In my life, I’ve held a lot of jobs: soldier, teacher, crime reporter, McDonald’s burger chef and a lifeguard in a murky lake filled with bad swimmers.
None of those were as tough as the job I had on Wednesday.
Judge at the Muscogee County School District Spelling Bee.
This is also a stressful event for the children, fourth- to eighth-graders who’ve been studying word lists for months.
They are brilliant and bookish, and they know a lot of words. Sometimes the trouble for them isn’t knowing how to spell, but getting the words from their brains into a microphone while they’re standing on a stage in front of hundreds of people – and stringing the letters together in the right order.
It can be as much a test of confidence as of spelling ability. The winner, fifth-grader Owen Steele of Hannan Magnet Academy, certainly knows how to spell. Last year, in his first city bee, he finished fourth. This year, he was pumped, practically sprinting to the microphone when it was his turn. When he won, he made a fist and whispered, “Yes!”
As a judge faced with so many smart kids who want to win, you don’t want to influence the competition in any way. You want to make sure you hear them correctly, and ring the bell when they get it right.
It’s nerve-racking, especially when somebody speaks softly. Sometimes parents protest, which is allowed by the rules, and the judges confer and often consult the recorder we keep running during the bee.
Judging is tough, but being the pronouncer is tougher. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson did the honors this year.
After he won, Owen told a reporter that during the bee, the mayor had pronounced the word “cabochon” in “a way that I was not used to.”
A way he was not used to? I have a master’s degree in English literature and I don’t recall ever hearing or seeing “cabochon” at any point in my 49 years of life.
Did I mention these kids are brilliant? Congrats to everybody who took the stage. We did the best we could.