I’ve Got a Spelling Bee in my Bonnet

You remember those, right? They still do them. (And if you haven’t seen Spellbound, you are missing out. What a thriller!)

So, Rollie’s school had a spelling bee. I guess all schools have them this time of year and then the finalists go on to County, or state, or whatever. A few weeks beforehand, the principal sent home a note explaining that only 4th and 5th graders would compete in the school-wide spelling bee. First through third graders would have bees in their classroom and the winners from those spelling bees would have the honor of sitting in on the 4th and 5th grade finals. The reason, which I don’t remember exactly now, had something to do with testing, or scheduling, or timing.

I was mad.

God forbid that we let younger children compete against older ones, I thought. Someone might get their damn feelings hurt. Really, i think the only feelings hurt were mine. You see, my kid is a kickass speller.

There. I said it.

My kid is a really, really great speller!

I tend to not talk about it much, because. . . well, we all know how parents are. Playground Wars. Mommy Wars. Blah Blah Blah. Parenting is a fucking battleground of whose parenting techniques are most effective, whose methods create the best citizens, or whose kids are the most intelligent. Some parents put their thoughts out as landmines, others as bombs going off, but it is always there. The comparisons, and the subtle bragging, and the “well, my kid” and the “Oh, my daughter, too!” I am guilty of it too, sometimes.

And I don’t want to be that parent who thinks their kid is perfect, or that does nothing but brag on their kid. That parent is annoying. And sometimes, frankly, I look at their kid and think, “well, he seems pretty average to me.”

So for me to come out and say strongly that my kid is anything but average is really hard for me. I am starting to realize, though, that part of being a good parent is speaking up for your child, and making sure they get what they need.

My kid needs a bit of a challenge. He is in first grade and he reads on about a 4th grade level, and he can spell like a motherfucker.

Take for instance, the day that my sister and i were discussing spelling with him. He had brought home a practice list, and few of the words stumped him. Example: He had trouble with “merry,” because I had not explained to him that you could ask for its usage in a sentence, or the definition, and he assumed it was “marry.” So, Lisa and I, also pretty good spellers in our own right, and definitely word nerds, were telling him about the words that stumped us. Lisa lost a spelling bee on the word “cemetery.” I cannot remember the word that I lost the seventh grade bee on. I do remember I lost to Kenneth Walter. Damn you, Ken! (Yes, it would have been more productive to remember the word and learn to spell it, but I have always been more about holding a grudge.) Instead, i used another example: I failed a ninth grade paper, because I misspelled “separate” in the paper; A paper on the book, A Separate Peace. It was not pretty. A very low moment in my spelling career, one from which the scars will never heal. (I would like to add that I passed the class, and believe that the teacher did the right thing in failing me on the paper. At the time, i wanted to egg her house.)

Rollie could spell both cemetery and separate, without pause. There are many adults who still cannot spell these words.

Now, spelling well does not make one a genius, and any parent worth their salt knows that reading levels out as kids get older – slower readers catch up, etc. Also, it is easier to spell when one has read more and longer books. It is just a matter of having seen the words. The more you read, the more likely you are to be able to spell something, right? Right.

So going back on what I said earlier, I would like to put in the disclaimer that I am not calling my kid a genius, or even highly intelligent. I have never seen a test score from him yet, and have no idea how he will test. He is in the Discovery program, which is the Talented and Gifted of today. (Again, god forbid that the kids who don’t test into a gifted program think that they are not “talented” or “gifted.” No. Better to just give them the message that they are not worthy of “discovery.” I digress. Wait. Let me do it again: “Personal Record Day.” Instead of Field Day, a friend’s school had “Personal Record Day!” Are you fucking kidding me? Digression complete.) So, he’s not stupid. But i have no way of knowing how smart he is. Schools don’t really help you with that too much, as far as I can tell.

I do know he is not perfect. He has trouble controlling his emotions. He can be self-centered, controlling, stubborn, angry, and disrespectful. He still has some trouble sharing, and he gets jealous of others. He has acted out in class to the extent that he has thrown a chair. He got in-school fucking suspension, for God’s sake, for fighting. One of my relatives thinks he needs to see a therapist. (This is ironic, because he is more like that person than anyone else in my family!) There have been a couple of times that I have cried on the phone with my mother or sister, wondering if I am raising a Sociopath. I have no idea whether this fear is normal or not, because I have not done this parenting thing before, and as far as I know, no one else at the bus stop or playground or the coffee shop or Bunco seems to wonder if they are raising sociopaths. It just doesn’t come up very often in polite mommy conversation.

My kid is far from perfect.

Also? He is a shitty artist, he can’t carry a tune, and he looks a little like he is having a seizure when he dances.

But when he is sweet and charming? He is the most perfect child in the world. That, I know, is universal. They win our hearts at birth, and then keep us guessing for, I am guessing, the rest of our lives. His beautiful, warm, laughing brown eyes make my heart hurt and my throat constrict sometimes.

And I owe it to him to make sure that he learns and has the opportunity to excel at what he enjoys and gravitates toward. Don’t I? Is it any less honorable to fight for my gifted child to have opportunities, attention, and appropriate lessons and curriculum, than for the mom of an Autistic child or a dyslexic child, or a child with some handicap to fight for her child to get the resources that he or she needs?

Shouldn’t the needs of all of those children be met?

And I have to be honest. I have had my reservations about how well the public schools are doing for children. I held those back, though. I chose my house based on the schools my kids would go to, picking schools that are rated highly, and that have high parental involvement. I thought, I am going to send my kid to public school and he is going to do great. How could he not, if I am involved, and i have a good relationship with his teachers, and I stay on top of things, and stay informed.

You know what? It is my third year with R. at his elementary school. He had two great years, Pre-K and K. Those teachers were great. His K teacher was probably the best teacher he will ever have. She was amazing. She made sure that he (and the other advanced kids in the class – and there are a good number of them in this class) was challenged, busy, motivated. He didn’t have any trouble with any of the curriculum. He did great.

I was more than happy with him not being forced to learn things that were hard for him, with easy homework, with him just being allowed to be a kid, and learn how to perform in a social setting.

I thought, okay, first grade will start to challenge him. They will realize that some of these kids learned the stuff in this curriculum a year, or two, or even three years ago, and they will alter the lessons appropriately.

That has not happened.

Sure, when parents complained that the homework was too easy, they created a second tier of homework for the more advanced kids. Rollie doesn’t study the words on his homework, even the “challenging” words. He reads it over once, and makes an A on the test.

Am I happy my kid is making As and not struggling? Well, yeah. But when I asked my kid’s teacher how he is doing academically, if he is struggling with anything, her reply was, “He is meeting standards!” She said this with a smile on her face, as if I should be as happy as she is. I was not, because how well I am doing as a parent is not tied to standards. I understand that her paycheck is. I sympathize with that.

But wouldn’t a great teacher realize that I don’t just want my kid to “meet standards?” I was tempted to ask her, “But what is he learning?” For the most part, he has learned all of this already. I did not ask her that.

So, we continue to feed him books that are more challenging, at home. He continues to whip through his Accelerated Reading and Lit Guild books, which he has to reread for the tests many times, because he already read the books, but doesn’t remember them at all, because he read them when he was four. But you have to finish the “first grade” level lists to move on to the higher lists. I told him, “this is just how school is sometimes. You just have to do some stuff that is busy work, and you have to finish it to get the grade. Part of life is doing things you don’t want to do, and learning to knock them out is a life skill.”

We continue to let him play computer games that do more difficult lessons in math and language. It can’t hurt, i think, but what if it is just creating a bigger gap between him and “the standard?” Not that I am going to stop enriching his life, but at what point does the school start challenging him more? He goes to school with a good night’s sleep, a full belly, ready to learn, and then he has eight hours of learning “standard curriculum.”

Are those eight hours just a waste? No, he is learning some valuable lessons where he is weaker, in his interpersonal relationships. But wouldn’t it be cool if he was really, truly, feeding his brain? Learning to fail at things? Then learning how to do them better a second time?

And that is why, when I read that bit about the Spelling Bee, i was immediately mad. They have the framework for a competition, based on a skill, where kids are allowed to excel, move on to the next level, test the waters, see how well they can do, push themselves to be the best they can be! To learn to be a humble and modest winner, or a gracious loser! Would it really have taken that much extra time or work to let four kids from each grade move on to the next level? The framework was already there!

I was mad, and I didn’t even know if my kid would win the spelling bee in his class. I knew he had a good chance at it, but that there were a number of other really advanced readers, and that a spelling bee can be a complete crap shoot. All it takes is one word you have never come across before to stump you and knock you out.

And part of me? Part of me thought that my kid losing a spelling bee would be a better lesson for him than winning one.

He didn’t lose. He won.

He won his class Spelling Bee. (Not his grade. They didn’t get to see who the best speller in the first grade would be.) And the next day, he and the winners from the other first, second, and third grade classes sat and watched the 4th and 5th graders compete in the school Spelling Bee. There are four first grade classes. Probably the same number for the other grades. So, there sit about twelve kids who excel at spelling. Who probably wondered if they could have gone on to win the whole thing. (Doubtful, but who knows?)

Twelve kids who were not even given a chance to try. Twelve kids sidelined. Why? I just don’t understand how the school could let this opportunity pass these kids by. (MY KID! – make no mistake about it – I am mad for MY kid most of all! That’s my job!)

And that sucks. And it is just a symptom of a much larger problem that we have in education. We are allowing standards and curriculum to drag these kids down, just as if we had tied a cement block around their necks and dumped them in a lake.

And it just plain sucks.

The real question is, what are we – what am I – going to do about it?

Oh. And it goes without saying that if you remember the words that you lost spelling bees on, you gots to post them in the comments. I love spelling bee stories!

  23 comments for “I’ve Got a Spelling Bee in my Bonnet

  1. December 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I made it as far as the state spelling bee (representing Lee County) one year, around the 5th or 6th grade mark. Can’t remember if it was held in Montgomery or Birmingham, but anyways, the big time.

    The word I went out on–pretty sure it was in the first round–was “mackerel”. I believe I spelled it with an “a” at the end: “mackeral”. To this day, I get a little anxious when I drive by a Captain D’s.

  2. December 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Lyle, that does not surprise me at all. Perhaps Rollie got the same spelling gene! That IS the big time. :-)

    LOL. . . Capt. D’s. That’s a pretty hard word, though.

    I really do have a sick obsession with wanting to hear what other people lost on. . . i think it is because i cannot for the life of me forget the one I lost on.

  3. December 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I mean, “remember the one I lost on.”

  4. December 9, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    Anne-Great comments and we are facing much of the same. To date I have never had to test Sophie on her spelling words, because she knows them already. I’m still waiting for words that she actually has to learn. Math is a bit more difficult for her, but I think she is like me in that regard. B/c to her it is not as interesting as reading and writing, she doesn’t want to take the time to memorize her math facts, which have now moved from addition to multiplication. I have games we play so she can learn the facts and pass her “times” tests. We practice every night much to her dismay, I even throw one out now and again in the car, just for good measure. She qualified for Target testing based on her CoGat scores, but she qualified in First Grade as well, but didn’t get in. I called for a meeting with the Target teachers, who sat across from me and spoke gobbly gook the entire meeting. Her teacher even said that it is “very nebulous” how kids qualify. We’ll see what happens this year. Her teacher is great, she does push her hard. Sophie is the best writer in the class (her teacher’s comment to me at the conference) and she told me she now expects more of her, which I agree with. I think you are doing all the correct things, and I have talked about this with many parents. Supplementing is what we all have to do if we want our kids to get more out of their education. It’s not something my parents ever had to think about, but I know I do. Keep up the good fight, Rollie and Tiller will thank you one day!

  5. susan ponder
    December 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Anne, I am on your page with regard to this. Jay is meeting standards but he is also a whiz at math. Anyway, I wanted to say that the way the spelling bee at the school has worked in the past (up until this year) is 2 reps from every single class (1st through 5th). A big spelling bee held on stage for 1st through 3rd. (Erin has been in that one all three years and to amuse you, I will need to dig up the words she went out on.) They are not old enough to advance to any other level in the state or whatever. Then the 4th and 5th graders have their own big spelling bee with the winner going to the county level. I have no idea why they skipped the big bee for the lower grades this year and why Dekalb County doesn’t have a bee that includes the lower grades. Or, to address your comment, why they don’t just lump every single grade together for one collossal spelling bee to end all spelling bees! That would be awesome.

  6. December 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Unfortunately, the system is set up to “meet expectations” so instruction required outside of the narrow window of almost-meeting and meeting-the-expectations must be done at home (if exceeding expecations) or demanded with much force (if falling short of expectations). That is the way it is in the world today.

    Have you considered advancing Rollie a year? That might solve the problem of challenging him and frankly there has not been a heck of a lot of new info in 2nd grade (subtracting with 2 digits is the only thing I can recall). And, since he is 7 it would not be a big stretch maturity-wise. You might have some behavior issues, but it seems to me that young boys (and girls, in Annika’s case) just need to be run on a daily basis, like puppies. 15 minutes of recess just doesn’t cut it. So, you and Rollie go for a daily walk, that might even be fun.

  7. December 9, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Dorothy, what is Target? Is it like Tag? I wish they would just give these programs a real name! Thanks for the kind words. Much needed, as I feel like I am being a bit of a freak about it, but I just don’t want to fail my kid.

  8. December 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    Susan, that is helpful, concerning what they used to do. . . .
    So proud of Erin for doing so well!

    Steph, we have not considered advancing him. I feel like we have struggled a bit with his behavior, and I would hate to rock that boat. I guess it is something to think about, but I have also heard that it is v. difficult to do. (to get the school to agree to it.) And, it would mean him jumping to 3rd grade, which might be a huge hurdle.

    Totally agree that they need a lot more exercise than they are getting in the school day!

  9. December 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    1. Our school system has gone to ‘grading’ them according to whether or not they are meeting standards. BS I say. And thank you George W Bush. Thanks to you, all our children are mediocre.

    2. I have dream child. I do. I try to not brag or enter the mommy wars, but the first time I volunteered in her classroom at school, I realized what every teacher has told me since she was 3. They want a classroom full of just her and I see why. However, even dream child has her moments of challenge. Particularly when she gets tired.

    3. Dream child has realized she doesn’t need to study either. They are tested on computers and it’s multiple choice. She told me last week ‘I don’t need to be able to really know it, because I can just figure it out on the computer.’

    4. My uncle told me to not send her to public schools, that they would ruin her and he’s right. The alternatives are private school (so out of our price range) or homeschool. Good god no. So, I just hope that we can make it through this year and NEXT year she gets a better teacher.

  10. December 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Anne, I agree with Steph that maybe you should consider grade advancement. Beau, like Rollie is a “young 7″ but in second grade I can assure you he is definitely being challenged. Granted with Beau having ADHD, he has some issues Rollie doesn’t. And certainly the medication helps control any of those pesky immaturity issues. But I can tell you that Beau’s reading skills are no where near Rollie’s ( though since his diagnosis/medication he has already made more progress this year than he has the past 2 years and I am sure he will get there soon. I know I did). And, I will admit, that I have wondered if I should have “red shirted” him. Part of me thinks it would have been easier on Beau but on the other hand he has always been able to “meet the standard” in all areas (except reading)–he even exceeded grade level on his CRCT’s scores in math and science last year. Total shock to me since we did consider holding him back and repeat first grade. I am glad I didn’t because I think he would not have been challenged in the areas that he does excel.

    IDK. Just a suggestion. I hate to see you continually frustrated that Rollie isn’t being challenged.

    On the subject of spelling bee’s: I have no idea what word stumped me. Not even sure my spastic self was allowed to participate in spelling bee given my spelling ability would have depended on me being a good girl and taking my Ritalin . In 4th grade I remember more often than not pretending to take it and spit it out at the bus stop. I just had so much more fun at school if I was medicated and forced to sit still and you know, learn something.

  11. December 9, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Uhm, that would be NOT medicated. Thank goodness Beau likes his Adderall. I guess a year of always being in trouble for not sitting still makes you really like being the good kid.

    At any rate I can promise you there are kids who are a full year older than Beau in second grade and get trouble for throwing chairs, being sent to the principal because they can’t stop crying or for hiding under their desk etc. Not saying Rollie does those things just saying it still happens in 2nd grade. Heck, I know a kid in a Carmella’s 4th grade class that does it too. I would talk to the school about your concerns. Just go past the teacher. That is what I did for Beau when they wouldn’t recognize that he had ADHD. You can demand that he is tested and they have to do it. I think they have 90 days to do the testing and complete it after you request it. That might be all it takes to get him advanced to the next grade. Lol, I almost wrote “level”, like it is a video game.

  12. December 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Becky, good for you for admitting you have an awesome child. (mine is prob. a kid that a teacher doesn’t want to have in the classroom.) And, “I just hope that we can make it through this year and NEXT year she gets a better teacher.” How sad is it that we are both feeling that way?

    Nat: I just don’t know enough about grade advancement to make an educated decision about it, and since he is in 1st, i have only seen his AR/Star reading level. I have not seen any test scores yet. I would not presume to make a decision about anything like that without seeing how he did in other areas. spelling is just one piece of the puzzle. You are right that i am pretty frustrated, but one of the frustrations is that I wish they differentiated instruction enough at his grade level that I didn’t have to choose between appropriate emotional and social level and appropriate academic level. . . We shouldn’t have to make that choice.
    And, there are other kids in his class who are probably not being challenged either. I just have the biggest mouth of the parents, i would guess. :-)

  13. December 9, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    One other thing, Nat: I am sorry that I never knew how much trouble you had growing up. I mean, we didn’t know each other v. well as kids. I never really had any idea that you were ADD. I didn’t even know what ADD was! It makes me sad that you struggled with so much. Makes me happy you understand what Beau is going through, and you are such a wonderful advocate for him now.

  14. December 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    Nat, that does make me feel better that they have some of the same behavioral probs in 2nd. . .

    I still will wait and see what his scores say. I am curious if he is pretty average on the rest of it, or not. I mean, when it is your kid, how do you know how they really compare to other kids? That is why it is frustrating to talk to a teacher who sees nothing but that damn “standards” line, and probably knows whether they fall below it or at it. Above it? Guess that kid is not a problem for AYP, so their job is done. . . .

    I will let you know what happens.

    Oh, and I should say that Todd pretty much is above all of this and just tells me to chill out. :-)

  15. December 9, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Her teacher would sit R. next to her, to be a ‘calming’ influence. She is often used that way in the classroom. This year though, she’s starting to act out because she’s bored, so chances are, they’d be having themselves a ball.

    Our new gifted teacher is supposed to start in January. Fingers crossed this one is better than the last one. We’ve been without one since early in the school year when ours was ‘reassigned’ for reasons not made public. It’s supposedly not related to our principal stepping down. And that’s just the tip of the iceburg on our bumpy school year…..Seriously. Next year can only go up. Otherwise I need to figure out how to pay for private school…..

  16. December 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Becky, i don’t even know where you live!

    Funny you mention the “calming” influence. One of the major problems in my kid’s class is the gender makeup. There are WAY more boys than girls, due to the fact that it is a magnet class and the spots are drawn lottery-style. So, i was talking to another parent, who is also having some issues with the teacher. The teacher puts a child w/asperger’s between the boisterous boys as a “buffer.” She does this with all the quiet girls, and understandably so, but in the case of this kid, it is v. disconcerting and distracting for her. The mother requests that she not put her there and then it happens again and again.

    gah! V. frustrating for all the parents, I think.

    We are probably going to have quite a shakeup next year, due to budget cuts, including possible reconsolidation and or/redistricting.

    sigh.

  17. December 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Oh, and Nat. meant to ask you – Are either of your parents ADD/ADHD?

  18. December 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Oh yes, the spelling bee. I loved that every year, going over the list, having my parents and friends call out the words from the book they gave us (do they even make that book anymore??)… Anyway, I won my school spelling bee in the 5th grade (5th and 6th grade competed) and went to county. Got to where there were 3 kids on the stage, including me, and my word was chandelier. I spelled it right, and everyone else in my round did, too. My next word was salami, and I, in my excitement that it was an easy word I knew, flubbed and slurred out, “S, L… S-a-l-a-m-i…” and of course, was out.

    My dad still likes to tease me and ask if I can spell salami. :)

    Don’t even get me started on the frustration about public school thing. Our school scores highest in the district, which scores highest of all 33 districts in San Jose–we, too, based where to live on the schools. But still, I see so many flaws it drives me bonkers, and makes me wish I had a nanny or the budget to have a regular babysitter to really be involved, because I think it’s like voting: if you don’t vote, keep your bitching to yourself about the politicians… if you don’t volunteer, you have less to say with authority about the school. Very frustrating.

  19. December 9, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    Salami! That’s a good one. . .

    Glad I am not alone. It is frustrating and disheartening to see this many people who are not happy with the state of education in our country. Very upsetting.

  20. Jen B
    December 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

    PLEASE tell me she did not say he is meeting standards — with a smile!!! And she expected that to make you happy??? Meeting standards is the same as doing the absolute minimum expected to be acceptable. It’s like a 70. And we know Rollie is much brighter than that. So he’s exceeding the standards- by how much, in what areas, etc. This is what she should be telling you. What could he be working on to strengthen the areas where he isn’t so far beyond the standard and what else can he do to be challenged in the areas where he’s already well beyond the standard? They’re doing benchmark tests right now. I assume Rollie will score very high. So he will meet the standard, which is a 70. But what if he scores a 99? There’s a huge difference between a 70 and a 99 and that needs to be recognized. For a kid like Rollie, saying he’s meeting the standards is an insult to his intelligence and potential. I don’t want to make you depressed, but second grade sucks. It’s basically a review of first grade- to make sure they “got” everything they were supposed to learn the year before.

  21. December 10, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Jen B, thanks for the depression! We will see what happens when they do the benchmarks. . . is that part of the testing?

    I feel like i never get any straight info about what the goals are, or dates when things will happen, etc.

    Thanks for posting. :-)

  22. Shannon
    December 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    What national standardized test does your school give? IOWA or do you guys do MAP testing?

  23. December 11, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Iowa. What is MAP?

    Did y’all get a Christmas tree? Something v. sweet and special about that first Christmas together. :-)

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