“Cori you teach my brother.” Zack sat back in the Adirondack chair, his feet swinging, too small to touch ground. I paused. I actually felt the pause of sifting through … Continue reading A Student Support Teacher’s Pause
Trust and time.
And listening. And relationships.
And belonging. And sharing stories with kids.
Their stories. My stories. And listening
to their stories no matter what.
The cat stories, the lunch stories, the suicide stories.
Staying late, arriving early. Showing up.
Saying I love you and I am proud of you, and meaning it.
Reading aloud to high school kids. Often. Writing with students.
Sharing with students. Admitting I’m wrong. Saying I’m sorry.
Putting aside what I’m doing when a student comes up beside me, to listen.
Knowing that every shared note, every piece of writing, every hello,
Is a love language.
As are the crumpled pages, stomped feet, long tears, and reluctant hugs.
Be gentle and listen deeply.
Ask questions. Remember details. Remember names.
Notice when the room settles into a silence.
Remember then to wonder why, to ask how.
Read cumulative folders.
Stand at the door. Say hello and say goodbye. Text HEY.
Ache at the so longs. Check in.
Drinking coffee, together, honoring them all.
Be open. When a student pulls me off task; do all I can to find the function.
See past the tapping, the staples, the Snapchats, the swear words, the rule-crossings.
Sit in silence. Share stories.
Eat the left-over food the kids bring, made in Home Ec, and the baking brought from home.
Laugh loudly. Laugh often. Smile widely.
Display student work.
Say thank you. Mean it.
Cry with them. Get tired.
Get to the end of the semester, June 30-degrees-with-no-air-and-resounding-pride.
Love my kids. Explain my thinking. Explain it again. And then differently again.
Let kids design the space, even if it’s messy and asymmetrical and might smell.
Try new things.
Teach what excites me.
Share what I read. Go on field trips. Explore.
Learn in a multitude of settings. Question my work. Challenge the norms. Challenge each other.
Respond with kindness.
Ask the kids, about my instruction, about them, for feedback.
Plan with others.
Seek criticism. Reflect.
Be grateful. Be mindful.
Share my students’ successes. Share mine.
Be irrationally crazy about kids. Breathe deeply.
I started keeping a journal when I was twelve years old. For most of my life, I have crafted a written/reflection in some way, every day.
Tonight while my family and I were pulling books from shelves, packing for our upcoming move, I found my treasured first ten years of journals. Then, my books all had to match. Theses were my blue-black years; the journals with the satin tongued ribbons. Each year engraved in gold-leaf. Each page filled with me.
No one can read them. In my will I actually state I prefer my daughter to destroy then, unread. Though, I am familiar with her head-heart-strong nature. This is highly unlikely; she thrives on research.
Also, my refections served invaluable during my thesis journey. Of course, by then, the nightly journal had morphed to four different texts, depending on my need.
Now, the notepad on my phone lives full. And I write in every margin. I map narratives from my reflection. Catalogue my outlines into collections, thematically. To finish in a few years under the sun.
So. Tonight I packed them. Moving them again from one out of the way location to another. Oh, I’ll find another. Hidden well. In plain sight.
To finish…. in a few years 🙂
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?
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.
~ for Alan
When I figured things
Out, I could buy red
I have a pair of nearly pink
Flats. I bought them
Years ago. They pinch
I found red runners that I wore
When I sat my ethics
The runners are candy
New, and they have no
Grip on my soul.
A year ago, I sipped coffee wrapped
In warm morning
Light and my heart
The feel of Adirondack
Chair, well worn
Home, and sand
We are a fine fit.
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.
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?’
“Dodge a train?”
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.
-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.