89: The Spelling Bee

89: The Spelling Bee

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

The Spelling Bee

The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you’re talking about.

~Michael Mescon

Spelling was my favorite subject in fourth grade. Every week I memorized my new words, and by Friday I was prepared to take the spelling test. I usually got all the words right. My teacher, Mrs. Casazza, wrote “100%” and “Excellent!” on the top of my paper, and when she handed it back I felt so proud.

In the desk behind me, Donna Slocum would lean forward and whisper, “What did you get?” and I’d show her my test paper. “Again?” she’d ask, with a hint of jealousy in her voice.

One day Mrs. Casazza announced to the class that we would have a spelling bee on Thursday, the day before our test. “It will be a review for those who are having a difficult time remembering their words,” she said.

Oh, no, I thought. Last month when I had to stand up in front of the class and give a book report, my arms shook so badly that it was hard to read my paper. I was overly conscious of the twenty-seven pairs of eyes on me, and all I wanted was to run back to my seat. A spelling bee would be even worse. I wouldn’t have a paper to read from!

After lunch on Thursday, Mrs. Casazza told us to line up by the board, and she explained the rules. “Say the word, spell it, and then say it again,” she said. “Be careful not to repeat any letters.”

One at a time, she pronounced a word for each student to spell. Two boys made mistakes right away and had to sit down. With clammy hands, I waited for my turn. After the girl next to me correctly spelled her word, Mrs. Casazza called my name and said, “Your word is ‘echo.’ ”

“Echo,” I started. The sound of my own voice startled me. “E.”

Then my mind went blank. I couldn’t think. Everyone was looking at me, waiting for me to say the next letter. But I couldn’t see the word in my head. All I could see were the other kids, and they all had their eyes on me. My face got hot. I swallowed hard. What came next? Was it K? No. It sounded like “k” but it wasn’t, was it? It was “c.”

“E-C-H-O,” I spelled slowly. “Echo.”

Oohs and aahs came from the kids beside me. “You repeated the ‘E’!” Donna pointed out.

“She’s right,” Mrs. Casazza said. “You’ll have to sit down.”

I looked down at the floor and made my way back to my desk. Although I was relieved that I was no longer in the spotlight, I felt like crying because I knew how to spell the word.

Afterward, Mrs. Casazza said, “The spelling bee worked so well, and we all had so much fun, that I’ve decided to have a spelling bee every Thursday.”

It worked so well? We all had so much fun? Every Thursday?

I didn’t want another spelling bee! I was afraid that I’d mess up again. And sure enough, when the next Thursday came, I did. I started spelling my first word, and then I suddenly became conscious of everyone in the room staring at me. I stood silent a long time, unable to finish the word. The room was quiet while Mrs. Casazza waited. Finally, she sent me back to my seat.

I dreaded the spelling bee so much that I didn’t want to go to school the following Thursday.

“What’s wrong?” my mother asked. “Are you sick?”

I told her about the spelling bees, and how each time I messed up my first word and had to sit down.

“But you’re a good speller!” she said. “You do so well on your tests!”

“I can’t spell when they’re all looking at me!” I said.

“Oh, so that’s the problem,” she said. “You’ve got stage fright. I heard of an easy way to get rid of that. Just imagine everyone’s wearing nothing but their underwear.”

I laughed. “Their underwear?”

“Try it,” she said. “It will remind you that they’re no different from you.”

Mom seemed sure that her trick would help me, so I went to school believing it would.

During the spelling bee, my first word was “piece.”

“Piece,” I started. “P.” The feeling that everyone was staring at me began to creep up again, but I remembered what Mom had said. I pretended my classmates were dressed only in their underwear. I must have smiled a little. My head cleared and I concentrated. Now did the word start with P-I or P-E? I knew this. We’d learned that there is a “pie” in “piece.”

“I-E-C-E,” I said. “Piece.”

“Very good,” Mrs. Casazza said.

Hooray! I did it once, so I knew I could do it again. And I did, again and again. Throughout the year, I even won a few spelling bees. That was just the beginning. My mother’s trick helped me with every speech and book report I had to give. I stopped thinking that I couldn’t get up in the front of the class. Of course, I could! With a little imagination, anyone can!

~Mary Elizabeth Laufer

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners