Tuesday, March 25, 2014

BEE Serious

Have you ever been handed a job...a challenge that sends fear to every cell of your body...a fear that expectations by others will prove to be empty and the imposter, you, will be found out?  This happened to me when I began teaching 8th grade English...many, many years ago.  The 7th grade teacher, Mrs. Bester, was strict. no nonsense, and old school.  She scared the bejeebies out of me when I first met her. 

This is the only picture I could find of Ceora and it had to be this
large or the quality would be even worse.

Our first encounter was when I borrowed the coffeepot from the teachers' lounge to use for a parent meeting one evening.  How did I know that Mrs. Bester would arrive at school the next day earlier than normal (I was always the first to arrive)...and while walking down the long hall to my room I heard her voice shouting, "Who took the coffeepot!!!"  I was shaking, sweat was dripping down my back.  Timidly, I carried the coffeepot to the lounge, expressed my apology and scuttled to my room.

Later that year Mrs. Bester shot me a stern eye during a teachers' meeting.  "I'll never forgive you, Jackie." she said.  I am sure I turned white and wondered what I had done...or was she still upset about the coffeepot.  She continued, "I was in the basement last night and saw a spider on the wall and was ready to swat it...and I remembered hearing you say how you couldn't kill spiders...how important they are.  So I just looked at that spider and told it how lucky it was."

That was when our friendship began.  I learned a lot from Ceora, even though our teaching styles were so different.  She loved the students and went to every game...girls and boys.  Her pride was her Spelling Bee Teams.  Her teams almost always took 1st, 2nd and 3rd places at the county spelling bee.  She would begin grooming spellers beginning in the 5th grade.  It was amazing.  It was remarkable. And after so many years of being champs...it was expected.

One year, before Thanksgiving, Ceora called me.  She had been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was not good.  She would not be able to coach the Spelling Bee Team. (She had already been coaching them...but knew she could not continue.)  She asked me to take over the task.  "Of course, I will," flowed out of my mouth before thought could stop those words.  We talked a little more about her treatments and how she was going to finish the school year and then move to Savannah to be with her daughter.

I hung up the phone.  Panic hit me.  Spelling was never my strong subject.  I always kept a dictionary nearby.  But I was stuck...and the thoughts of breaking the winning streak haunted me daily. 

Fortunately, I knew the spellers....some of them were my students.  They already had the practice structure from Mrs. Bester.  They each had that small book of spelling words...would write definitions for each word...and would spend every spare moment drilling each other.  I hoped to continue the practice routine but knew that no matter how hard I tried...I was still not Mrs. Bester. 

At the county meet my heart sank when one of our key spellers went down on a word she knew, but spelled too fast, putting an ending on it.  I had faith in the spellers, but feared they were putting pressure on themselves because we were all wanting to win...for Mrs. Bester and did not want to disappoint her.  At the end of the bee we were all smiles.  We won the county and we also took 2nd and 3rd place. 

The picture in upper right is Lori when she won the 8th grade and overall County Spelling Bee.
 Sorry these pictures are so grainy...the one is from the yearbook.  I just wanted to put
 a picture of Lori on this post.  The young man standing next
to Lori is Brian Strohacker.  He won the 6th grade.

I could end this here...but the winner of the county spelling bee, Lori Glock qualified to participate at the Ohio State Fawcett Center district spelling bee.  If she won that she would qualify to participate at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.  Many of the team joined me to cheer and support Lori.  If you have never been to a spelling bee...know that it can be tense and nerve wracking.  There were only four spellers left. Lori was one of them.  She stood at the microphone, listened to the word.  The look on her face told me that she did not recognize the word.  She asked to have the word repeated.  I did not recognize the word either.  One of the students, Molly, poked me and said, "They are not pronouncing it right."  But by that time, Lori had spelled the word and I heard the "ding" of the bell signaling that she was incorrect.

What do I do?  I hate confrontations...but I found myself walking to the judges' table and challenging the pronunciation.  The judges were kind, but I could tell that they really did not want to play the tape to listen to the word again...but they did...and YES, the word was mispronounced.  So, Lori returned and got another word. 

Soon there were just two left.  Lori and someone else.  I can't even remember if it was a boy or girl.  Lori missed her word...the other speller missed it too.  This went on for a number of rounds.  The anticipation was as thick as Heinz Ketchup.  And then...Lori missed....and the other speller got it right.  Drat!  I was so proud of Lori but hoped that she would not be disappointed in herself.  She should feel so proud to make it to the last two spellers.

We all hugged Lori and congratulated her.  I asked her if she was okay with the results because we could not be prouder.  Her reply was, "Oh yes. Now I don't have to study any more.  And second place gets a color television!"  And I thought...hmmmm....that makes a lot of sense.  How refreshing to see this genuine positive response. What 8th grader would rather study spelling words for another month instead of getting a color television?

We found the nearest phone (this was long before the days of cell phones) and called Mrs. Bester.  It was amazing.  It was remarkable.  We had not only continued the winning streak for the county...we also had a great experience at the district.  I can take little credit for the success.   Mrs. Bester set the foundation for these students.  The students put the time and effort in learning the words.  I guess I was the glue that kind of held things together.  I am glad I said, "Of course," when I got that call from Ceora.


  1. What a lovely and heart warming story. It's amazing how one thing we say change change a person's outlook and create a new bond of friendship. I'm glad that you spoke up for Lori and that the judges decided to listen to the recording. Without the glue, things would fall apare. Glad you were the glue.

  2. You have the most interesting people in your life and they lead you to such adventures! Often it is those who scared us the most at first become some of our best friends. What an exciting spelling match that was! I was a bit breathless as I read, wanting Lori to win so bad. How funny she was thrilled with the TV as a prize. I know I'd have liked that too.

  3. That was an incredible slice! Nice job!

  4. What I nice story...I had not thought of Mrs. Bester in years....But with your help her image and personality came streaming back. You are right...she was tough (she probably told me to stop talking in class a hundred times...I believe she moved my desk close to hers to keep me in line). I remember her room was near the top of the stairs in the 7/8 grade hall at Frey Ave....she sat with her desk to the side of the room and the desks faced the chalkboard in front....boy did she run a tight ship. I remember her close cut, short black hair. Even through her tough facade you could tell she was committed to her profession and her students. Thanks for sharing...looking forward to more walks down memory lane.

  5. Mrs. Bester sounds like quite a character. I laughed at the story about the coffeepot and the spider. And how exciting those spelling bees must have been!

  6. Sometimes we surprise ourselves! Congrats and thanks for sharing your story!

  7. I love this! Lori was always a great, smart, sweet girl. And I remember Mrs. Bester - thanks for sharing that memory! What fun to read this - made me smile.