One of the harder games was a basketball shooting game. Each kid stood at a line in the middle of the key and shot five baskets. This is a supremely hard task for first graders. That basket might as well be in the clouds. One of my darling little girls-a teeny, tiny breath of a kid-was chosen for this game.
She’s an adorable kid. When she gets excited about something, her blue eyes open wide and she flaps her arms. I’ve seen her do this when reading her favorite books, when mastering particularly difficult math problems, when playing at recess and especially when she paints.
She stood at the line, basketball in hand, with a serious expression on her face. She shot. Air ball. She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again. Air ball. Her third and fourth shots arched through the air and again fell short.
I bet you’re thinking this is going to be one of those stories where she makes the fifth shot and does a victory lap around the gymnasium.
Not one of her five shots even came close to grazing the net.
Not a single one.
Back in the classroom after the reading program finale, we were gathered at the carpet talking about all the fun we had racing and cheering each other on.
My tiny airballer raised her hand to share. “Mrs. McCauley, I was nervous about that basketball game because I’ve never played it before.”
She paused and I waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting.
Then she continued, the pitch of her voice rising to an exuberant squeal, her arms flapping in wild excitement, “I was nervous at first, but then I played the game and I was AWESOME at it!!!”
She explained, “I’ve never thrown a ball that high before. I threw it really high five times.” She held up five fingers.
My face broke into a huge grin, mirroring the smile on her own precious face.
What an idiot I am for thinking I needed to pepper her with my “sage advice”. As is so often the case, I found myself marveling at the unconventional wisdom my students.
I’m so hard on myself when it comes to trying new things, so fearful and bound in nerves, so unwilling to try, lest I fail, or worse yet lest I fail in public.
The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up by every ounce of her concentration. I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous and afraid. But most of all I’m going to remember her wild, flapping arms and the triumph on her face for throwing the basketball higher than she ever has before.
She didn’t make any baskets that day, and for that I’m grateful because if she had, I would’ve missed the lesson. She didn’t score any points, but one thing is for sure, my itty bitty airball queen is winning.