Tag Archives: classroom stories

Language of Hope


A few days ago while scrolling through a social media site, I noticed that a student I teach had posted a photo with, what I consider to be, an offensive word. It is not uncommon for me to connect with students on some social networking sites. I am as selective about who I connect with as I hope and try to instil students to be. What made me pause when viewing the post was the word ‘retarded.’

My finger hovered over the unfollow button. I fumed.

I have known the student, Mack, for many years. We have navigated many, many difficult conversations. We have navigated many moments of crisis. We trust each other.

Maybe that’s why Mack’s comment, public or not, stung. I could not understand his cruelty. Or what I assumed to be his cruelty. 
It’s not that I simply don’t allow the word in our classroom, I explain its meanings and interpretations, and I have explained, why there is almost never a place, situation, event, or time suitable to use the word. And I share many stories of experience about how this language is harmful. 

That day, in my pause, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, paintbrush in hand, having taken a break, having checked the site, my finger continuing to hover over the unfollow tab.

But I genuinely care about this young person. And what, other than fuelling my own privileged sense of justice, does stepping away silently, and yes, fuming too, serve?

I continued painting, cutting-in around the ceiling, taking time, climbing up and down the step stool.

Hmm.

After a while I sent the student a private message and asked for clarification of the wording of his post. He replied simply, after offering a definition of the word, sharing that it means, “a bad person.”

I replied “No it does not.”

~

I set my phone down again and sat on the edge of the tub again.

And so far, all of this journey was too simple. I understood I was telling, not attending to his stories of experience. Too, I was not attending to my own stories of experience.

I sighed.

~

Last week I lunched with a colleague. We shared many stories of experience. Our sharing often returned to the mad-dash made by those within educational landscapes towards a singular social justice way of knowing. During lunch, my friend & I spoke of the importance of attending to all stories of experience. 

Yet, there I was. Sitting and fuming, tapping directives into my device. I had no desire to carry forward a singular way of knowing that would silence others, nor did I wish to lead in this space, when I had not entered through the opener of story, through trust.

I sighed again and reached again for my phone.

Years ago I was married. Those who stood up for me where an eclectic group of women I referred to as my sister people, each family in some lovely way. One sister person, a cognitively challenged woman, only a few years younger than I, was often mistaken for quite youthful. I have known her almost my entire life. Her mom is near to a second mom to me. Only once did her mom speak of the cruelty of living in a world where people are deliberately harmful with their words and more so lackadaisical with them too.

My beautiful sister people.

Truth: I was six months into my first teaching position before I truly allowed the depth and breath of being a language educator to resonate.

I began to ask myself the question I was posing to students. Does language always matter? I began to wonder, was the language fight my fight to fight, like it is and was, and in the same way, and remains to be for my sister person’s mom? Honestly, in the beginning I was foggy on the ownership of this life/issue.

I have lived alongside hundreds of young people. I have shared family stories with those I teach. Students have shared their experiences with me too. My Dad and daughter have often met the students I’ve known. We have journeyed together: cheering at ball tounaments, smiling at open mics, helping to paint classrooms, and hauling boxes into schools. 

I am no different with Dad & my daughter, than I am teaching a mini-lesson, or alone hiking a prairie hillside. In all landscapes of my life, I am fierce and I am kind. I am always me/mom/teacher. And I am reflective.

To all who have walked alongside me, they know that for me, others telling stories of me is a painful space.

I am thinking deeply about how others have told stories of me. I am thinking about my elementry and high school experiences, others telling stories of me through perceptions of my behaviours and my learning disabilities. 

I have spent a life reliving and retelling the stories others tell. 

~ Not stupid. Not busy. Not wrong. Not obstanant. Not rude. Not mean. Not loud. Not silent. Not. Not. Not. Not.

I returned to think deeply with the stories of Mack’s experience. I recalled when we had journeyed the Native Studies 10 course a few years ago, his worldview shifting as we inquired together. He would often send texts and screenshots of moments when he would address oppressive language/statememts made by his peers, even his family, as his own understandings grew.

I sighed. Tap. Tap. Tap….

“Mack, let’s talk about how, for you and others, that word might be understood and used.”

~

Honestly. I wanted to block Mack. I wanted to avoid a tough talk where I had no script. I had hoped Mack would simply learn that language is the most powerful force for change on the globe simply    by    reading       my    mind.

Language changes the world through our continuing reflection and discussion of its complex meanings and uses.

From those moments I came to teach English Language Arts courses all those years ago, I understood I must come as a Language educator.

During our dissucussion Mack remembered that the ‘r’ word is a word that I don’t allow in our learning space. I am thinking deeply too with the unfolding of that July day. I was painting my bathroom and dripping sweat. I am as fiercely blunt out of school as I am with students every day of our ten month year. My Mom says kids always know when teachers are fake. I think there’s a teaching there. This work is living work. Deeply meaningful, unscripted, and in the moment. Julys’s work too.

Maybe this is why I messaged. Because I trust my student. Because I know he trusts me. Because I already knew he was in a tractor somewhere and he already knew I was eyeball deep in blue paint, tackling a bathroom renovation. Because, we two, we trust the space between us.

Maybe that pause, is the trust that is the rootedness of our language of hope.

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Different Stories

I changed schools this fall, moving from a traditional space, teaching kids I loved and subjects I adored (ELA, Outdoor Education and Arts Education) into a different role. A role I sought. The subject areas, for the most part, have been the same. And I still adore the kids. The move was spurred in part because of my graduate journey, but truthfully, it was time for a change; I needed to know a different story of educator me.

The last four months have been different. Mess is good right?

I expected things to be different. I expected a learning curve as I moved into the role of Student Support Teacher, and I as I began my graduate research. There is much I miss about my former school, but what I miss most is feeling validated.

The educator story of me whispers that I should now be reflecting that this is an internal struggle and I should work it through.  

But that’s not how I’m feeling.

In early December the one of my committee members commented that when he feels this way, he blogs.

I live in the midst of groups of kids and yet get very little time to attend to their narratives. I feel continually rushed, as though I never really get to settle-in; I feel as though I’m never really in an at-home-living space with kids, as though I’m moving to the next place, next place, and this makes me want to put my hoody up.

There are moments of gentleness though. There was a morning in early December. Our school family had suffered a loss, our Vice Principal had lost her son a few weeks before. A student, Kate (pseudonym), and I sat around our morning sharing table. Neither of us could yet manage to take off our coats. We were tired and we were sad. Kate shared about missing her brother who had died three months earlier. Our VP joined us then. We asked questions that none of us had the answers to. We cried. We laughed. We didn’t wipe away our tears with our mittens. We sat a long while until finally we joined the rest of our school family for pancakes. These are moments of such beauty. These are moments when our space becomes a curriculum of lives. 

Maybe what I need is gentle time with kids, like those after-school moments and come-of-your-own willingness spaces. I ache for them.

The last day before we left for winter break Kate and I sat around our sharing circle with Joe (pseudonym). He is the youngest student in our sharing circle. Kate came up with a plan to keep the three us connected. Kate was really worried about Joe.

“Okay but this is weird,” Joe replied. But his eyes caught mine. I wondered if Kate was worried about the long two weeks away from her circle. I wondered if Kate was worried about missing her brother. I wondered if the hum from her ear buds that don’t drown out well, would be enough. I wondered, as I met Joe’s knowing eyes, if it was Kate who needed a plan.

~

In December, I attended my last fall term Works-in-Progress graduate group at the University. I feel like such a kid at this table. I feel as though I have little to contribute, as though the world speaks deliberately in academic babble, and I wonder if I should SoundCloud everyone so we might return and reflect on how we share. I sit on my hands. I drink tea and water and coffee, twirling a beverage between my hands and lips to keep busy. The others usually ignore me. I am grateful. Too bad I don’t wear a hoody to Works-in-Progress group, though that’s a story of grade-five-me, of school that fits that sharing space too.

Our knowing of children’s past experiences on their in- and out-of-classroom places was shaped by their storytelling as we continued to hear the numerous accounts of the experiences… As children spoke of resistance to our plotlines of a story of school composed around making spaces for lives, we knew their resistance was an expression of the lack of narrative coherence they felt between our practices and what they knew as school. Our practices were an expression of our stories to live by, of who we were. But we also knew our practices were not coherent with the practices children knew as fitting within their stories of school. (Huber et al, 2004)

At my Works-in-Progress group, we are pulled together by one of my committee members, a professor at the University, and by our common focus of narrative inquiry. The tea is good. And so are the stories. There are two of us working on our master thesis; the others on their doctorate. In December, I sat at the table feeling as I sound now, a bit bitter, feeling a bit wiser too about the role of the University in my research, in my practice, and in the lives of students and families. I tried to stay positive. There were cookies.

The group was discussing the potential of narratives in Teacher Education programs. They were only discussing the value of narratives for pre-service teachers. I almost lost my gourd. The conversation felt so… disconnected. In that moment all I could think about what a student of mine who had been arrested two days before and whose stories had often been silenced by school or told for him. I almost pounced into the conversation, “The value of narrative is when my grade ten student is doing this with a grade two student down the hall.” 

Okay. I wasn’t eloquent.

I was frustrated because the people around my sharing circle, some I trust, some I don’t, all with a great deal of influence in the education world, where having what felt like yet another conversation that did not included  elementary and high school students. Where were their narratives?

I cried during the rest of group and the cookies got soggy. The PhD-ers suggested I send them my works-in-progress, for feedback. It wasn’t pretty.

A few days later, after the students, staff and I returned from our daily late morning walk; I poked my head into the office to share with my VP. She was just back on half days and she was sitting at her computer, listening to the hum of the monitor, preparing to head home. She asked about my university journey. I sank into the chair she keeps beside her desk.

“You know, I have this lens. I am not going to change it. I really don’t care about teachers or administrators, and I really don’t care about pre-service teachers or superintendents, or professors. I care about kids and families. I can’t pretend I see things differently. I don’t.” 

She hugged me, and she cried. I don’t think it was my words. She suggested I talk with a teacher in the division who completed his thesis and had learned much about the journey. “Talk to him, it will help.” I kissed her cheek and joined my school family for lunch.

Just as I have been silenced and labeled by the messy plotlines of school stories and stories of school, so too have the students I live alongside.

When I arrived at my new school in the fall I had heard the rumors of how others labeled the students. I was prepared for those comments. And they came. They continue to come, but not so blatantly. 

I wasn’t prepared for the comments directed towards myself and other staff at the school that similarly set us apart in negative ways. It has been a different term. 

The final afternoon of term, a colleague and I were cleaning up, reflecting, celebrating successes; we’d had a busy day. We had taken the kids to another school for a concert and upon return a grade nine student stated, “Miss Saas, I’m tired.” The events of the day had exhausted our school family.   

It has been a different fall.    

Last night I jumped into a brief Twitter chat with the Deputy Minister of Education and two university professors about measurement, standardized testing, assessment and evaluation. In the end, what I wanted to share with everyone was an invitation into our classroom, but I didn’t.

What I wanted to share were the different stories of experiences of our sharing space.

I wanted to share student narratives.  

There are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day. I am going to write that again, there are no pretty successes where students, staff and I live every day.

Our successes sure aren’t small. And, they sure can be different too. And we need everyone to look closer; we need everyone to note that just because our world is different, it is also filed with successes.

Our successes – I am crying – are Robert Munsch Enormous in the lives of our youth. Sometimes they are so big they are like tectonic plates shifting lives and so embodied that kids bolt from school. This is success. One day this term a student slipped in from another class, walked down the hall and asked me if I would help him to learn. He shared that he had not understood the idea of a story having a beginning, middle and end until I wrote it on the board, and that he and I had to work on this during out-of school hours so no one in class would know. There was another student who hugged me goodbye because he had come to understand he needed a hug. This is success. There are the smiles of showing up, and showing up first to make coffee, and staying an entire day or understanding the sense of ditching class because for the first time, a student experiences the beauty of the middle-years pull of liking someone; these are successes. And these we celebrate.

So Kate came up with a plan.

Every day during the break we would message photos to each other and to Joe. We would keep Joe connected to our sharing space through photo stories. Some days slip by where all we send is a photo. Some days, we share a photo and a few words. Other days, Kate will ask questions and ask me to send a specific photo, or I will send a photo that connects to a story I’ve shared. 

Two days ago she shared a photo of a letter her brother wrote to her while he was in jail, long before the accident that took his life. She has been rereading his letters and notes. Her messages and photos are filled with reflection, courage and sadness. “I miss him so much,” she writes, Kate who four months ago now never spoke about her loss, Kate who now finds ways to connect to others through it.

Maybe the glitter and easy isn’t needed? But I think some of it is. I don’t know. Maybe somewhere in all this messiness I am learning something about what I need and who I am. Maybe, in the tension of my graduate journey, school spaces that were once closed will come to listen, to really, really attend to silent stories like Kate’s, just as she has listened to Joe’s? Maybe when our grade ten student returns from lock-up he will share his stories of his experiences. I miss him. Perhaps, I am just not supposed to know, not supposed to see around as many corners like I did in previous years. What if the stories of experiences are our successes?

Some successes are profound.

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Story of Summer 2013 in 10 Photos

        ~

soccer walking

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jess and danial open mic jul 2013

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les mis

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move collage

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grasslands cori

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dad hiking

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summer concert

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crazy dancing wedding

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orange

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jc team

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A beautiful summer of stories…

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Home, Always.

storytime june 2013Last week I moved out of one school and into another.

Mostly, that’s true.

However, the stories remain. I’ve brought all of them with me.

All of the resources, exemplars and memorabilia are now packed and sitting in boxes in a different building. The packing of all those stories happened in a flurry of four days.

A week earlier, 30 moving boxes had arrived. The division had said they would be able to move my things in early August; upon overhearing that news, my boys had said they would show up the last day of school and that they would bring their half-tons.

So, the pack was on.

It went rather smoothly, except that it was final exam time, report card time and the most difficult part, I really had to leave!

I had readied myself for the oncoming rush of emotion. I had steeled myself.

I was ready!

I cried every moment.

Packing consisted of simply stuffing my dearest and best treasures into boxes. I cried every moment; the kids didn’t fit into boxes, or not voluntarily!team pic june 2013

I discovered a few things during the pack that I didn’t know about or had forgotten: a parachute, 80 bouncy balls and 7 machetes. Somewhere during my focus on packing those last few boxes it seems I had come to have already wrapped-up my magic wand long before it was time to pack it away as well. Oh, our stories that had once belonged only here to our family classroom-space, now belonged too to our shared adventures and our stories, and live long in our collective memory.

Last week, I said goodbye to our graduates. Students in our cozy little K-12 family school kept stopping by for hugs and to share stories.

I cried every moment.

Soon, all 30 boxes began to brim.

That final Wednesday, the boys backed a half-ton up to the school’s front doors and we loaded the graffittied out-of-tune piano, andpiano move hauled it into the city to its new space. Sure, I had heard the well meaning words of some, “Cori, do you really need to take the piano?”

However, I’ve come to listen to different stories too. One of the students at my new space, upon seeing the piano, rested his fingers atop the keys; the piano fitting perfectly in its new smaller home.

After that move, the five members of the moving crew went for slushies before heading back. After all, we needed more time, and I suppose, I still had year-end final Language Learning conversations that afternoon.

Friday arrived and I was panicked. The staff had offered to set aside their own work and venture into my class to help pack. However, at 10:00 am a team of grade 9 & 10 students arrived. “We’re here to help.” And they set to work, without my direction and because they wanted to be there, to help me, to honour our family. A few had been there all week helping, even though there had moring team june 2013been no classes.

Silently, solemnly, as family, we packed boxes.

Around 11:30 am a community member also suddenly arrived. She and the morning team loaded her SUV. She suggested she’d meet us around 3:30 pm, saving me a return trip later that night.

I realized I was surrounded with love. I was surrounded by family.

Then, the boys arrived. I had taken to wearing my sunglasses indoors.

We loaded our vehicles. I cried every moment.afternoon team june 2013

We stuffed my SUV full. We loaded the half-ton to overflowing.

I hugged the staff who had been so profoundly supportive, and then the kids and I pulled away.

I remember several years ago having moved from my previous school to this one. I was having such a heart-missing difficult time loving this space, these kids. I really had loved my previous home. It took me a long time to love my current kids that much. Yet, I did and then, something different happened along the way. Stories. We shared stories. We listened to each other share our stories. And they became ready for me to go. Now, we are both ready.

As I pulled onto the highway and headed east, I knew that all the moments we have listened to each other, shared with each other, we have been learning to honour our own stories. These story spaces will continue! We have come to understand some of the complexities of telling, living, retelling & reliving our own narratives. We have come to understand the beauty of a trusting space that supports our sharings.

So I pulled into the new school-yard-space and we unloaded the boxes.all in one home room june 2013

Okay, I drank the iced cap that the boys had stopped and picked up for me. I slurped, wore my sunglasses as a hair band while the boys filed past me, unloading boxes from three different vehicles. Then, we headed to my house to unload bookshelves. Afterwards, they drove away, leaving my daughter and I sitting on our front steps a little before 5:00 pm on the final day of school.

They drove away, but were not gone. That’s family. That’s what it’s like when family changes homes. Sad, but we take our stories along with us. Some can be boxed, most travel with us, staying perched for hours on our front stoops, tears streaming down faces.

Home, always.

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In Their Words

Today, following our school’s annual awards ceremony, I sat on the grass and watched students and teachers play soccer. I was too spent to move. I had kicked off my shoes, I had crossed my legs and was just soaking it all in. One student was playing soccer in flip-flops and a pink dress; some kids where eating tubes of frozen yogurt. Everyone was laughing. A mom of one of my senior students (and  an educational assistant in our school) came and sat next to me. I rested my head in my hands and we cried together, softly.

Though there’s a week of school yet, today at the annual awards ceremony, the school, the community, the students and I formally said farewell.

In the students’ words:

Dear Ms. Saas,

Thank you for being our teacher. Thank you for being one of my true friends, I look to you as a mother because I know her kindness will always be with me. Thank you for always believing in us, always giving us the opportunities to do things that we never imagined would be possible. Thank you for always making us smile, and hurting our brains. Thank you for always making us feel part of a family in our school. Thank you for bringing out your Darth Vader voice when we needed it.

Thank you for being a role model, an inspiration, someone who always listens, a best friend, a guide, the other, the call to action, the Yoda in our lives. Thank you for never giving up, for teaching us to respond with kindness and to always put the extr

sydnee

a effort in. Thank you for sharing your stories, and for giving us a safe space to share ours.

We hope and know that you will have an amazing experience at John Chisholm, we promise to continue sharing what you have thought us, and we will share our stories. Thank you, you will not be forgotten.

~

Always, love Ms. Saas

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