The great spelling bee comes to an end


My fall of spelling bees is finally over. This means many positive things for my life but also for you, dear reader (mom and dad): we can now return to our regular schedule of weekly posts about how I am sitting in front of my heater wearing a hat and gloves; playing Donkey Kong with A.; reading a lot; and wanting to eat burritos. But there’s one last post to be found in the Debar-Mavrovo 2010 Regional Spelling Bee, surely the worst idea I ever had.

As you may have surmised based on my last post, three of the schools we ran semi-finals in did not come to the finals. I’m not going to comment too much on this, but suffice it to say that if I ever went half-insane and decided to do this project again, I would not be returning to those schools. All the others came, though, and we had nearly ninety students in all competing in the bee.

And on the day of, most things went smoothly. We had three volunteers here helping out in addition to me and Mere; but my school’s vice-director, the “coffee lady” and one of the maintenance men were also there all day, in addition to my counterparts Drilona, Lindita and Mirdita. Some of the teachers from Mere’s school also came to do Macedonian translations. Without all of our teachers helping, we couldn’t have pulled this off.

What made me happiest about the day was how well-divided the prizes were. Only one school, which just sent students for the sixth and seventh grades, didn’t place in any of the bees. All the others had students place, and there were first-place winners from three schools (two from my school, in the third and fourth grades, two from Bashkim Vllazerim, the other primary school in Debar, and two from the village Centar Zupa). After doing the semi-final in Bashkim Vllazerim I was terrified that they would sweep the entire bee, but the kids all prepared well and it showed yesterday.

What probably made the bee run as smoothly as it did was that we ran the semi-finals in the same fashion as we planned to the final. The students came in knowing how to pin their numbers on, how to line up, that they could get translations or ask for a word to be repeated. We didn’t find one student with a word list during their competition, or trying to help another student spell a word. Painful as it was to run all the semi-finals like we did, the final would have been a mess without that prep work.

The only bad moment of the day came, unfortunately, during the third grade competition. With all the grades we had the word list students used for the semi-final, and an “emergency” list to be used once we had exhausted all the words from the primary list, or when it became apparent that the students needed harder words. (The finalists for the fifth grade spelled about fifty words each.) Once we exhausted the third grade list I conferred with Mere and my counterpart, we selected the next words we would move on to (words that came from the fourth unit of the students’ book – so, the first unit we hadn’t pulled words from for the primary list). At this point there were only four students left in the competition. Immediately after we gave the next student a word from our emergency list, the father stood up to yell at us for using a word not on the study list; any chance the kid had of spelling the word correctly probably vanished after the two minutes his father spent berating us. We finally got him to quiet down and were able to move on; we had to give the student a different word because his teacher had started sounding out the word (“sixteen”) for him, which caused another round of controversy. He spelled his new word incorrectly, but because the next student in line spelled the word correctly, that student (the angry father one) was eliminated.

Cue more controversy. We managed to finish the bee, but while we tried to write certificates for the winning students, the father came up to the stage and began again. He not only interrupted the competition, but interrupted the awarding of the certificates and prizes to the top three students. I wish that their moment had not been ruined by this…well, this man. I don’t even know how long he yelled at us for, but thankfully Drilona and Mirdita helped to defend us, and finally – after probably about ten minutes – he stalked off with his son in tow.

I wish that this event wouldn’t color my memories of the day too much, because other than this guy things went as well as they could have. My school was great, my counterparts were great, my vice-director was great (he spent three hours helping us make certificates for the bee – a story for another day); but this man kind of ruined it all, and tired as I am it’s hard to get it out of my mind. And it’s unfortunate, but based on my experiences with the other primary school here in Debar – with the teachers and parents, not with the students, who were almost uniformly fantastic – I don’t ever plan to do another multi-school project like this one. The students had a good time and got really into studying for the competitions, but I’m tired of being yelled at by teachers and parents for doing this project.

It has, though, made me appreciate my school a lot more. I have counterparts who never complain about the quality of, say, the flashcards I bring in to school (unlike the teacher who bashed our semi-final certificates), and a vice-director who let me take off for nearly three weeks to run semi-finals, and stayed after school for three hours one night to make certificates with us, and a director who gave me money to buy prizes for the students. I feel lucky to have a school that supported this project, which grew so much bigger than we expected it to.

I’m ready to get back to regular classes, though. I finally went in three days last week, and it was so good to see my students again – I felt like I was home. I’m tired, though, and kind of sick, and finishing up a grant proposal, so I’m planning to give myself a couple days to lay on my sofa reading, and hanging out with A., before I head back to work for real.

2 responses »

  1. It’s so strange how ONE person being irrationally rude can ruin a whole day/event, no matter how good the rest of it was. That happens to me a lot. Still on my to-write-about-list is this time a few weeks ago when I smiled at a stranger I passed on the street instead of verbalizing my hello, and he yelled at me, and I was upset about it for days!

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