Speed Drills and Perfectionism

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Ah, speed drills. How we love to hate them.

When I was little, I remember enjoying speed drills. Like Tracy, I was one of those strange children who actually liked math. I was known for doing fairly long sums in my head from about the age of five (or so my grandma tells me). I loved to be tested to see if I could solve the problems that were presented to me. But speed drills were even better: they were like a personal competition, where I could race through the problems and try to beat my own “high score.”

Somehow, though, I have been challenged with teaching two daughters (so far) who do not have such a friendly relationship with math, especially with speed drills. It’s possible that they are not as gifted in the area of math, but I feel it may be more that my girls have simply inherited some of my perfectionist tendencies with school. Daisy (my 2nd grader) hates speed drills because time limits freak her out, and she becomes paralyzed with the fear of failure. Ginger (my 1st grader) will charge right into them with a fine attitude, but she seems to expect that she will automatically get them all right. When she doesn’t, well… let’s just say she has a bit of a flair for the dramatic sometimes.

It was on one such occasion that I was sitting with Ginger on a rainy afternoon, with the tears flowing as freely as the raindrops outside.

“I got three problems wrong?!” she was sobbing. “I knew it! I get everything wrong!”

“No, honey, you don’t. Look, you got nine of them right! Three wrong is not that bad.”

“Yes, it is!!” she wailed. “I’m so stupid at school!”

Speed Drills and Perfectionism 3 - JC - HSLDA Blog

Now, just for reference, this is the child who by age would technically qualify as a kindergartener, but who went so quickly through her first grade English-related books this year that I now have her in the second grade material, and she is rapidly catching up to Daisy. This is also the child who begged me to let her read The Lord of the Rings series recently, but I talked her into at least starting with The Hobbit, which she completed in about a week. Clearly she is not “so stupid at school,” and I told her so.

“Yes, I am,” she continued to cry. “I always get something wrong!”

“Well, yes…” I responded slowly, wondering how I could turn this conversation around. Then suddenly, it hit me. “Of course you get some wrong. If you didn’t, I’d probably have to get you something harder so that you would get something wrong.”

She looked at me like I had horns coming out of my head. Surely her mother was not that sadistic, was she?

“Because,” I explained, “if you never got anything wrong, that would probably mean the work was too easy for you. If you already know it all, it doesn’t help you to grow and learn. It’s okay to mess up sometimes… We all do it. That’s just a part of learning.”

Speed Drills and Perfectionism 2 - JC - HSLDA Blog

At this point in the conversation, I suddenly realized that I was talking to myself. How many times have I, like Ginger, gotten overly upset at myself for some mistake? How many times have I, like Daisy, been so afraid of failure that I just sat there paralyzed, rather than simply diving in and giving it my best shot? I often let my perfectionism get the best of me. I don’t like to fail. I hate making mistakes. I don’t like to look foolish.

But I think of the segment in The Horse and His Boy (Ginger’s new literary pursuit, by the way), where the main character is first learning to ride a horse. Bree (the talking horse) tells him that one of the first lessons he must learn in order to ride is how to properly fall off. Why? Because he is sure to fall off at times, and if he knows how to do it the right way, it won’t be so painful when he does. Bree understood that failure is a natural part of learning. When we are growing and challenging ourselves with something difficult, we can’t expect to get it perfect the first time. It takes practice, and it may well take a whole lot of falling off before we learn to ride. We can’t let it get us down. We must simply dust ourselves off and try again.

Speed Drills and Perfectionism - JC - HSLDA Blog

Believe me, I know this is easier said than done. I had a major incident just this week that makes me both want to kick myself and to curl up into a ball to avoid anything like it ever happening again. But I know I have to keep on. Thankfully, as I told Ginger that rainy afternoon, God loves us no matter how often we fail. He knows our frailty. I’m glad He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, because we never will be!

It took a while to explain all this and to convince Ginger of it, but at last, she wiped her eyes. “It’s okay if I get some wrong,” she said with a little smile. “I can just keep trying.”

Yes, there may be many challenges along this path for both student and teacher. The frustration over speed drills, I’m sure, is just a small taste of what’s to come. I imagine we have plenty of falls ahead of us. But we’ll keep trying, keep learning, and one day we may just learn to ride that horse!


Photo Credit: First image via Pixabay.com, graphic design by Charity Klicka; Second and third Images taken by Jessica Cole; forth image via Pixabay.com.

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