Spelling Bee a la Mr. B's class

Have I been out of the loop, or something? Since when was a spelling bee championship, finale, whatever aired on national television? Well, it was (and has been for the past 4 years, apparently). And Tom Bergeron, mc'd it. What the hell?

Ok, whatever I guess, but isn't that even more pressure for those poor, sweet, bookworm-y kids? Can you imagine?? Not only are you studying word origins for hours a day and practicing your stiff-armed, mouth on the mic, spelling bee stance, but now you also have to contend with camera lighting and TV cameras?

Those kids deserve more than just cash and some reference books. They deserve medals of bravery and $1000 gift card to Gap Kids (they have enough social hurdles to endure, I'm sure, so might as well look spiffy, right?).

I remember the only spelling bee I was ever in. It was in Mr. Bernhardt's 5th/6th combination class, it was 1985, and I was a 5th grader, an underdog. I was a good speller, too, by anyone's standards and I was hot. I mean h a w t. I was spelling things like "encyclopedia," and "majesty" and "passed" (not to be confused with "past," mind you). I was the last 5th grader standing.

It was me and some snooty 6th grader, head to head, when Mr. B looks me in the eye as if to say, "Come on, girl! You can do it!!" and sounds out "kuh-lahzh".

I remember thinking, "Did he just make up that word?? What the fuck?"

"Kuh-lahzh" he says again. Ok, ok, dude, I heard you...

I stalled for time and must have looked pained because he began trying to help me out, "It's not "college."

"Well, YEAH, obviously!" I screamed in my brain, "I KNOW how to spell that! C-O-L-L-E-G-E. Ugh! How does that help me?" His little tip only served to confuse me more.

The tension was thick as a knife in our paste-colored classroom. The other students perched, I'm sure, on the edge of their seats, their hopes for Spelling Bee Champion dashed when they misspelled words such as, "justice," and "steak."

I began, "C-O-L-L-" and Mr. B's face was lit up with hope and expectation, but when I finished with , "E-G-E," because nothing else had come to mind his face fell, shoulders slumped. "No, I'm sorry Jessica. It's spelled, C-O-L-L-A-G-E. You may return to your seat."

I was devastated and I hadn't even studied!! And so ended my Spelling Bee career. I can't imagine what it's like for these kids who do the spelling bee "circuit" and get words like "laodicean" (which I can't even pronounce as an adult!).

What's the point, anyway? After a certain level of proficiency, isn't it good enough? I mean, anyone who would use "laodicean" in a sentence invariably will know how to spell it. Understanding its meaning and how to spell it would sort of have to go hand in hand, right?

Anyway, congrats to ol' Kavya Shivashankar. Good for her and her bad 13 year old self. May her life be a collage of memorable events.


By the way, here's "laodicean" in a sentence (the winning word for Kavya). See if you can figure out its meaning:
She's never really been all that into Catholicism, instead adopting a laodicean attitude towards its tenets.


  1. Spelling Bees made sense when you had to manually spellcheck things because you were using a typewriter. But now? I'm afraid this tradition may disappear. It's a noble thing, knowing how to spell. I'm a proofreader and I can't spell for crap. Thank goodness for spellcheck and online dictionaries.

  2. I was too embarrassed to participate in the spelling bee (me, public speaking? no way!), so I played sick in the third grade so I didn't have to represent the third grade class. :P