Tag Archives: teaching

Crowning the New Spelling Queen



The spelling bee brought together all the private schools in the area.  Grade by grade, the spellers stepped forward to sit in a row of cold metal chairs beneath the glaring gymnasium lights.  Fourth grade started things off, drawing numbers and sitting in order, nervously fidgeting and kicking their feet while each awaited his moment to stand up and twist the letters of the alphabet into one of their numberless permutations.

In the stands, I was tense.  Not for the outcome, which didn’t concern me so much, but for Katie’s feelings.  Part of her struggle with Asperger’s is an occasional inability to cope with strong emotions, and I was afraid of how she would handle the losing part of competition.  Would she be overwhelmed and burst into tears of disappointment?  Or would she bear up with stoic seriousness until the round was over?  Although I had tried my best beforehand to prepare her for the possibility, I held my breath every time she stood to spell.

Round after round, she spelled each word correctly.  On a couple of them, she asked for a sentence or a definition.  The pronouncer told me later that as he watched her mull over each word, he could see the exact moment when the light bulb went on in her head.  She spoke the letters clearly and confidently, emphasizing each one with a jab of her finger, as if she could see the word hovering in the air in front of her.


Finally, it was down to two.  Both girls did a wonderful job, but in the end, Katie was declared the winner.  A big grin lit her face and she did a silent herky of joy as the announcer congratulated her, then turned to me with an expression of amazed happiness that clearly said, “Can you believe it, Mom?”  The second place winner, who will be the alternate in the next stage of the competition, tapped Katie on the shoulder and, with the beginning of tears welling up in her eyes, graciously said, “You did a good job!”  “So did you!” Katie returned, and a cacophony of congratulations swelled around us.  For the rest of the day, Katie was a mini celebrity at school, delighted recipient of hugs and compliments everywhere she went.

I thought I couldn’t possibly be any prouder of her.

This morning she proved me wrong.

On the day of the spelling bee, the judges had explained the rules of elimination, including the procedure for having two spellers left in the competition.  At the moment Katie won, I had been expecting her to have to spell another word to claim victory.  When they suddenly declared her the winner, the attendant hubbub as I filled out papers and made proud phone calls to friends and family swept that detail to the back of my mind and I didn’t think of it again all day.  This morning, however, I woke up with it nagging at me, and wondered if a mistake had been made.

I dug the rule paper out of Katie’s desk and looked over it again, but it didn’t shed much light.  I paced and fretted, fretted and paced, until Paul urged me to do whatever it took to set my heart at rest.  I couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing Katie and somehow taking this victory away from her, but I knew that it was important to make sure everything had been done fairly, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wouldn’t be right to let it go without checking.  So I took the matter to Katie.

I explained to her that I was wondering about whether the administrator had made a mistake on the rules.  I pointed out the rule to her and told her what it would mean if we called the spelling bee officials to investigate.  “They may consider the results of the spelling bee fair and binding, or they may ask us to come back in so that you can replay the last round of the competition again.  If that happens, there is a chance you could lose, sweetie.  What do you think we should do?”

She only paused for a second.  Then she sighed a little and said, “Let’s call them, Mom.”

I thought my heart would burst.

As a parent, you always wonder if the lessons you are trying so hard to impart to your children are sinking in.  Treating others fairly, being honest in small things and large, doing what is right even when it is most difficult or costly–these are the hallmarks of integrity, and to see it blossoming in my child made the joyful celebration of yesterday pale into insignificance.

I pulled her up into my lap and told her that.  Later, we called the spelling bee arbiter and explained our concern.  He cleared up my misunderstanding of the rule and reassured us that Katie’s victory was well-earned and would stand.  He wished her good luck and reminded her to study.  He remembered her, he told me, for the smile that lit up her whole face when she got a word correct.  “Like she has a glow inside,” he said.

Yes, I thought.  Yes, she does.

May it shine on.

100% Return Rate


Eleven kindergartners went on the field trip today.  Eleven came back.

I feel pretty good about that.

Yes, I’ve survived my very first ever field trip as a kindergarten teacher, a milestone that I looked upon with trepidation in the days leading up to our schoolwide expedition to Carver Farms, a beautiful and expansive patch of land in the heart of farm country.  But, as usual, all my worrying was for naught.  Several parents came along, and I was able to assign a pair of students to each adult, making the hand-to-kid ratio a nice, comfortable 1:1.  We enjoyed a hayride, took a jaunt through the corn maze, picked colorful Indian corn and perfectly plump pumpkins, and filled our tote bags to bursting with festive fall goodies.

Finally, after a lovely lunch break beneath an obligingly shady tree, the whole happy, dusty, disheveled crew piled back onto the bus, covered in corn silk and chattering gleefully to each other about their treasures.  I had a wonderful time, but this was my favorite part–all my little chicks safely tucked back into bus seats for the drive home, counted and accounted for.

Thank you, God!

*I took a lot more photos, but I didn’t want to post pictures of anyone else’s kids without their express permission, so you’ll have to make do with my little pumpkins.

Cute Kids


Reading Corner

From the first week of school:

*While reading a story about pythons on the reading carpet, a felt a tap on my knee and looked down into Andy*’s mischievous grin.  “Hey, teacher, do you want to see a python in real life?”  “Um, I don’t know,” I hedged.  “Because if you do, I’ve got one RIGHT HERE,” he continued, pointing with a flourish to his tiny curled bicep.  I tried to look impressed, hoping he didn’t notice I was choking on a laugh.

*Little Kyra was in tears, and I was the duty teacher on the playground.  “What’s wrong?” I asked, and she informed me that she only had “one friend in this whole school, and she’s playing with somebody else!”  I told her that she might only know one person so far, but that there were lots of girls in our class that would love to be friends with her.  As if on cue, sweet, quiet Brandy, who had overheard us, stepped forward and said, “Hey, I want to be your friend, Kyra!  Let’s go play on the slides.”  And off they went.  I just stood there with my eyes tearing up, full of sweet gladness at being witness to such a moment.  I can see already that my students aren’t the only ones who will be learning a lot this year.

*Caleb brought Tiny Tiger to school for Show and Tell on Friday.  He told the kids a little about where he got him, and then delivered what he clearly considered the coup de grace:  “Watch what he can do!”  And with that, he seized Tiny Tiger’s tail and used it to execute a complex series of what I know were karate moves, complete with whipshot sound effects.  The kids laughed (and so did I, I admit.)  Caleb’s face creased in consternation as he admonished, “Guys, don’t laugh!  This is serious business!”

*After school on Thursday, as I stayed to finish up my prep for the next day, Caleb asked me if he could have some more of the Skittles I use to reward the kids for good behavior at the end of class.  I said no.  “Uh oh, Mom,” he said, “You just broke the Number One Caleb Rule.  It’s give Caleb whatever he wants all the time.  You get an ‘F’.”

So I survived the first week of school, but I got an F.  Look at it this way:  At least there’s room for improvement.


*Names of kindergarteners have been changed to thwart the papparazzi.

First Day


If the twelve students in my kindergarten class had a little pep in their step at the end of the day today, it was because they were sucking energy directly from me.  Seriously, I’m tired.  Who knew a few hours of herding five year olds could be so exhausting?

Oh, but it was fun.  I was right about that.  If I close my eyes, I can see those sweet cherub faces–so excited and nervous and mischievous and funny–and hear those sweet piping voices–asking question after question and bursting ardently in on my explanation of the short “i” sound to tell me all about the soft, fuzzy chicks they hatched in their preschool class last year.

It was chaotic, to be sure.  I imagine first days usually are.  There were parents to meet and supplies to collect and classroom rules to explain, and half of my carefully laid lesson plans went out the window in the dizzying rush of first day duties.  But there was also story time in the reading corner, where twelve pairs of eyes gazed with rapt attention at the same book and the hush of waiting for the unraveling of the next written word wrapped around us like the calm eye of a storm.  There was laughter and there were hugs, and I know that there will be more of both tomorrow.

I’m only beginning to know their names and their faces, but already I am praying for them, and praying that I’ll find the wisdom, patience, and knowledge to be the teacher they need this year.  After all, I’m the only one they get.


You know what?  I just realized that I still remember my kindergarten teacher…

Mrs. Edmundson.

Thank you, Mrs. Edmundson, wherever you are. (And I was telling the truth.  I really didn’t let that stray cat into the building on purpose.)



Well, here we are.  Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Caleb will start kindergarten.  And so will I.

What happened to the whole long summer that I had spread out in front of me?  I dipped my toe in the lake, slept a couple of nights in a tent, and suddenly twelve weeks have dwindled down to twelve short hours.

Tonight feels like that moment when you’re all strapped into the roller coaster car, just about to take off, and a large chunk of your brain is wondering what the heck you were thinking, knowing all the while that it’s already too late to get off the ride.

Don’t worry, I keep telling myself.  That’s the feeling you feel just before the fun begins.

Bits and Pieces


*I’d like to give a shout out to my awesome friend, Regina J, who, when she heard that I had finished the first three books in the Twilight series, offered to loan me her copy of the fourth one, but instead secretly went and ordered me my very own copy from Amazon. It arrived yesterday in the company of yet another book by the same author that I’ve been wanting to read! The riches!

How lovely is that? Of course, this means I’ll have to stop teasing Regina about her “allergy” to the post office (she usually saves up Christmas and birthday gifts between visits and showers us with them all at once and in person), since that nearly pathological aversion is probably partly responsible for the two beautiful new hardbacks sitting on my bookshelf right now.

And oh, they smell delicious! (Come on! I know I’m not the only book sniffer out there.)

*Today I got to talk with the mother of one of my new students. She wanted to meet me before finalizing her daughter’s enrollment in kindergarten. We had a nice visit and I tried not to feel like I was being tested as I answered questions about the curriculum and myself. (I think I’d give myself a B+.) So there you have it: I’ve already convinced one parent that I am an honest-to-goodness, bona fide teacher! Now I just have to convince a room full of five year olds and I’m gold.

*Speaking of teaching, Jen came in to the school today to officially pass the torch, showing me where to find all the supplemental teaching materials, answering the first hundred of my thousand questions, and revealing the top secret hiding spot for Kathy’s chocolate stash (you don’t keep track of how much is in there, do you, Kathy?) I feel like I’m stepping into big shoes, but Jen’s confidence in me also bolstered my own. And I have her cell phone number, for when I remember those other 900 questions.

*I just cracked open an egg for the veggie omelet I was making for lunch, and it had two yolks. Two yolks! Cool, huh? If I was Caroline Ingalls, I could charge Mrs. Oleson extra for that one.

Running the Race in High Heels


Last night was my first night to teach the women’s class at church. We’ve split the sexes up for several weeks so that the men can attend a series on pornography, and I was asked to take the ladies’ class.

First reaction: I think I’d rather roll around in a pit of rattlesnakes with my shoes on fire.

Second reaction (and the one that actually came out of my mouth): Um, okay.

I hope nobody saw my knees knocking together. It’s funny; I have no fear of speaking up in class when I’m sitting safely in the crowd, but something about standing up in front of all those eyes requires a Herculean effort.

Did you know that, in surveys, the majority of Americans list “public speaking” as their greatest fear? It ranks at number one, just above “death”. Why is that, I wonder? It’s not as if you’re in physical danger (well, unless you’re Ann Coulter speaking at the University of Arizona, in which case you have to watch out for airborne pies.) Most people don’t bite, and, in fact, want to see the speaker do well.

Anyway, class went swimmingly, helped along by a wonderful discussion and a very friendly audience. I’ve known most of these women for years, and not one of them has ever bitten me. The series is called Running the Race in High Heels, and is about the unique challenges that Christian women face in their lives of faith. Last night’s session was about lust, and specifically dealt with pornography, extramarital affairs, and the hypersexuality of American culture. That’s a lot to cover in an hour. Also, I had to say “sex” out loud in the church auditorium. Many times. That’s not usual.

The discussion brought up a lot of good points, some of which I may go into in a later post, but right now I have to get back to working on next week’s lesson, which will deal with the lovely womanly habit of overcommitment. We fill up our days, end to end, with activity, become giant lumps of stress, and still have trouble saying “no” to more without guilt. I’m convinced that a billboard message I read is true: God’s To Do List for us is much shorter than ours.

Feel free to share your thoughts; you know I love them! (And I might actually be able to work them into my lesson!)