Nothing much changes at the Whittier Elementary spelling bee.
Sure, over the years the technology has evolved. Some kids have to stand on tiptoes to reach the microphone, and others have to lean down. And it’s unlikely that any fifth- and sixth-graders spelled words like “ostrich” and “receive” in front of an audience dressed in sweatpants 30 years ago like a few of them did at the bee on Friday afternoon.
But every year without fail since 1973 or 1974 – she can’t remember which – Linda Douglas has announced the words at the school’s spelling bee.
Douglas went to Whittier as a student, and when she graduated from college, she headed right back to the school she loved, this time to teach.
She spent 30 years at the school, and all but one of those years she spent teaching fifth-graders.
“I loved every minute,” she said.
One thing that made Whittier so special is the great bond among the teachers.
“We had such a cohesive staff,” she said. “It was like a family. Everyone worked for the kids.”
George Parrett, a former principal at Whittier, said Douglas was a great addition to the school.
“Linda was the ideal teacher, one that the kids loved,” Parrett said.
A few years after she started teaching, Douglas took over the spelling bee. She said she remembers winning her third-grade spelling bee, and has loved spelling ever since.
At the Whittier bees, Douglas learned a big lesson early: Nametags should be attached to students’ clothes with something sticky, not something sharp. Not long after she pinned name tags onto the spellers, mayhem ensued.
“Never use straight pins with sixth- and fifth-graders,” she said. “They find a lot of uses for them that you didn’t want them to.”
But for the most part, the bee has been smooth sailing.
HONING THE LIST
Douglas gathered the word list from fifth- and sixth-grade spelling lists years ago, and she’s spent the intervening time honing the lists to the most difficult. She looks for homonyms and words with silent letters to really test their skills.
Douglas said a lot of things affect the way kids spell today. Technology like texting and instant messaging doesn’t ensure that kids are learning proper spelling and grammar. Also, spell-checking software further renders old-fashioned spelling lists obsolete. Douglas said it doesn’t mean the students are any less bright — it’s just changing times.
“One thing I’ve seen is, we don’t seem to make it as far along in the list,” Douglas said.
This year was supposed to be the last year Douglas authoritatively and deliberately dictated the words to the students. But now she’s not sure she’ll be retiring after all. It’s probably because of her love of Whittier school – and the love of teaching students.
“In my heart of hearts I always knew I’d be a teacher,” she said.
— Reporter Piper Haugan:
mtstandard.com or Twitter.com/Piper_Haugan
County spelling bee set Feb. 28
The Silver Bow County Spelling Bee will take place on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 2:30 p.m. at the Montana Tech Auditorium.
Each school’s two top spellers will attend the bee, so schools are encouraged to hold their own spelling bee before Friday, Feb. 22. That’s the date The Montana Standard, the bee sponsor, needs to have the names of the students who will be at the county bee.
Email to firstname.lastname@example.org the names of those students, and they’ll be printed in the paper before the county bee.