Friday, January 22, 2016

Spelling Bee5*%!

I have attended many spelling bees over the past ten years, and I've learned that the bee divides students into a few categories.
  1. There are those who are not great spellers who know they are not great spellers.  These children generally go along with the competition, knowing they will get out on the classroom level of the bee.  This may be the only time of the year that these children grumble about their learning time being wasted as they are forced to listen to classmates say letters s-l-o-w-l-y.
  2. There are those who deeply care about every academic competition.  Some of these students spend days or weeks studying for the bee.  Some look at their older sisters' bee records and figure ten minutes of practice per day for the last two days before the bee--along with natural talent--will carry them.  Either way, this group usually leaves the bee in tears when they lose.  It's hard to see their hope that comes from minutes of studying get crushed by one (or three mistaken) letters.
  3. Then there are students who don't study, don't care about the bee, but still end up placing in the grade or school level.  This is my favorite group, because the older they get, the more entertaining are their spelling bees.  (Keep reading.)
  4. I suppose there is a fourth group, being Akeelah and other students who study for months and compete quite well.  I almost forgot about this group because none of my children are in it.
My #1 falls into the first group.  She never became a bee bully, teasing the children who were actually good spellers.  She spells fine, but she has always known the competition she was up against, so it wasn't a big deal when she never made it past the first-round classroom bee each year.

#5 is in the second group.  He studied really hard for two days before this year's class spelling bee, plus at least six minutes of study during the drive to school on the day of.  His confidence waxed strong, even though he missed every fourth word when we practiced the night before.  What he didn't take into account is the Samantha factor.  Samantha is the youngest daughter of my friend who organizes the school spelling bee each year.  That family takes spelling very seriously.  In their junior high years, Samantha's older sisters competed in the district and state levels of the bee.  Samantha is in #5's fourth-grade class this year, which means he didn't stand a chance.  Sometimes being an eternal optimist means you come down hard.  He was f-l-a-b-b-e-r-g-a-s-t-e-d when I told him Samantha probably started studying at Thanksgiving.  (She went on to place second in the school-wide bee, losing first place to an eighth grader.)

Until this year, I wasn't sure into which group #4 fit.  When I picked up the kids at the end of school on the day of the class bees, #5 bravely told me that he had taken fourth place, and (with tears in his eyes) added that he wouldn't be advancing.  #4 wouldn't offer her results until I pressed: "How about you [#4]?"  "I made it."  Her friend who carpools with us was now the flabbergasted one: "You made it into the grade-level spelling bee?!"  "Yep."  I figured she was downplaying her enthusiasm so she could be cool in front of her friend.  At home I congratulated her sincerely, which she returned with, "Whatever."

Over the next few days, I asked #4 if she would like to study for the bee.  She never did.  (It's pretty hard to tear her away from editing videos.)  I asked if she would like me to come for the sixth-grade bee.  She didn't care, so I took that as a yes.  #4 was the second speller of twelve.  She went to the mic to receive her word.  I don't remember the word she was given, but I remember her response: "Oh great.  Really?  Okay."  At least she was going to keep the bee a little more interesting for the audience.  She spelled that word correctly, shrugged, and took her seat.  She only lasted two rounds, but at least her nonchalance got chuckles from her peers.  Yep, definitely in group three.
#2 has been great at spelling since age four, so I had high hopes for her.  I rescinded those hopes when she was eight, after sitting through her third year of 70-minute-long bees.  Those are not the most exciting events, and I sometimes get dirty looks when I bury my nose in a book during every other speller besides my kid.  #2's sharpest memory of a spelling bee was the one time she got out at the class level.  She misspelled some unknown word like pusillanimous--which, at that point in her spelling bee history, she wasn't--and then the next speller was given alligator.  #2's response upon hearing the next speller's luck was, "Alligator!  Seriously, alligator?  EVERYONE knows how to spell alligator!"  Way to go down with grace, daughter.  

(Have I mentioned before that our family is practiced at the art of sarcasm?)

#3 is good at sarcasm, but she's possibly better at spelling.  After placing in the school-wide bee a few times, she had the p-r-o-s-p-i-c-i-e-n-c-e this year to know that she could probably get by on humor and no studying.  Besides, she was up against the eighth grade's funny boy who is too smart for his--or his teacher's--own good.  He was determined to not advance to the next round, and so spelled impugn as i-m-p-u-g-n-3-r-2-9-x-o-8 (or something along those lines).

#3 appreciates his humor, but wasn't ready to betray her intelligence, either.  Following is an excerpt from her eighth-grade class spelling bee.  #3 thought she may have met her downfall before making it to the grade-level bee, so she decided to have fun with it.  

  • Teacher:  "Please spell pharmacopoeia."
  • #3:  "Um, what?"
  • Teacher: "Pharmacopoeia."
  • #3:  "Could I have the definition please?"
  • Teacher:  "Pharmacopoeia is a book that lists medicinal drugs, their uses, and their effects."
  • #3:  "Could you use it in a sentence please?"
  • Teacher:  "A doctor may reference the pharmacopoeia when prescribing medication."
  • #3:  "Could I have the language of origin?"
  • Teacher:  "Pharmacopoeia comes from Greek."
  • #3:  "Can you say it a little more slowly?"
  • Teacher:  "Fahr-muh-kuh-pee-uh."
  • #3  "Can you say it even slower?"
  • Teacher:  Raised her eyebrows doubtfully.
  • #3:  "Okay, fine.  I'm sorry.  Could you say it faster?"
  • Teacher:  Gave #3 the stink eye.
  • #3:  "Can you say it backwards?"
  • Teacher:  "No."
  • #3:  "Could you spell it for me?"  (That little trick works on substitutes and the occasional elementary-school teacher.  To the delight of her classmates, #2 has successfully used it on multiple spelling tests.)
  • Teacher:  "Just spell the word."
  • #3:  "Can I get a Bic Mac with that?"
  • #3's BFF from the back of the class:  "With fries!"
  • Teacher, with unending patience:  "No.  Just spell the word."
  • #3:  "Pharmacopoeia: p-h-a-r-m-a-c-o-p-o-e-i-a.  Pharmacopoeia."
  • Teacher:  "That is correct."
  • #3:  "Dang!  Seriously?"

I think the teacher was relieved that most of her eighth graders were too cool for spelling so she didn't have to go through another round with #3, who subsequently went on to the grade-level spelling bee where she placed fourth.  That was fine by her, because she didn't want to go up against the fourth-grade Samantha factor in front of the entire school.  

As a former teacher's pet, I must give props to Samantha and others like her who do well because they don't rely solely on raw talent, but actually STUDY!  And, I guess, good job to my kids who show up and win ribbons with their i-n-s-o-u-c-i-a-n-c-e.

Back in the day, four years ago,
when she was still nice to her teachers.

1 comment:

VickieG said...

Way to go White's! And congratulations all around. #4: it's cool to be smart. #5: don't worry about it---"comparison is the thief of joy."