The Ordinary Extraordinary

I think I found a gap in the English language. What’s the word for the feeling that something is paradoxically ordinary and extraordinary?

The sun comes up every day in the East and sets every day in the West. All of us have seen beautiful examples of this entirely predictable phenomenon. We’ve been up early some mornings to see the first rays of light streak across the sky bringing a radiant end to the night. We’ve relished evenings when the sun’s descent produced shifting combinations of blue, orange, pink and purple even as the first stars appear. Ordinary, and extraordinary.

There may not be a word to describe that which amazes us without surprising us at all. Still, it is a feeling well known to teachers and among the great joys of our profession.

The synonyms I considered – marvel, astonishment, awe, wonderment – all suggest something unexpected or inexplicable. Those of us who work daily with kids, and love our work, realize that our students are full of potential. They bring caring, commitment, character, creativity, and compassion into our classrooms daily, and when presented with challenges that elicit their best qualities, student inevitably rise to meet those challenges, often with humor and heart.

Gunn High School (Palo Alto, CA) students wrapping up a 2017 performance of “The Music Man.” 

For the general public, it’s not surprising when students perform impressively on the stage, field, or court. Student publications and certain clubs and organizations provide additional opportunities for students to showcase their talents in some communities. But there’s more going on. Authentic research, project-based learning, service learning, peer tutoring and mentorship of younger students, engineering and design competitions, and even the papers, presentations, and projects in our classrooms – all give us the chance to see, over and over again, predictably, how amazing and fantastic our students can be.

So if you have a good example of how you’ve experienced this idea in your own school or classroom, please share in the comments. That would also be a great way to share if you know a word in some other language, or can suggest a word in English, to convey the idea of the ordinary extraordinary.

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