

I decided this time I would wait. Instead of raising my hand for every word, I would only raise it for “photography”. Surely she’d notice and reward me.

“Photography” was the next word and Mrs Jones began to “deal us our hand”. She slowly looked around her little queendom and before she could finish “how about”, I thrust my hand into the air, I waved, I shot retina beams and mumbled “pick me” prayers. After a longer than usual pause she finished with “Jerry”. I exploded with excitement and balled my hand into a fist and pumped it in the air while hissing “YES!!!!”

Deidra sighed and rolled her eyes and as I settled down and composed myself, I proceeded to pronounce my word,

Foe • toe • graph • ee

Just as I finished, I could hear someone snickering and stuff seemed to all happen at the same time. I felt my face begin to get warm, it began to dawn on me that maybe I mispronounced the word and I realized it was Vicki who laughed and with the whole class witnessing, my stack of chips were whisked away by Black Jack Jones as she revealed her Ace of hearts and King of clubs with the correct pronunciation:

Fuh • tog • ruh • fee

I’m not sure exactly what happened after that. I’m guessing I gave my definition and read my sentence and continued through the rest of the day in a daze. Vicki was probably the only student who knew I mispronounced the word and all I really remember is feeling humiliated by her laughter.

Missing the pronunciation of a word in 3rd grade made me want to never make a mistake again. Fortunately I’ve made thousands of mistakes since and learned thousands of things as a result. Thankfully the feelings of shame have diminished greatly.

I’ve come to believe that in the game of life, i either win or I learn. Approaching life with this mindset makes living much more enjoyable and less humiliating.

When my teammates and I are invited to visit schools, we recruit students to become athletes in the Sport Of Thinking. We remind them that when it comes to education you either win or you learn. The only time you lose is when you choose not to learn.

I never mispronounced another word in those assignments and got mostly A’s until 5th grade happened but that’s another story. As for Vicki, I forgave her for laughing at me and over time we lost track. I’d like to think she’s living a great life as an award winning photographer.

*Mrs. Jones and Deidra are not their real names.

Camera on tripod pointed at mountain range

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