First grade was the year of board races. Math review? Board race. Spelling words? Board race. Grammar correction? Board race. You name it, we board-raced it.
I was the (nearly) undefeated board race champion. I won all challenges, except for my first (and perhaps a lone race here or there which I have since blocked from memory.)
I vividly recall my first board race. It was for our spelling words, and I was about mid-way through the line up. I carefully watched as my peers took their places at the board for the face off in both speed and accuracy. It was a simple process. The two students were given a word from the spelling list, and whomever wrote it correctly first (timed by when you placed your chalk back down on the board’s tray) won. The loser sat down and the next kid came up to challenge the champion. This process repeated until all had been defeated with one student remaining.
As my turn approached I began to consider my potential for victory. I knew all of my spelling words by heart and had practiced all week long. Things were decidedly looking up.
With mixed confidence and apprehension, I approached the blackboard when my turn arrived. Steven was at the board and he had been doing rather well. I stood poised attentively, chalk in hand, awaiting the word.
However, I should take a moment to mention that in addition being a school-focused six-year-old with superb study habits, I was also quite the perfectionist. Throughout my life this would plague me with oddities such as: recopying all of my notes in sixth grade math because I had to scribble out notes quickly thus it became ‘too sloppy’, insisting that all objects on my desk had a proper place and never getting up without checking said placement, copying the alphabet repeatedly to perfect my handwriting. Call it perfectionism or borderline obsessive-compulsive tendencies, it’s a fine line.
Mrs. Larkin called out the word: vacation. I without a doubt knew this one. I carefully placed the tip of my chalk to the board and wrote the outline of the ‘v’. Two straight, white lines, meeting at a vertex centered precisely in the middle forming symmetrical angles against the black. The ‘a’ was also an excellent specimen of penmanship. The perfect circle was connected seamlessly to the stem to the right. I was just beginning my ‘c’ when Steven slammed his chalk onto the tray.
I had been defeated. My beautiful lettering had lost to the sloppy chicken scratch next to it on the board. I was shocked. I had lost. Mrs. Larkin gently reminded me that it was about speed, not how neat the final result appeared. This was an entirely foreign concept to me.
I let this knowledge sink in as I slept on it that night. I abhorred the thought of recklessly scribbling away words without attention or care being poured into each letter. I couldn’t make up my mind about this predicament.
The next day this was still on my mind as I rode the school bus, and I hadn’t come to any conclusion. The day followed its usual routine. First I had morning packets, then reading groups, followed by AM recess. We ran back into our class lines and were still panting as we filed back into the room. While taking our seats Mrs. Larkin announced that it was time for board races.
Ohmygosh I had forgot! My mind had wandered from my conundrum as it focused on the morning’s activities. I was caught entirely off guard, and I was first. I walked to the board with my mind racing too quickly to reach any sort of a logical verdict.
The next thing I knew, Mrs. Larkin had said the word and my hand was vigorously scribbling messy connections of lines and loops and dots. In a flash of a second I had decided to go for it, without even realizing it. I slammed my writing utensil to the chalk tray and realized I had won. I was caught between triumph and disgust as I saw my correctly spelled word on the board. But I had won.
Although it pained me, winning outweighed perfection of penmanship. From that day on, I was unstoppable. I was a board race champion.
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