Humor, Teaching

Why Teaching is Like Playing Poker

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Just a few days ago, I came to the realization that teaching is like playing poker…I’m sure by now you’ve seen the blog post on how teaching is like a T.V. sitcom – but, if not, it’s really good! You can check it out here!  I absolutely LOVE Alyssa at Teaching in the Fast Lane! Alas, I digress…

You see, I had the opportunity to supervise two classes.  One class was 7th grade math and the other was High School Advanced Math and Statistics.  Now, these were planned teacher absences and it was setup for me to take the two groups.  Coincidentally, the teachers discovered that they were both teaching the same topic to their respective groups: probability and statistics.  So, they set up the class so that the high school students would create a probability and statistics game for the grade 7’s to reinforce what they have been learning.

In theory, this sounded phenomenal! Well, in reality, it worked out even better! We had three game tables set up for the middle school students to choose from.  Each middle school student got 20,000CFA (local money) to use to play at each of the three games set up.  At the end of class, the middle school student with the most money got a prize! That actually didn’t happen, and they didn’t care because that had so much fun!

BUT…as class was going on, the students were commenting on how I was letting them “play poker” and “gamble”! Now, none of the games were poker.  However, it did strike a creative chord in my soul – and that’s when I realized that teaching is like playing poker.  Don’t believe me? I’ve got six reasons (but I’m sure there are more!).

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6 ways teaching is like playing poker…

1. The hand you were dealt was just the luck of the draw.

Let’s face it…most of us do not get to hand pick our class.  And, even if we did – we don’t know the students well enough at that point to make an effective decision anyway! BUT we can choose to believe that we were “dealt” the students we were for a reason. (If you believe in a higher power, like me, then it’s easy to believe that He gave you those specific students at exactly the right time.  Maybe for you, maybe for them, or maybe for both of you.  Also, you have the option to introduce positive parenting strategies in your classroom.)

2. You’re always being called on your bluff.

Students – especially Middle Schoolers – have an uncanny way to push you to your limits.  Testing the boundaries is their specialty! If you’re students don’t do this – you must have an awesome bluff face/language/body language! Can you teach me please?!

3. You have to find the tell’s for all of your opponents if you hope to win.

Teaching middle school students in challenging work.  They are changing so much throughout the year that you constantly have to communicate and involve yourself in their world to make sure that you understand their “tells”.  Can you tell when they need a break because they’ve already been pushed too far? Are you able to tell when something is going on outside of class that is prohibiting them from being present? Can you tell when it’s a good time to motivate and push and when it’s not? If you have a hard time finding your students’ tells,

4. If you gamble big there’s either a big reward or a big upset.

When you play poker, it’s best to make small bets each hand, so you don’t lose all your money.  The problem is, it takes a lot longer to win any BIG MONEY.  Well, it’s the same in our classrooms.  Each day we have to make tiny bets so we don’t lose all of our “money” with each of our students.  And, if we’re lucky, our tiny bets all year long will result in a big mound of “money” at the end of the year.  However, sometimes, with some kids, you have to take a big risk and go for broke in order to get their attention.  (See #3.) “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…” – The Gambler (Thank you, Kenny Rogers!)

5. Each day is a new bet.

Every day you hope for a better hand than you had the day before.  Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.  BUT, everyday is a new day and there’s a whole lot of possibilities!

6. The way you play your hand is up to you.

You get dealt a hand for the year, and even though everyday is a new day, full of possibilities, the attitude and climate of your room ultimately depends on you.  Are you open to the possibility that your students can teach you things, are you open to letting your students discover, inquire, research, explore? Do you hedge your students into roles and never let them show you a different side? Do you maintain a positive relationship with every student?

Every hand we are dealt has the possibility to be a winning hand.  The trick to winning a poorly dealt hand is to get creative and be open to a different way of playing it…and, of course, bluff your way to the top! 😉


As always, my posts are directly related to my middle school classes, but, I think in this case they apply to all levels.

Your Challenge: Leave a comment or reply on other ways teaching is like playing poker.

A bientot!

I want to play Teacher BINGO!


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6 thoughts on “Why Teaching is Like Playing Poker”

  1. This is so true on so many levels, I’m a teacher and I need to remind myself that sometimes it is just the luck of the draw and you cannot win them all

  2. hahaha, wonderfulllll. That was a really funny and interesting read. And i honestly agree! I teach in schools in London Sport. not as exotic as Math. So my hats off to you! But your comparison and eye to see it was spot on. I really enjoyed reading that. i am always being called on my bluff on how strict i am! haha. Thank you for writing!

  3. Love the analogy of teaching and poker. Was skeptical at first but you convinced me. Teaching is also like poker because the stakes are always high when making a difference in the lives of youth!

    1. Thanks for sharing, that is absolutely right! The stakes are incredibly high – everyday. Sometimes, it’s almost overwhelming the influence we can have in a child’s life.

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