Sixth Grade Spelling Bee – Part 1

I used to be a good speller and was in high demand. I’m still a good speller, but rarely have to exercise the skill these days. It used to be that people would take advantage of a good speller and use that person as a living, breathing, walking dictionary and thesaurus. I never minded serving that purpose, but often thought that some people were using me as a crutch instead of learning to spell the more difficult words themselves. Maybe I hang out with the wrong people of late (or the right ones, depending upon how you look at it), but for some reason no one asks my advice on spelling. In fact, I rarely hear anyone asking anyone else how to spell a word.

Two things could be at work here. First, many people compose written documents on computers and make use of spell checking software. Second, some people either don’t know they’ve misspelled a word or don’t care. I see many documents, especially emails, that contain misspelled words. It’s annoying but I’ve stopped worrying about it. I’m getting close to the point of not even caring any more. I guess the important thing is whether the documents can be understood even with the misspelled words. If they can be understood, then errors in spelling have minimal effect on the actual impact of the document. But I still notice them and think disparaging thoughts about the intelligence of the authors.

As you can see, spelling is a pretty big issue for me. It has been for many years, starting when I was in grade school and had to take spelling tests. I hated to misspell a word. When I did, though, I made sure I didn’t misspell it again. Spelling tests were fun, but after a while they weren’t really very challenging.  In the 6th grade at German Township School, however, I encountered my first exciting spelling test. My teacher challenged the 7th grade class to a spelling bee. The 7th grade class accepted the challenge, and both classes met for battle in one of our classrooms. The students from each grade stood side by side on opposite sides of the room, and the teachers took turns posing the words to the students. I remember being very excited and agitated, spelling each of the words in my head as they were being doled out, one by one, to the contestants. Wondering which word might come my way kept me on my toes the entire time.

I don’t remember how many words I had to spell. I’m not even sure if I had to spell more than one word. But there is one word, and one word only, that I remember spelling. And when I had to spell it, the outcome of the spelling bee hung in the balance. It was a word not commonly heard by 6th graders, but it was a word that we could have been exposed to, had we been paying attention in geography class. In fact, I could spell the word because I had seen it in my geography book. I read somewhere once or twice that good spellers are often able to see words in their minds. I saw the word I had to spell in my mind. When I closed my eyes, I saw the page of the book that contained the word I was asked to spell. The eyes of my mind drifted down the page to where the word was printed.

That word was Honduras.

I eliminated the last 7th grader with that word. Although I was not the last 6th grader standing, I was the lucky one who was in the right place at the right time to put the other class out of the competition. We had more than a couple of good spellers in our class. But my spelling of the word Honduras made my classmates cheer as if I were the absolute last hope of our side. Some of the boys decided to pick me up and carry me around the classroom. I was embarrassed and blushed bright red (as I am still prone to do) as the focus of my classmates’ celebration. I tempered my own celebrity with my understanding that any of my other classmates who were still in the bee could have won it.

I really did enjoy my sudden but brief glimpse of life as a hero. But it wasn’t long before I would be faced with another challenge to my spelling skills. There were other grades in our small school that were aching to challenge the reigning champions of spelling at German Township School. And there were teachers who were experts at prepping their students.

To be continued . . .

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