“How many words can we miss before we’re out, Mr. Stortz?”
I cracked the cap of a well-worn hi-lighter. Pushing the dulled neon tip across the first word on the list, I felt that familiar anxiousness as we began.
Bee day. I have to confess, word nerd that I am, that I always dread it a little. Today was our class spelling bee. We have to pick winners from our classes to participate in the school-wide spelling bee next month.
But the whole thing is just a tough nut. I remind the class that only a few people will win today. Losing is a part of life. A hard part of life. Disappointment will linger long past the time you’ve asked it to leave. The thing is, everyone thinks they’re going to win.
Round one ends. Only six kids remain. Two kids are already crying. A tough nut, indeed.
One of the sweetest (and brightest) girls I’ve ever taught missed her first word. She really wanted to win. And she most definitely could have. But she didn’t. She missed her word by one lousy letter. Her wide-eyed smile faded as quickly as her shoulders slumped. Tears began to well up along the rims of her eyes. She became visibly upset and couldn’t hold back her tears. I told her we could talk in the hallway after the spelling bee was over. Definitely a tough nut.
Ten minutes later we were talking out in the hall. Her crying had eased a bit. She told me how upset she was with herself. The more I listened, the more I could feel her frustration. I pulled her close and put my arm around her as we spoke. I told her that disappointment is okay to feel- just don’t let it consume you. I reminded her of all her accomplishments this year, and told her how everyone still cared about her. She went down to the restroom to wash off her face. I think she was feeling a little better, although I’m not sure I was.
A little later, she trotted over to ask me a question about the novel she is reading. Her eyes were wide and her smile was sweet once more. Disappointment is certainly a tough nut, but one that must be cracked.