This morning I went to Brown to watch a spelling bee. Given my interest in the topic, I was eager to see what it was like. All the fourth, fifth and sixth graders were in the gym, watching the spellers seated in a semicircle on stage. I believe all the participants were in either fifth or sixth grade. There were twenty children, only four of them boys. It was charming to see some of their little tics and tricks, like tracing the spelling with a finger on their sleeves while reciting. The spellers didn't seem especially nervous or anxious, although afterwards I saw one girl crying and being consoled by her mother.
Some of the correctly spelled words by these brave eleven- and twelve-year-olds were: argument, cinema, newfangled, pleasant, patient, tattle, unsociable, vinegar, leisure, walrus, and tardiness. Those words have got nothing on the national list in terms of difficulty, but, you'll agree, a challenge to most kids.
Some of the incorrect spellings were: solami, hikory, infurno, sarcasim, noseyest, bungalo, looner, drousy, apetite, abbsents, orthandocs, flanel, chedder, and soilders.
The winning word was associate, which the losing finalist spelled, bizarrely, as "aseoiate."
Afterwards, I caught just a little bit of a fourth-grade class. I saw some six-minute fluency at work first. I'm not a big fan of this strategy, as it seems to me to strongly impress upon the kids the need for speed when reading, which is not helpful. I'm an extremely fast reader, but even I wish I'd slow down a bit and remember things once in a while. I walked around the room and heard a lot of fast-talking reading: "batsareflyingmammalsthatuseecholocation," all rapid-fire and without any attention whatever to prosody. Indeed, supposedly after they'd read this piece on bats, not for the first time, the teacher asked whether bats have ears, and most of the class said no. They also, on an unrelated note, had a lot of trouble figuring out how many years ago 1984 was. Anyway, the kids started working on making lists of facts from their reading when I left.
I went to a meeting with Mr. Gung Ho, the principal, at his request. He heaped some more praise on me and asked me what kind of school I wanted to teach at, and what grade I thought I'd be best at. He told me to give him a call when the district job fair started, and he would personally help me with the first qualifying test and then introduce me to other principals at schools that he thought I'd fit in at. I was pleased and honored; he certainly didn't have to extend such a courtesy. I told him I enjoyed his managerial style as well.
After that I went to the dentist. Apparently, a piece of my tooth didn't fall off, as I reported yesterday. I will spare you the gruesome details, but suffice it to say that I really ought to get my teeth cleaned more often. My teeth look and feel much more different now (I can actually feel the contours and see the gaps!). I got bad gums; hours later, my spit's still pink with blood. There; not quite as disgusting as Samurai Frog's recent health updates, but it'll do.
My father's in search of a rehab center. His AA buddies are trying to help him out. He is way too old for the kind of wringer he's going to go through. We shall see what develops.