Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Low Island or Reef of Sand or Coral

I’m in a meeting with a group of English teachers. There’s the guy with the ponytail, a couple of sharp and kind-hearted graying women, a guy with a sweater vest, a Mark-Twain-obsessed-30-year veteran and me. We are going through a list of books that we might like to use with 7th and 8th graders next year and I offer to read the list aloud. I am a read aloud junkie, just ask any student I’ve had over the last ten years. Got something you need read aloud for a group of people? Call me, I’m there. Students have even complimented me on my engaging Mrs. Bennet voice when I read from Pride and Prejudice, but I digress.

So I volunteer to read the list, hoping that might excuse me from having any insight into the books themselves, seeing as how I haven’t actually read many of them.

I read, “Bearstone.” (insightful comments about novel ensue)
Bud Not Buddy.” (insightful comments about novel ensue)
Call of the Wild.” (insightful comments about novel ensue)
The Cay.” (Mark-Twain-obsessed-30-year veteran leans over to me and says in a stage whisper, “It’s pronounced ‘kee,’ not ‘kay’”)

I continue to read, but cannot stop thinking about this gaffe and of the stinging censure from my associate. And why on earth would you use such a stupidly pronounced word as the title of a young adult book? I’ve been pronouncing The Cay phonetically for ten years – how many times did I embarrass myself in front of other teachers, or parents who were ready to pull their child from my class, having lost their confidence in my ability to teach if I couldn’t even pronounce a three-letter word correctly? Have people in the community been talking about me behind my back for ten years? Trying to figure out ways to gently suggest a different career path for me? One colleague did compliment me on my secretarial skills after I had typed up the minutes of a meeting early in the year…

Enter the Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, which just happens to be lying open when I get back to my classroom the next day. Two legitimate pronunciations of “cay” throb on the page: phonetic OR stupid.

Now I don’t want to take up valuable blog space to explain the lesson I learned about maintaining my self-esteem even in the face of a blunder I believe I’ve made, or the lesson I learned about not instantly accepting what anyone tells me as fact, or even the lesson I’m being forced to learn about just letting it go, since there’s no way I can now contact everyone who was in that meeting and explain that I was right without seeming crazy.

No, I just wanted to say it somewhere. I was right.


Anonymous said...

HA! Now you need to pronounce it "kay" again in a large group so when someone smugly stage-whispers "it's pronounced key" you can respond loudly for all to hear, "Actually, it can be pronounced either way - I prefer 'kay' because it's closer to it's Spanish word of origin, cayo."


Anonymous said...

ooo I like that, 'Spanish word of origin...'

Anonymous said...

Si. And isn't it set in some Spanish-speaking land anyway? Pah! Double touche.

bluelikethesky said...

Don't feel too bad. I had to look up and listen to an episode of Fresh Air to hear an author pronounce his main character's Pakistani name the night before I started teaching the novel last week. I felt totally lame.