|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.
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.