As the Spelling Bee Champion for Litchfield Elementary School in 1981, I know the feeling of triumph well. However, my glorious spelling bee win ended at the school level because in order to win at the district, state, and national levels, you actually have to show up, and I didn’t. I meant to. I was all set. Then I talked with first runner up.
On the day of the district spelling bee, I went to school knowing that after announcements and the Pledge of Allegiance, I’d be called out of class to meet my mom in the office. From there, a school bus would drive us to the district Spelling Bee. My mom drove a perfectly fine yellow station wagon with that 80’s wood siding, but the school wouldn’t let her drive us there. We had to ride the bus. I guess even the school was embarrassed by that wood siding.
Giving Away My Chance
The first runner up was a stranger to me, but on that morning of the district spelling bee, she came up to me on the playground, “Are you ready for the bee?”
I imagined a bee buzzing around and thought, “How do you prepare for a bee?”
She was staring at me, so I felt compelled to respond. “Ready? What do you mean?”
She kept staring at me hard; then she threw me a bone, “Did you study? You know from the practice word list?”
My mind spun. I didn’t know there were practice words. I felt a flush of embarrassment. I didn’t know who I would’ve even asked for the list. This was before the internet, so there was no Googling the spelling bee list from the previous year. “No, I didn’t prepare. Did you?”
“Oh I studied all weekend. Just in case you were sick, I’d be ready,” she replied in a rush.
“So you really want to go?” I asked.
Her widening eyes said it all. This spelling bee meant the world to her. I tilted my head and studied her. She waited there just staring at me probably wondering how such a clueless person could have won the school spelling bee, beating out 7th and 8th graders.
I continued, “You should go. Go in my place.”
“Really. Let's go to the office to call our moms.”
We went to the office; then I went to class. It was a typical day. I didn’t give the district spelling bee a second thought.
I got home and went into the kitchen for my after school snack, and as usual, my mom was there with a Little Debbie snack cake, a smile, and a “Hi, Kater Bug.” Today was a little different because instead of continuing her greeting with, “How was your day?” she said, “So what happened with the spelling bee?”
She listened, sipping her afternoon Coke. That’s really all I remember about the spelling bee except that I recall finding out that the first runner up hadn’t advanced to the state spelling bee, but she was so glad that she had gotten to go. That felt good, and that was the end of the story for me at the time.
It turns out there was a story unfolding throughout my childhood that I wasn’t aware of, and the spelling bee is when things really took off.
My Mom’s Side of the Story
On the day of the bee, when the school called my mom to tell her to not come to the school, they missed her, and she arrived ready to ride the school bus with me. When she arrived, they told her, “Oh your daughter gave up her spot to the first runner up. Wasn’t that nice?”
My mom didn't tell me this until years later. She said, “Do you remember that spelling bee in Litchfield Park?”
I laughed, “One of my shining moments!”
“The night before you were supposed to compete at the district level, I told your dad, ‘We finally have a smart one.’ When I got to the school office, and they told me that you gave away your spot to the first runner-up, I was so proud of you, but I really wanted you to go to that bee. I wanted you to win.”
It was at that moment that I realized what my parents saw in me. I'd always suspected that my family saw me as a smart kid, but I thought that was because I loved to read and would talk to anyone about what I was reading. That didn't seem smart to me; it just seemed like fun.
Fun is Key
Anyone who works with children needs to understand that their main job is not to teach math or English. No, it is to teach a child how to translate his or her kind of fun into how they can change the world.
When a student is having fun, he will push himself to keep trying in the face of failure; she will use self-talk to get through stiff competition; and she will try out new ideas and work long and hard to complete a task. Fun compels us all to work hard. Fun creates focus.
Since my brief stint as a spelling bee champion, I've learned that spelling ability is no sign of intelligence. After all, even monkeys can spell. However, for a while (a long while), I held that win close as proof that I was capable. Whenever I doubted my abilities, I held onto that win. I used it to push me when I was frustrated, to cheer me on when I stumbled, and to challenge me to try one more time when an assignment appeared impossible.
With my personality, I needed and still need to be challenged and inspired, so the spelling bee championship worked as a tool for success.
Fuel Your Students’ Success
What do your students need? Do their personalities seem like a mystery to you? Children are full of potential, but teachers, parents, and children themselves oftentimes don’t know how to connect how a child has fun and tie that to a future story.
We have a Tool That Will Help.
The Student Success Report helps students identify their skills so that they can tie their skills to a particular career path/future story. Best of all, the Student Success Report gives teachers, administrators, parents, and students clear instructions for identifying strengths, learning styles, communication styles, and motivators.
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This small investment will pay dividends.
This blog was written by Katy Ridnouer, Author, Grant Writer, Leadership Coach, Speaker and Trainer with Leaders Building Leaders. If you found this content valuable, please share it.
If you want to explore the benefits of a Student Success Report or a leadership coach, then reach out to Katy at [email protected] for a complimentary discovery session. You create the agenda; together, we’ll forge a path forward together.
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