My 7th grade English teacher had decided to hold a spelling bee during class. It was boys against girls, with each side lined up on opposite sides of the room.
I don’t count spelling as one of my strengths, so I was surprised to find myself as the last one standing on the girls’ side. This was due to luck more than anything else. Plenty of people had gone down on words that I would have gotten wrong too.
Luck, as it happened, was on my mind, as I faced my opponent from across the room. The last remaining boy got the word, “juvenile.”
Oh, the irony.
If there’s one word in the English language I knew how to spell in 7th grade, it was “juvenile.” Honestly, I think most 7th grade girls are very familiar with that word, because we used it so often in reference to 7th grade boys.
I may have grimaced when I heard the word. Because “juvenile” was a pretty easy word, and I felt the boy had lucked out. Imagine my surprise when I heard him spell it, “J – U – V – N – I – L – E.”
I probably had a rather triumphant look on my face when my teacher turned to me. Because I knew if I spelled it right, I won. And I knew that I KNEW how to spell “juvenile.”
Here’s where it all went wrong.
For whatever reason, a friend who was sitting right in front of me had a very similar reaction. She stage-whispered, “Noooo! It’s J – U – V – E – N – I – L – E!”
I may have nodded slightly at her. Not because I needed her to tell me how to spell the word. But because I shared her disbelief that the boy (whom I shall now call The Loser) couldn’t spell “juvenile.”
I spelled the word correctly, was pronounced the winner and received my winning prize of… nothing. The bell rang, we all went to our next class, and I forgot all about the spelling bee.
The next day, I saw The Loser standing at the back of the room with our teacher. As I walked to my desk, the teacher came up to me and said, “Well, Michelle, I heard you cheated on the spelling bee.” Then she turned her back on me and stalked away.
I stared at her in utter bewilderment. WTF?
It took me some time to puzzle out what she was talking about. It eventually dawned on me. Obviously someone nearby had seen my friend’s reaction and told The Loser that she had told me how to spell “juvenile.”
I never approached my teacher with the truth. I find that odd now. The adult me would have said something. The 7th grade me didn’t have that much courage. And, to be honest, my teacher’s behavior made it clear to me that she wasn’t interested in the truth. I was tried and convicted without even a chance to defend myself. She didn’t ask me if I cheated. She stated it as fact.
This incident occurred nearly three decades, but I can recall it nearly perfectly. It’s the injustice that gets me to this day. I’m not mad at my friend or The Loser or whomever suggested I cheated in the first. But that teacher? Seriously?