Is spelling necessary? Teacher questions

Published 3:12 pm Tuesday, December 28, 2010

By JASON MAYFIELD/Guest Columnist

It’s a question I’d expect to hear from a student, but it’s one I found myself asking this year when time for the annual spelling bee rolled around and I, as sponsor, found my school faced with a $106.50 bill.

For at least the last three years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has charged a fee to local schools to participate in the first step of the program: the county bee.

The immediate effect in Shelby County is that the elementary schools stopped participating in the county bee, and one can easily envision a day when smaller middle schools decide to skip the bee entirely and use the money in another fashion.

I can easily envision schools skipping out because my heart wasn’t in the fee this year, particularly after I could see the words my students misspell in the formal essays they write for my class.

Student mistakes in spelling would probably annoy me more if it wasn’t for the fact that I caused more than one teacher’s hair to turn grey with my spelling.

Today, I find myself not just misspelling words more frequently but even failing to get the words close to something spell check can figure out. As a person who loves words, I’ve recently discovered that I probably don’t love them enough if I can’t learn to spell them correctly.

Students need to be encouraged to love words, and part of loving words is learning how to spell them. A spelling bee certainly encourages this, not to mention teaching lessons on performing under pressure.

I’ve watched many students at the county level return to their chairs after misspelling a word and tell mom, dad, or sponsor, “I knew that word.”

Of course, the pressure only intensifies from there. Four years ago, I had the privilege of sponsoring the county winner and accompanying her to the state level.

The eighth grader was a student in my class, but without the bee, I never would’ve suspected her gift at spelling, a gift that carried her into the eighth round at the state finals – which was about 20 rounds past my ability to spell any word correctly that the contestants were given.

Hope springs eternal though, and if the bee can do all that then maybe it’s still worth its cost.

Jason Mayfield is a gifted instructor at Columbiana Middle School.