Teaching kids to embrace creativity

If my memory serves me correctly, I was an imaginative, curious child. I enjoyed reading the children's encyclopedia's my grandparents kept on their living room bookshelf because I enjoyed hearing about how things came to be. And atlases allowed me to dream beyond my small Nebraska town. I'd flip through the pages, each page its own state, examining the tangles of highways and interstates wondering what the trees in Connecticut looked like or what kids did for fun in New York. Our backyard was a place to be explored. There was an old shed on the property, and my brother and I would set to digging with little garden spades and plastic shovels searching for obscure objects in the dirt. Every now and again we'd find treasures: plastic army men, old glass viles, rusty nails. Each item found soon had a story attached as we imagined who left it behind. My dad loves to tell the story about the time I turned a box of Kleenex into a hundred little "ghost-es-es" that covered my bedroom floor. My sense of imagination didn't tame with age. In high school history classes my notes took the shape of comic strips as I illustrated Confederate soldiers armed with bayonets, and my proton and electron Chemistry notes were atomic love stories of the two particles that couldn't be separated by any force. My imagination was active, and I was always wondering and creating.

Fortunately, my parents and a few of my teachers took notice and encouraged me to keep these habits. My parents gave me permission to question and explore even if it meant conflicting with them. They allowed me freedom to create and express myself. My 11th grade English teacher encouraged me to join the journalism staff and put my creating skills to use writing for the school paper. And my 12th grade English teacher pushed me to develop my thinking beyond the surface level. Each time I claimed an opinion in an essay without backing it up, she scribbled the word why? in red ink throughout the paper until I learned to articulate my opinions with a well-rounded explanation. Though I sometimes resented her for all the revising I had to do, her demand for nothing less than my best pushed me to meet her expectations. Without my parents and teachers, I'm not sure I'd be as critical and engaged (though I have room to improve) as I am today. I'm not sure I would've had any success as a teacher without their encouragement.

Now it's my turn to give kids the same chances I had. I have the beautiful burden of shaping kids. I try to instill that same sense of curiosity and imagination I had (and still possess) in my own students by creating an environment where they can explore, create, engage, and ask questions about literature and the world around them. But the longer I teach, the more I see students approach curiosity and imagination with hesitancy; many times, they just want the answer. They want to be told what to do and how to do it. Each time I assign a piece of writing, students ask: How many pages? How many paragraphs? What should we write about? What do I need to get an A?They desire steps, formulas, and outlines. And while there is some value to this, at a certain point in a child's education, he/she must be given freedom to make these decisions for themselves so they can take some ownership of their education. They must be given freedom to think, to wonder, to create. I'll refrain from stepping on another soapbox, but the hesitancy towards this kind of learning frightens me. It makes me nervous to think about what kids might be like in 10 years.

Stepping into a new district with new curricula and new students is overwhelming. While it might be easier for me to slip into a more traditional method of teaching English (read the book, fill in a study guide with comprehension questions about the plot and characters, and then test the kids afterwards before repeating the process over again) for a year just to get by, I feel like I just can't do that. I don't want students to get by in my class without thinking critically or stretching their imaginations. Yes, it means more work for me. Yes, it means that I might struggle more in the classroom as both my students and I grow familiar with one another and this way of learning. And yes, it means I'll probably face resistance from both kids and parents. But, that beautiful burden of shaping kids means I have a huge responsibility. Though I really want to take a nap each Saturday, spend an hour a night watching TV, and run at least 30 miles a week--I'll keep plugging away, finding new ways to engage them in creating and thinking even if it means I'll have to sacrifice a bit. I realize I'm a bit idealistic. But the moment I trade idealism for cynicism towards kids, is the moment I'll need to make a career change. I hope I can maintain this sense of idealism for many years, because I love kids and I love teaching. 


Our Failed Adoption Story

I'm struggling with where to start when sharing our story. I guess I'll begin by saying that we are sharing this story in order to relate to others who may be experiencing a similar struggle because there's a strange comfort in shared circumstances.

In mid-May our caseworker called with the news we had been waiting almost a year to hear: a birth-mom picked our profile; she wanted to meet us. We met her that next week and continued to build a relationship with her and her family throughout the summer. Her beautiful baby boy was born July 1st. Due to certain circumstances, the baby was placed in newborn care through our agency while we had to wait 30 days for an adoption to be finalized.

We maintained good contact with birth-mom, and in mid-July she requested that we meet her and the baby at our agency's office in Lincoln just to spend time together. It was the first time we saw him. He was perfect. Quiet, a head full of dark hair, and perfect mocha colored skin. We spent two hours holding him, talking with our birth-mom, and snapping photos. We excitedly told our immediate families and just a few close friends. A few weeks later we visited the agency again, this time to hang out with our birth-mom, the baby, and some of her family. We knew we still had a week left to wait, so we tried to keep our hearts guarded as much as possible. But it is hard to remain guarded with a beautiful baby boy sleeping in your arms who was soon to be ours.

It seemed as if our dreams of growing our family were about to come true. We picked out a name, completed a baby registry online, called daycares to arrange for child care since school was just around the corner. On day 31, August 1st, we were scheduled to pick up the baby who was to be our son. We didn't have a time nailed down because the agency couldn't reach our birth-mom to schedule the time. So we waited anxiously by the phone for our caseworker to give us the go ahead to depart for Lincoln. At 4:00 we got that call, but it was to let us know there had been some hitches with our birth-mom. She ran into some trouble with the law. We'd have to wait until tomorrow when her caseworker could meet with her. So, we waited.

A few days passed and still a caseworker was unable to meet with our birth-mom for various reasons. A week went by, then two, then three. No progress was made. Our agency did what they could, but could not obtain a signature from our birth-mom for the adoption to be finalized. On September 2nd we got final word that an adoption would not be happening. The agency would continue to provide care for the baby for an undefined amount of time, and we were back to square one.

Last week on our way to our nephew's birthday party I deleted the last pictures of us and the baby from my phone. It was a difficult moment as I grappled with the reality that this baby had no permanent home and we were still childless. Tears fell on my phone as I hit the trash icon and watched the photo of Nate holding the baby we thought would be our son disappear.

I've spent a lot of time in prayer the past few weeks praying for the future of this baby, our birth-mom, and for peace. We've been blessed by the church we've been attending here in Omaha; each sermon we've heard in the past three weeks has helped heal our broken hearts. We've been studying the life of David; today we focused on David's run-arounds with Saul who tried to kill him multiple times. We looked at David's response to this (Psalm 59), and the pastor ended today by reminding us that God does not waste suffering, trials, or challenges. God's desire is to lead us to something better. If we're honest, we don't like to accept that our hopes and dreams are not God's hopes and dreams. But David wanted what God wanted. I needed this sermon today because I think I've been too attached to the idea of becoming a mother to this little boy. I think I've wanted that more than I've wanted God.

Next week we'll submit a revised profile letter to the agency and we'll be placed on the list again of available adoptive parents. It's tough to go back on that list, but my prayer is that God would help us keep our eyes focused on Him no matter the outcome.


Another brief update

It's been awhile since my last post. In fact, it's been awhile since I sat down at our computer desk to do something other than grade papers! Life has been crazier than ever as we scramble to keep up in our jobs--we both feel like first year teachers again. Last week we ran into more problems with our Jeep, so after spending nearly 10 hours at a dealership here in Omaha and trying to survive with only one car, we finally broke down and traded in our Liberty for a 2011 Honda Civic. Buying cars always makes me nervous, but I think this little car will serve us well.

Last week we also moved into our new apartment. It's great to have our own space again. It's a spacious two bedroom in a decent location (walking distance from a TCBY and a Starbucks). We're all settled and unpacked, but as we unpacked we realized we are missing a few boxes. Who loses boxes when they move?!?

Last night we finally had a chance to enjoy some downtime with friends. We trekked to 50th and Leavenworth (close to my favorite part of Omaha...Dundee!) to enjoy Gerda's Oktoberfest. Gerda runs a little German restaurant and bakery and each fall and spring she puts on these great outdoor celebrations with authentic German food, beer (bring your own stein!), and live music. It was a fantastic time. I got this sweet shirt, and even talked Gerda herself into signing my shirt and posing for a quick photo op.

Though our schedules are nuts right now, I'm digging Omaha. It's great to be close to some of our friends and family, and I love having entertainment options at my fingertips. We miss our students in Ogallala; we've had several "remember when..." chats as we talked about all the great kids we watched grow in the four years we were there, and we miss the friends we left behind. Despite this, methinks this was a good move for us.