I teach a remedial language course for students who have reading and writing skills below grade level. Part of the focus is on basic grammar that the students might not have mastered yet. This past week we were discussing how a single word could be a noun, a verb, or an adjective, depending on how it was used in the sentence.
As we went over the examples in class, I knew we were leaving Naomi behind. Grammar is foreign land for her. After she had asked about the given examples several times and still not understood, I could tell the other students were getting exasperated waiting for her. Naomi could see they were getting impatient too, but she was clearly lost. I told her I would go over it with her during Study Skills Class when it was just her and another student.
Two hours later I again went over the three examples: There was a short in the TV that caused sparks to fly. When they short me on my paycheck, I get angry. I waited a short time for my mother. For Naomi to understand a “short” in the TV and being “shorted” on a paycheck, I had to go into a long explanation of what they meant. The other students in the earlier class had all apparently seen an appliance short out, and all understood being shorted on money. I patiently began telling what was going on in each situation. After each explanation I gave, Naomi tilted her head slightly and said, “I don’t get it.”
I went over it again using even simpler language. Naomi’s head tilted farther. “I don’t get it.”
By the third round, Naomi’s head was tilted almost to the point of resting on her shoulder. After a lesson I thought a three-year-old could understand, I wondered if I would get another, “I don’t get it.”
Instead Naomi’s eyes bore in on me, and she said, “Mrs. Jones. I have a question. What makes you really happy in your life?”
Most of the time when I’m with Naomi, I feel like I’m working with a very, very, young student. But every so often she asks something that makes me feel like she can see deep inside me. I started to laugh.
“Why is that funny?” she asked.
“It’s not funny, Naomi,” I said. “It’s so profound.” Her face puzzled over the word, “profound”. “It’s a good question,” I restated. “I have to think about that a minute.”
This had been one of those days where other events had pulled the rug out from under me. Consequently, this felt so much more important than nouns, verbs, and adjectives. “Let’s all think about what makes us happy in our life,” I said. There was one other student in the room and she immediately announced that she was happy when she didn’t have to think of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. In the next few minutes I learned that Naomi was most happy when she was walking her dog, Leon. The other student was happiest when she and her mom were doing something together. They learned that I was happiest when all my kids came home to visit me.
“What makes you laugh, Mrs. Jones?” Naomi asked.
“Well . . . you make me laugh, Naomi.”
Her face lit up into a huge smile. “Am I your favorite student?”
I wasn’t going to ignore the other little girl, so I said, “No. You’re all my favorite students.” But the truth was, today Naomi was my favorite student.