Today was my last day to judge UIL Oral Recitation. You may recall I also judged last weekend. I’m still so glad I signed up for this event, it was a much more enjoyable experience than I think any of us were expecting. (I mean, fourth and fifth grade kids on a Saturday? Eww.) But the kids were all really great and well behaved.
Last weekend I noticed a distinct lack of male contestants, and those that were there, didn’t measure up well against the girls. Well, today I saw a turnaround. My preliminary round at 8 was four boys, all of whom did very well. Of the two I personally advanced to the final round, one of them even took first place for fourth grade competitors! We also saw a lot more diversity in the choice of material, no Shel Silverstein at all this time.
I like the prelims because I’m judging by myself, and can move things along at a good clip. I don’t rush them, I just don’t spend twenty to thirty minutes writing critiques of their work, unlike some of the other judges I could mention. (I’m looking at the two older ladies who judged with us. They took forever!!!)
I really had a good time during the finals for fifth grade, though, because we had some great surprises. One boy who was a last minute substitute did a great job with the poem My Mother Says I’m Sickening by Jack Prelutsky (from his book The New Kid on the Block) and ended up making third place. There was one other boy that did all right but ended up with last place, and then four girls. The thing that really caught my attention was that of the six kids in finals, five of them were kids of color. I thought that was really cool, since last week I had noticed that while there was representation, white girls still dominated the competition. Not so this week.
The best reading I saw today was by a young fifth grade girl who also happened to be black. The poem she performed (this was absolutely a performance) was The Negro Mother by Langston Hughes. What a powerful piece! And I truly think that she understood what she was reciting, and could really feel the emotion that the poem is meant to project. She was so alive and excited while she read, and it really wasn’t the content that swayed me. She truly was the best.
The funny thing is, I and another judge agreed on that front. We both placed her in first. The remaining judge placed her fifth! I was so shocked by that, because I felt she was so much better than the other kids that even if the judge hadn’t thought she was the best, there’s no way she could deserve fifth place out of six. I don’t know what influenced the judge’s decision, and I won’t speculate, but I will say that I’m glad our two out of three margin put the girl in first. The rest of my picks ended up placing in exactly the order I chose, which was really cool. I felt a little psychic, or perhaps all-powerful.
I watched the awards ceremony this time (last time we left early), and I’m so glad I stayed. The kids were so excited, even the ones that came in at the bottom. I hope I get the chance to do this again, it was a great learning experience for all involved. And I got to feel like one of the cool kids. All the other judges kept asking me where I taught, as if I were a teacher. Pretty awesome.
You can also read about my first Children’s Poetry Reading.