Focus temporarily goes out the chute during spelling bee

November 09, 2012|Lisa Prejean

In preparing to travel to Landover, Md., for a district spelling bee last Monday, I was looking over the volunteer positions that had been assigned to teachers.

Much to my surprise, under the sixth-grade bee assignments, there I was: Spelling Master. The job sounds more ominous than it is.

It basically involves being able to pronounce words correctly, use them in sentences and listen closely as a student states each letter.

The Spelling Master also has the job of breaking the news to the speller:

In a positive way: “That is correct.”

Or, in a negative way: “I’m sorry. That is incorrect. The correct spelling is _______.”

I’d much rather state the former than the latter.

For the last six years, I’ve attended this bee, both as a teacher and parent. Because one of my children has been in the bee since 2006, I have not been able to volunteer. The rules prohibit that.

This year, though, I didn’t have a child in the bee, and I could volunteer. My son is too old to compete, and my daughter decided several months ago that she’d rather spend time with a volleyball than a dictionary.

Over the course of those years that my kids were competing, I learned much from the volunteers I observed, both in terms of what to do and what not to do.

For example, the recording judge should not be staring off into space as a student is spelling a word. The recording judge’s job is to write down each letter as the student states it. This person needs to pay very close attention — not be off in la-la land.

Thankfully, the recording judge who sat next to me on this panel took her job very seriously and worked closely with me to verify the spellings of words.

Our panel seemed to be successful. We did not have to address any arbitrations (appeals from spellers), and the students seemed calm. (That was a goal of mine, to soothe the students with my motherly voice.)

I did have a la-la land moment of my own, however. It happened immediately following this interchange:

“Chute. Perry likes the waterslide that has the most thrilling chute. Chute.”

The student correctly spelled the word.

I was looking down at the next word and didn’t realize that the student was waiting to hear if the word was spelled correctly. Someone on the panel whispered to me. I looked up and realized what was happening.

“Oh. That is correct. Sorry about that. I got distracted thinking about Chutes and Ladders.”

There were a few giggles, and it was a nice tension-breaker. After all, we were on our 119th word.

The day was actually quite enjoyable.

I know, only an English teacher would think working at a spelling bee is fun, right? Actually, it was almost as fun as watching the state volleyball tournament or playing Chutes and Ladders with a little girl who’s not so little anymore.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail’s Family page. Send email to her at

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