An Earned Prize

When I graduated from high school in that section in the yearbook where graduates share their future dreams, I wrote that I hoped to someday win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

My dream to change the world through story.

I published a bit of poetry, wrote my thesis as a narrative, dabbled in prose, but I know deep in my bones the euphoria of living alongside students as they come to know themselves as writers.

This week a student of mine earned the Currie-Hyland Prize for poetry, one of the most prestigious awards given to a high school student in Saskatchewan. And he earned it.

He writes well. Words that ruffle our rootedness.

But the award was messy. He has trouble accepting praise. When the magazine arrived I told him I would be sharing his honour the next day publicly over morning announcements.

And I did. And the sharing still bothered him. ~He is bright. And I am honest. The sharing wasn’t only for him. It was also for me.

The sharing of the award conveyed, in some small way too, that through my student’s challenges to navigate traditional senior ELA courses there lives a brilliant mind, brilliant poet, and most importantly, a capable learner.

And this, I know, is my Nobel Prize. It always has been. When students achieve success. When students achieve belonging, independence, mastery, & generosity, my inner world steps up to cheer.

So. Now we educators run full-out towards June. We find creative ways to help students meet outcomes with fidelity, and I wonder, in all of our work, what is our hope for students? And is it a poetic-run towards their Nobel or ours?

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One Final Wind-Song

17 years ago this spring my daughter, Jessy Lee, and I moved into our home in the Avenues.

Tomorrow she comes home from university for what may likely be her final summer at home. And, two weeks from now, my partner, Alan, and his dog Felix, move in.

My home/world changing forever. I could not be more happy.

Tonight though, my final night alone, in many ways, and certainly in this home, I remember the past 17 years.

~

Jessy Lee and I arrived here when she was 4 1/2 years old. I looked at homes while she was at preschool. I looked at 27 homes before this home chose us. Here, standing in the back yard, surrounded by five giant evergreens, the trees sang to me. Then, I had felt so lost. Still only 6 months separated, scared of everything, and certainly change, the wind in the trees sang me home.

Oh, The Song of The Avenues.

Here, Jessy Lee and I grew up. Here, she was surrounded by friends. For many years, five houses in a row with kids the same age, same grade, same school down the way. For a few years, Dad puttered, when Mom allowed days in town, I wrote and shuffled between school and soccer, and wrapped my healing tightly around being the best mom.

We grew up here. I remember my first day of orientation for my undergraduate degree, my peers brought their parents; someone asked if I had brought someone. I remember thinking that Jess had school.

I remember that I only missed one soccer game in all the years. I remember the Sukanen hauntings, and years of halloween decorating that ran 70 plus carved pumpkins strong. I remember my sister and I hosting birthday party-sleepovers for 30 eight year olds, and later, for 20 teenagers.

I remember scavenger hunts, murder parties, tent forts, movie weekends, lego adventures, clue weekends, games days, kick the can, man tracker, open mic, soccer games, practices, tournaments, playoffs, fundraisers, coaching; I remember friends and late nights, and fondu, and dill dip, and musicals, and rope curling hair, and speeches, stories and poems and slide shows, and late night reading, and patio coffee sharing, and card making, much laughter and endless love.

We grew up here. And I am not sad. Neither is Jess. The House Down the Street with the Large Mailbox has cared for us well. We grew up here. Jess and I both became independent here.

Here, we learned to know our roots. Here, we learned to know ourselves.

The trees have taught us their Home Lessons.

Thank you my whispering friends. Thank you for keeping us safe. Thank you for seventeen years of fine friendship.

Tonight I honour your twinkle-light-Avenue-porch-listening-evergreen-wind-song one final time.

Home.

Red Shoes Series: fine fit

~ for Alan

Del said

When I figured things

Out, I could buy red

Shoes.

I have a pair of nearly pink

Flats. I bought them

Years ago. They pinch

My feet.

I found red runners that I wore

When I sat my ethics

Review.

The runners are candy

Apple red,

New, and they have no

Grip on my soul.

A year ago, I sipped coffee wrapped

In warm morning

Light and my heart

Understood Del’s

Meaning.

The feel of Adirondack

Chair, well worn

Home, and sand

Stone.

We are a fine fit.

Red

Dodging Trains

I blame that text message, or the twinkle lights, but mostly, the constant of Alan’s gaze.

It started years ago. And likely years before that. But maybe, I’ll start with the rubric.

It was my first full-time teaching position. A small town and a class with only a few grade twelve students. I had asked them to share. To simply talk with each other about the books they were reading. I was so new to teaching. Yet the kids trusted me. While the students read every day, I read too, or sat beside one of them and talked about their books. Often, we sat in a bigger sharing circle and shared thoughts on themes, structure, craft, passion, connecting the text to our own background knowledge. We shared books, found new texts, and invited poets and authors in to share. I loved my high school kids. We wrote our pieces, published… but for my tiny grade twelve group… sharing publicly was horrifying.

I remember walking in to class one afternoon and finding them waiting, standing by our poetry nook. They stood, a collectively serious team.

They wanted to negotiate.

They said they were willing to share, orally, with each other, globally, but only if part of the criteria might be Courage.

Now. Courage isn’t a provincially recognized outcome. In any curricula.

Yet, they wanted to be assessed for it. They saw value in it. They wanted the skill of courage to matter. Furthermore, one student, Andrew, had the sticky-notes ready, and set out to lead his peers through the process of co-constructing the definition and then the criteria for courage.

Their rationale: just because you want to do something, really, really want to do something, doesn’t make it easy to do it. There is measurable worth in working through fear and choosing hope. The challenge of one’s work needs to be part of one’s grade.

They named this courage. I’ve written a bit about naming this potential. There are similarities.

Names have power, and all that ~ E.R.

In the end, courage was defined as a two fold complex skill, measurable through four varying degrees of proficiency.

They owned their creative process and they owned their public sharing. And this was October. By April we were live-streaming our poetry, sharing our work at open mics in the city, and collaborating with partners from around the world.

There is such power when we come to name what it that makes us shake.

I remember after that first day, emailing both my principal and my superintendent “I’ve allowed the 12s space to lead. Also, I am formally assessing a skill that is not an outcome. I am so excited”

And I am. Courage is a big skill to learn to acquire. Its strategies deeply complex. Mystical. Much like twinkle lights.

In November one of my grade 11s, Dek, viewed Stand By Me. He had never seen it before. And viewing was epic! – My classroom is much changed from the days of the rubric. Students come to me who need extra support, who need to finish other course, to aquire lagging skills, for, really, a myriad of reasons, but, most, who simply need some momma-saas time, and always, mostly, first, to belong. – I’ve been working with Dek to understand much of the above.

He loves our space. Showing up in the middle of the day for our class, while skipping other classes. While he sat safely with earbuds in, watching the coming of age story unfold on the screen of a laptop, other boys in the class, every so often, would circle behind him grab a glimpse of the screen, and comment, “oh yeah!” “The pennies!”

Dek is quiet. And kind. He just wanted to watch the movie. But he’d stop and let his peers gabber: “That’s something!. That sort of thing. Going to see a dead body.”

The others would ask questions. Mostly ones that made them titans of the universe. At lease, in front of each other, or they hoped, in front of quiet Dek, whose steady calm unnerves them.

When the movie was over, Dek pulled out his earbuds. He set them down on the table. The others’ continued to add anecdote long after the credits. They talked about Chopper and how awesome it was to hop the fence.

But not Dek.

He listened.

After the flurry had settled and the other boys had returned to their projects, and when he appeared like he was about to settle into his journal, he asked, the words floating across the Independence table, across to me, “You ever do that Miss Saas?’

“Do what?”

“Dodge a train?”

“ No.”

Then something hit me.

“Yeah.” The others stopped working. I pushed back comfy into my chair. “Yeah, last summer.”

The bell rang, leaving the boys asking for the story that then, I didn’t know how to tell. Dek, though, he smiled at me before he got up, walked to the door, his steady slow gate, and he didn’t look back.

~

When I finished my M.Ed. degree. I felt that the world ought to sort of open up, with a glittered sort of acknowledgement and, I had convinced myself, with a different job. I kinda felt that it was earned.

Last summer I dodged a few trains, yeah …

I had been scheduled for a hysterectomy. A routine pelvic exam and pap test. Then, suddenly, my world ran the rails.

My mom was my age when she had her first run with cancer. Her first. ovarian. Then, the year dad had his stroke, mom had a lobe of her right lung removed. After the lobe and a growth the size of an orange was removed from between her lungs, mom looked at her surgeon and stated she simply didn’t have time for cancer. That, her forth cancer-train dodge. Or maybe, likely, she’s a conductor.

Suddenly I felt I was beginning my own count to a story that seemed it ought to be too familiar. Mom had been my age.

Somewhere inside I thought that if I started dodging trains, I’d be able to outrun all trains. And I actually thought then that the dodging was all wrapped up in the cancer scare, but my fear ran much deeper.

And I had forgotten the rubric

So. I went back country camping in bear territory. I bathed in the river late into twilight. I kept my food in a poorly sealed cooler, nearby. One morning, noticing fresh bear scat, I simply took photos and sauntered off hiking.

There were other dodges too: wound myself tightly in friendships no good for me, held onto a home I had wanted to sell for years, pushed away people who loved me. And I push hard. And relentlessly. And silently. All in the muddiness of my own storied back country road.

And it was not epic.

But I was good at the dodge.

I remember sitting on my patio last summer, with Alan. The night was unseasonable warm. Jess was away for the weekend. The evening stretched long and gentle. Like that July moment was waltzing with infinity.

Reading a text message, Alan smiled and looked at me. I met his eyes. “My friend just said there’s a job, at his university… I could apply for it.”

I put my book down. “I’ve been talking about moving.”

We talked. And planned. So damn real that possibility. Those twinkle lights. Us. That summer porch.

Courage.

-Though, is a two part skill. So damn Real.

I remember the months that followed. In the days following my return to school after my surgery and walks along the beach, questioning my place in the world.

Principalship postings popped up. Friends would smile, “Oh! you’d be so good. Apply.” Like a gust of wind, I felt a little like I could see the river rushing miles beneath my feet

Dek’s knowing look stayed with me. Maybe, it easier to recognize a dodger if one understands the experiences it takes to cause it.

How many train dodgers sit among us? How many see enough dodging yet listen consistently, and continue to love us through?

When I had the surgury in september and Alan wanted to come look after me. I said no. I ran home to my mom’s to conveless. I walked the beach every day, as far as my abdomine would allow.

I guess I may be the taker-of-long-ways. – not yet meeting expectations.

In the bleakness of last fall, the ground rose to meet my feet; “You know, I’ll support you in whatever you want to do, but when I hear you say you’ll die if you dont get to be a principal then go for it, but you just say this all the time about your kids. You’re so needed.” ~Alan

Yeah. Yeah Dek, I’ve dodged a few trains.

Now though, now, I. Am. Home.

1) Hope. 2) Risk

The courage to Love.

And, us.

Checking-In My Kids

Years ago I learned and taught alongside a close-knit group of students that became like family to me. In all, the moments before, and years since, I’ve never quite had the same almost magical connection with young people.

As a teacher-researcher, I am aware there are many things I will never be-able to recreate with other young people that lived so beautifully with these kids. I was much younger. I was with these young people only briefly, we all new this, filling a replacement contract, for only four life changing months.

I think about the brevity of our time together, like we each, the students and I, somehow deliberately sucked the marrow of learning from one another as if we understood we might never be about to find this sacred space again. And honestly. I don’t think we ever did. Any of us.

They are my ‘that group’ group. My kids. My kids by heart.

The late night calls and mid-day check ins. Coffee house conversations.

They have never paused. All these years hence.

Years and years later and they still push my thinking. Weave their way into the stories I share, weave their way into how I share, challenge my pedagogy, help me to think better, more, and differently with what being an educator ought to be, for me. Every. Every. Day.

All these years later, and they continue to check in. Each of them.

Recently, R emailed and checked in, like she randomly does. I checked-in replied, then asked if I might share most of her note to me and my reply to her here.

That group.

My kids by heart

(Shared with permission)

Date: March 25, 2018 at 2:48:55 AM MST

To: Cori Saas

Subject: Check in

Hi

Here’s a university struggle piece:

Be creative he said

I laughed at the thought

I laughed because

I couldn’t remember the last time I was

allowed to express my creativity

I love science, the methodology that lets me to perceive

Lets me understand and view the world differently

When I see a tree, I don’t just see a tree

I see the molecules, the chemical reactions

Down to the particles and

I see it’s place in the system

The impact on the whole

How what may just seem like a

tree is a whole lot more to the community

This understanding excited me

Pieces fit together like a puzzle

But where is the creativity?

Albert Einstein once said

“Imagination is more important

than knowledge. For knowledge is

limited, whereas imagination

embraces the entire world,

stimulating progress, giving birth

to evolution.”

But that’s not the science I know

The papers

The lab reports

The deadlines

-0.5 because the text isn’t

justified

-2 because you messed up one significant figure out of 50

And better not even think about misplacing a table heading

Stifled by formatting

Wasting hours for nothing

Is this science?

Is it preparation for what awaits us?

Or is it just a strange system of torture?

It’s rough cause I don’t have time to edit my work anymore but I also

haven’t checked in in awhile.

I miss you

R

~

I’d like to say that I got your message in the morning. But you know that’s not so. You know I am awake. My own twitchiness at trying to settle things unjustifiable deep within my bones.

I kinda like that the need to justify doesn’t settle. For either of us.

Oh R, the degree journey: it really will mean something! The fidelity, the blandness, the rigger of this work. My climber of walls, the view from this rim comes with a deep sense of gratitude for those ropes, you know. And I am not expanding further. I know that you know. I know that you have known through all those backpacking adventures that were also filled with moments of dreaming about sciences. I know you know.

This gruellingly dull climb….It means something now though too.

Do you remember that last week we had together, all those years ago? When you came in to chat, just us. We sat on the tops of desks and you shared deeply of your experiences. Letting them come to sit there with us. I remember your strength in speaking them, in making them visible.

I think about how you have written and written and hiked and dashed and returned, how you have been broken and then found such healing. You. You did this. You. Your power, your words. Your body. Your wisdom. Your kindness. Your truths. Your way. Your time.

Your time.

R, your very life is light creative

I hiked in the mountains this morning, among rock and pine and always that light we know.

That light you know.

Hike my girl. Hike.

Love you always.

Saas

Keep Loving

Last week during one of my Structured Support classes, I was helping a grade twelve student analyze a poem. Together, we read the poem assigned by his English Language Arts teacher.

“Wow that’s a powerful poem.”

“I don’t understand poetry.” My grade twelve student said, pushing away from from the table.

Stoic. “It’s about finding abusive love beautiful.”

“That’s just messed.”

“Or maybe it’s really brave.” The room paused. Those moments when the florescent lights stop humming. And everyone pauses….

“It is. I have a student in my writing group who just submitted a poem for publication. The poem is about missing being in an abusive relationship. I thought her piece is one of the most honest sharings about love. Sure, perhaps a distorted sense of love, but a kind of love.”

“F**^* that’s messed up.” The grade 12 said, fidgeting.

Across from me, a grade nine boy leaned back to balance on the back two legs of his chair, adding, “Like, how would you even love a girl like that?”

“I imagine, trust would be hard for her.”

The grade nine leaned back further. Lifted his arms up behind his head and then as moments often do if you let then, our world stopped. “You’d have to keep loving her. And just not stop.”

“Yeah?”

Twelve boys, grades nine through twelve had stopped breathing. There was deep wisdom then. Teachings. They understood this. A glimmer of something perhaps beyond them, until just then.

“Well, it would be hard. And you couldn’t give up. You’d have to love her until she learned a different love. The other kind. Because that’s love. To love a woman like that. Yeah. Shit. It would be hard. But that’s love.”

To love different. ~That is love.

A grade nine teaching