Educational Gambling

Maura O'Reilly

I spent this past weekend in Vegas, baby! Woo woo!


I’m still poor.

I thought about my fellow teachers while I was there. I discovered there are lots of similarities between teaching students and visiting Las Vegas Boulevard.

Like the hotel owners there, teachers try to make things as interesting and inviting as possible. While in Vegas, I got to ‘visit’ New York, Cairo, Rome, and Venice, complete with authentic architecture. The hotels attempt to be as true-to-life as possible, so you feel you are really there. Ever tried to make an experience really life-like for your students? Flashy, loud, colourful, engrossing, unforgettable? We all want to feel engaged and maybe even distracted by some fun and excitement. This approach works well with students, to reinforce learning by making a lesson memorable. I won’t forget Las Vegas, that’s for sure.

So - I definitely didn’t do much gambling. I think I spent about $10 in all, mostly on penny slots. I got very excited when I won $6. Isn’t that the case with teaching? We get very excited at small victories because every little thing counts. Winning 50 cents, learning a new word, passing a quiz, having a lightbulb moment. It all matters because it all adds up.

Not achieving those small victories adds up too. I put a dollar in a machine, played 5 cents per spin and won nothing after my 20 tries! I was so annoyed!! It was frustrating to put time and resources into something that didn’t pay off. The disappointment made me question continuing. Sound familiar? And that was just me and my measly dollar. How about when you put all your energy into preparing an awesome lesson only to have it go terribly? Sometimes what we have planned does not go at all as we thought it would, for any number of small or big reasons.

I think we all know, of course, the odds are in the casino’s favour. The odds I would get exactly what I want and win big are very very very very very very slim. I mean I was playing the penny slots so I didn’t have high expectations anyway, but still. I knew from the start that casinos don’t stay in business if they don’t make money.

How about educational odds? What are the odds you’ll get a class of kids who are at grade level; always on task; have a supportive, stable home life? How many accommodations can you expect to make per lesson, per day? How likely is it you will get along beautifully with every staff member and parent? Any chance you’ll be doing some work at home this weekend?

Would you say the odds are for or against you having a positive classroom experience? How many of those variables are within your control? You can say no, you can take a day, you can collaborate, you can think outside the box. You have some control over how you set up and decorate your classroom (which may seem like no big deal but personally I find that has a huge impact on how I feel while I teach).

The field of education contains a LOT of variables. In a stunning outcome that no one should take for granted, those variables very very very very often come together to make a rewarding experience for students. That is thanks to teachers, parents, students, administrators, and many others that collaborate to make things work.

Be kind to yourself. Don’t forget to recognize the odds you overcome daily to make a difference. Don’t forget to recognize that achievement in those around you, too. Look past the glitter and find the good.

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  • Thanks so much for your feedback, Monica! It’s great to hear you are finding a takeaway from my writing.

    Maura O'Reilly

  • Maura, this post is awesome. You have drawn incredible parallels between teaching and gambling. Every morning in front of my classroom is a gamble. Did they have breakfast or a fight with their parent? Did I? Again, I enjoy reading these each week. Keep them coming.

    Monica Jacka

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