A vocabulary lesson

Ever had a moment when you just knew you were in the right place at the right time? I had one of those yesterday that has captured my heart. It was a teaching moment, turned divine appointment. In the story one of my small groups was reading, we came across the word ‘miraculously.’ The students asked me to put it on the list of vocabulary words we are looking up for a vocabulary journal.
Yesterday it came up as the word of the day. It was not in the dictionary, so we discussed the fact that it was a form of the word miracle which was in the dictionary as ‘an event that cannot be explained by the known laws of nature and is therefore attributed to a supernatural power.’ Students wrote the word, the definition, the part of speech (it’s a noun, verb and an adverb depending on how you adapt it…I know you were wondering), a sentence and drew a picture. As they went around reading their sentences, I listened for the correct use of the word, which in the case of miraculously, is an adverb. “I miraculously survived when the scary doctor gave me a shot.” “I ran down the field and miraculously scored a touchdown.” “I miraculously found my homework in my desk.” Then the last student read her sentence, “My mom was not miraculously healed from cancer.” The air went out of my lungs and tears sprung up in my eyes instantly. The group went silent when she showed us the picture she drew of her mom’s casket and a little girl crying next to it. “That’s me.” she said. Talk about a moment.
This student lost her mom the first week of school. I asked her when she returned if she was okay and she told me, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Fair enough. I assured her if she ever needed to, that I was available. I have kept an eye on her each day since as she gets on with the life of a motherless child. She has made a small comment here or there that only someone who knew her situation would understand, but nothing to the group…nothing that let me know how she was coping. She only seemed to carry a sadness, even in her laughter. On the outside, she seemed to be handling things fairly well, but I knew, somewhere on the inside, she was still hurting.
But on this day, in the midst of a reading lesson, she decided to enlighten us with the real definition of miraculously. What it is…and what it is not. The students asked her questions once they grasped the truth of her sentence. She looked up at me for assurance that it was okay to answer. I nodded and said “if you want to.” With my arm around her shoulders, she told the story. Not the whole one, but her part in it. The part where she stood by the casket. The part where her cousins and all her family came from all over the country to visit. She told how some of the little kids didn’t understand what was going on, as if she had all the understanding of an adult at the age of 10. She was so brave to open up and I was proud of the other students sensitivity, even in their most direct of questions. Soon the moment passed and we went on with the lesson. She felt better having told her story, and a small part of the burden she had been carrying seemed to lift.
It was a bit awkward for me as a cancer survivor comforting one who seems to fully understand there was not the same miracle for her mom…even though her child’s heart prayed for it. I did not try to explain why, because there is not an answer for that and she did not ask. I simply held on to her, supported her, and cried with her, literally. Moving on to the story in the book, morphed the moment back into a reading lesson. However, it once again made me realize school is about more than academics and test scores, and I do a lot more than teach reading.

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