There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly. -R. Buckminster Fuller
When I get in front of a classroom of children, I am home. I was a special education teacher for ten years before I became a full-time author and speaker. On occasion, my two passions—writing and teaching children—collide. I go into these situations on high alert. If there is ever a time to pay very close attention, it is in a classroom. Because if I do, I know I will be the one to walk away educated and inspired.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak at my daughters’ new school. I was prepared to be enlightened. I was not disappointed.
This is my story …
My presentation for both second and fifth graders consisted of two parts. The first part described the steps I took to achieve my childhood dream of becoming a published author. The second part of my presentation was a lesson and group exercise on descriptive writing.
As I spoke to the children, my teacher training quickly spotted the ones who were having trouble sitting still … the ones who were weary to raise their hands but clearly had something to say … the ones who were fiddling with something inside their desk, perhaps thinking of their own passions. I tried to draw the children out, sustain their attention, and create a safe environment where all ideas were accepted and respected. When it was time for the students to craft their own sentences, I was pleased that most of them looked comfortable and engaged.
As the students worked quietly, I was able to interact individually with each one. Their unique personalities surfaced during these brief exchanges—their comments and posture revealing details about their life experiences, their confidence, and their strengths.
As I was preparing to leave the fifth grade classroom, a boy asked for my autograph. This idea started a trend. As the children lined up with blank notebook paper in hand, I felt compelled to write more than my name or “Live Hands Free.” In black Sharpie I wrote, “Go after your dreams!” Then I paused and asked each child, “What is your dream?”
Every single child had an answer.
There were no hesitations.
There were no duplications.
Every single child, no matter how reserved or how outgoing … no matter how serious or how silly … no matter how neat or disheveled, had a dream. And more importantly, every child had a twinkle in the eye when speaking about it.
Major League Baseball player
A scientist that cures cancer
A kind person who helps others
A marine biologist
One after the other, I heard very specific dreams. I saw sparks of energy fly. I felt ripples of passion spread. As a teacher, I was often privy to children’s dreams, but this time it was different. Hearing these aspirations as someone who’d achieved her own dream made a profound difference. These aspirations weren’t just words. They were power. They were possibilities. They were music of the heart.
As I handed each child an autographed paper, I said a silent prayer. I prayed that each one would feel supported and encouraged in their pursuits, no matter how outlandish they sounded.
Naturally, I thought of my own fifth grade daughter. She’d recently become very interested in becoming an orthopedic surgeon. The first time she mentioned it, I wanted to tell her that she’d have to earn high grades and test scores. I wanted to tell her about the strong stomach she’d have to have for broken bones and blood. I wanted to tell her of sacrifices she would have to make to study and pay for medical school. Me, the planner and the practical thinker, wanted to quickly point out all these things I “knew” about becoming a doctor. But for some reason, I didn’t. I bit my tongue and listened. My daughter went on to talk about her new interest for nearly an hour that day. I couldn’t remember when I’d seen her this excited about something. I was thankful I didn’t discourage her with facts and warnings.
Since that conversation, I’ve watched my daughter’s interest in the medical field grow. She’s been pouring through medical textbooks we purchased from the used bookstore. She’s created a medical field journal where she jots down observations and information. We visited the natural science museum to see a display on the human body. She’s been watching surgeries on television with genuine interest.
I recently found a friend’s business card on the desk in my daughter’s bedroom. My child had scratched out the original name on the card and put her own name. Beneath her name, she wrote, “Future Orthopedic Surgeon.”
I must admit, seeing it there in blue ballpoint pen in my child’s best penmanship made it looked like a real possibility. As I propped it up on her desk beneath her swim team goals and notes of encouragement, a powerful realization came to my mind:
There will be plenty of obstacles between my child and her dream, but I will not be one of them.
The words, “I don’t think you can do that,” are not going to come from my lips.
Because how do I really know? How do I know what my child can and cannot achieve?
And then a harsh reality about achieving my own dream hit me:
I’m pretty sure if eight-year-old Rachel had said, “I am going to be a New York Times Bestselling Author someday,” there would have been a long line of people shaking their heads and more snickers than I could count. Simply voicing my goal of becoming a published author a few years ago was often met with doubt and many unsolicited doses of reality.
I was often warned that very few people ever land a book deal. I was reminded that electronic books have changed the publishing industry all together. I lost track of how many people told me it was necessary to know someone in the business to get published. Sometimes when I voiced my dream it was met with no words at all; yet the look on the person’s face said it all.
Once in awhile I was given encouragement. “I believe in you,” were my all-time favorite words. I remember the names of those who said that to me. Because those words were like fuel to a hot air balloon—lifting me up so I could soar.
Going through this experience provided an unequivocal confirmation of what role I wanted to play for other people. I realized I have the power to be a Dream Crusher or a Dream Builder. I’ve chosen the latter.
After signing thirty-one autographs in the fifth grade classroom that day, I gathered my things to leave. A young lady who’d been quietly observing suddenly came forward. She asked me to sign two papers—one for her mother and one for her. This child didn’t have to tell me of her struggles; I could see. She whispered her dream into my ear. It was a beautiful dream. On her paper I signed, “I believe in you,” and then held up my hand for a high five.
I didn't let her hand go right away. I held on for a moment. I’d touched my dream, and I hoped and prayed she would someday touch hers.
I conclude today’s post with a message inspired by many hours spent in the classroom with many extraordinary individuals. May it help you encourage someone else’s not-so-impossible dream …
Don’t Change, Extraordinary One
They say he’s too quiet.
They say she’s too inquisitive.
They say he’s too energetic.
They say she’s too sensitive.
They say he’s too absent-minded.
They say these things thinking it will help,
But it doesn’t really.
It only causes worry and the pressure to conform.
The truth is, changing would be a tragedy.
Because when they say “too quiet,”
I see introspection.
Don’t change, thoughtful one.
You’re gonna bring quiet wisdom to the chaos.
Because when they say ”too inquisitive,”
I see problem solving.
Don’t change, little thinker.
You’re gonna bring answers to the toughest questions.
Because when they say “too energetic,”
I see vitality.
Don’t change, lively one.
You’re gonna bring love and laughter to desperate times.
Because when they say “too sensitive,”
I see heart.
Don’t change, deep feeler.
You’re gonna bring compassion to hurting souls.
Because when they say “too absent-minded,”
I see creativity.
Don’t change, artistic dreamer.
You’re gonna bring color to lifeless spaces.
They might say change is needed.
But I ask that they look a little deeper and observe a little longer.
From where I stand, these individuals are just as they should be …
On their path to bring the world exactly what it needs to thrive.
Don’t change, extraordinary one.
You’re gonna light this place up.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014
I realize this blog post may draw criticism from those who believe it is important to be realistic and practical when a child voices a lofty aspiration. I understand and respect that opinion. My children are eight and eleven. Right now I find it greatly beneficial to allow them to pursue what makes their hearts come alive. If they ask me questions about requirements for desired jobs or talents, we research the answers together and I try to let them draw their own conclusions as much as possible. As I think back to painful conversations with both my volleyball coach and an academic advisor, I realize I was given the “you don’t cut it” message from people outside of my parents. This was significant to me and will serve as my guide as I support my children in their endeavors. I welcome your comments and experiences below.
Friends, this week I have the honor of speaking about my forthcoming book, Hands Free Life, at a national sales conference with my children joining me in this special experience. Since my focus will be on making memories with my kids and helping others through my writings, The Hands Free Revolution page and this blog will be quiet for a spell. Thank you for being my faithful companions on this journey to live more & love more in the time we are given!
*In the meantime, please check out these extraordinarily talented people who have helped me touch my dream:
Christi McGuire for all things in need of editing, polishing, & publishing guidance
Blogger Boutique for all things blog design related
JuiceBox Designs for all things logo, branding, and book covering
For the Love of Letters for all things hand-lettered
Oliver’s Twist for all things paper & art & technology combined
Karen Graves says
I am the Mom of a 3 year old and a 6 month old. Being Mama to these boys has given me some of life’s deepest delights and worst fears. I fear the way the world may come at them. Your blog gives me hope that I can be a source of love and positivity that will change the way they interact with the world. I want them to live the fullest and most joyful life possible. I find myself reading and re-reading your words in the hopes that if I read them intensely enough they really will be what I think and do. I love both the honesty of your words and the picture it paints of real life. Thank you for this. I am so grateful to have found your words at the beginning of my “Hands Free Life”.
Sharon @Rediscovered Families says
Karen your comment has touched my heart as much as this post. I don’t think there is any doubt that you will be a huge source of love and positivity for your children. Your children are blessed to have you as Mom.
Rachel, You have touched my heart again as you always do. I am a teacher, too. I’ve been a teacher since age 6 when I learned to read. I preyed on anyone younger than myself. I loved teaching and knew on the first day of second grade that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. I loved my teacher and she inspired me in so many ways. I loved going to school and learning new things. I never got the formal education I so dearly wanted, but I have been teaching all of my life. I am currently teaching English, reading, computer, and sewing classes to poor people in Costa Rica. They don’t care that I don’t have a teaching certificate hanging on my wall. They are grateful that I care. My favorite part of my life has always been the times when I have the opportunity to encourage someone to go for it when others doubt. I don’t believe in telling anyone that they can’t achieve their goals. It’s just not right in my mind. Thank you for your wonderful posts. I read them all with enthusiasm to see where life is taking you and your daughters. There is no doubt in my mind that your daughter will be an orthopedic surgeon one day unless she changes her mind for another field. One of my favorite movies of all time is “Gifted Hands”. It is the life story of Dr. Ben Carson. He became a neurosurgeon against all odds. It’s inspiring to say the least. Have a wonderful day.
Debbie Varner says
I have loved every writing you have posted here. I’m a grandmother raising one of my grandchildren and you have helped me remember how little children feel. You will be missed and I hope you start posting again soon. Thank you for your encouraging words!
Thank you for this wonderful reminder! Your blog has made me a better mother, wife, and friend. I put away my phone so I am not mindlessly checking it while I need to pay attention. Today’s post has me wondering what was my dream in fifth grade and what happened to it. I want to find that thing that really excites me to do with my life!
Debby T. says
Thank you for your writing. Every one of your pieces inspires and reminds me to cut through the noise and clutter to be the best Mom for my boys (13 and 10). Congratulations on reaching your dream.
Spot on girl. Spot on:-) I believe in you.
Rachel Brown says
Thank you for being one of the best teachers, encouragers, & uplifters, I have ever “known”. Your passion & gift of the written word are beyond inspiring. Thank you for sharing your life with us, with me.
I appreciate your desire & follow through in making memories with your sweet girls. But know that I am incredibly selfish, and I will miss you. With thatbeing said, I look forward to the new material your life-work will produce. As you are entering a new phase in life with a tween, you will have plenty to write about in your little notebooks!
And if I may be so bold, I would like to offer you a gift. The gift of encouragement & an ear for when your sweet little girl-your oldest-changes into a new young lady that may be hard to recognize at times. Just know that I am here. I know I’m not the only one. There are many of us who have walked this road ahead of you, and would love the opportunity to “redeem” our experiences by sharing them, and being an encouragement to YOU! I will close with this… it’s all worth it. Every single purposeful action, it all counts. It’s all worth it.
Big Time Blessings to you & yours,
melissa fosberg says
Tears, Thank you for This! My beautiful, kind son is 12 and being such a quiet thinker, filled with empathy for a world he feels he doesn’t fit in. After six very Hard years of public school he ended up physically ill and emotionally broken down. We are home schooling now for 8 months and he is healing, his sick body strong again and his heart trying to be brave again. I don’t always get it right but I can see in his eyes how much this time has given him. How just letting everything else in the world fade to the back is giving himself back to him. What a job we have sweet Mama’s, aim true with your words and thoughts, the littler ones of this World are watching. <3
I am so sorry your son has been struggling… and yet how lucky is he that you are able to homeschool and allow him to heal before he goes out in the world…. too many children have school refusal… stomach aches, loss of appetite, etc for so many reasons.. you may feel alone, you are not….. You are fortunate to be able to do something about it…. I wish you the best… your son will always know you will support him and do whatever possible to help him along… God bless!
Barbara Lane says
Beautiful article! One of my daughters teaches first grade and your words echo much of what she says about the kids. She tries so hard to make each one feel that they can accomplish their dreams. We need more encouragers because many children do not get that encouragement from home!
I told my dad I wanted to be a psychiatrist when I was a girl. He said, “no you don’t, pick something easer.” He’s a truck driver, his dad was a truck driver. My family has never cared about education, if you graduated high school that was all you needed. Because of that 1 statement I didn’t take SAT’s, I cared less about collage prep, cause I wasn’t going. I went on to marry a doctor, have 3 kids and look like I have the perfect life. A few years after I’d gotten marred my daddy said it should have been you with that “Dr” in front of your name. The fact that he came back and remembered that conversation and my dream from so long ago and what he told me still makes me cry because I let it stop me. He was my daddy and if he didn’t believe in me why should I. I told myself I would encourage mine, whatever their dreams are. Nothing is to hard with your family telling you they believe in you.
Rachel Stafford says
My heart hurts reading this, Jessica. I am so sorry. I am so thankful you used your painful experience as a means for good. I have no doubt you will make many people stop and think today as they read your story. I am grateful you took the time to share and enlighten us all. Is there any chance you could still pursue your dream in some shape or form? I was nearly 40 when my dream came true and I’d told myself over and over for about a decade that it was too late to do anything about it now.
I have new dreams now, my oldest is 8 and diagnosed adhd last year. I’m beginning to think part of mine and my dads problem might be undiagnosed adhd. I read as much as I can about it, I see so many similarities it’s overwhelming. I have a beautiful 6 year old little girl that reminds me so much of myself and a 3 year old that’s runs me ragged in the best way
Oh no! I wasn’t finished. God gives us what we need in life right?! What I thought I could never want He gave me 3, 3 of the most wonderful special gifts I could ever ask for! What I wanted least in this world is what I needed because they needed me! All I faced growing up all I went thru makes me what they need most next to God. I will build them up, I will fight for what they need to grow up safe and secure without fearing the same as I did. I cry for that little girl I was but I rejoice for the woman it made me all for the benefit of my 3 blessing.
The same happened to me. When I was 17 I said in a big, bold voice, ‘I think I’d make a great Doctor!” I really felt it in my veins. I would spend days sitting outside a hospital absorbing the ‘vibe’ because I loved it so much. When I made my ‘big, bold statement’, my mother turned around to me and said in a disdainful voice, “You don’t have the stamina”. And I believed her. And a little something died in me. Not only for losing a dream but also for not having her believe I could do it. Now, I’m 35, never ‘became’ anything and still dream of becoming a nurse one day, but I dare not dream of becoming a Dr lest I require the ‘stamina’ my mother says I don’t have. Parents/Adults CAN make or break dreams.
I still remember writing a fabulous poem in the 5th grade and being so excited to show my teacher, hoping she would be proud of me and amazed at what a good poem I wrote. I showed my teacher, she looked at me and said in earnest, “You didn’t write this, you couldn’t have.” And as much as I tried to say, yes I did, she looked at me as if I was lying. I could cry until this day thinking of it
Teachers, Parents, please believe in the best your children or students have to offer and build them up!
Amy Colbert says
Hello I have been an operating room nurse for 25 years and my husband is an administrator of a surgery center. If you are ever in San Diego we will give your daughter the chance to tour a surgery center and get her hands on some orthopedic instruments. We love to help people who are interested in the medical field as it is so difficult to find an “in”. Barnes and Noble has a great book called Gray’s Anatomy. It has posters and even better there is a coloring book which is terrific. I will add your daughter to my prayers that she has a chance to fulfill her dream and practice medicine as an Orthopedic surgeon.
I have really enjoyed what you share.
Please call with any questions.
Rachel Stafford says
Wow, Amy. You have reduced me to tears by such a kind and loving offer for my daughter. I cannot wait to tell her. She has a determination that is unlike anything i have ever seen. Don’t be surprised if you hear from her in the next five years! And thanks for the book recommendation! She will be putting it on her Christmas list. You have blessed me so much today. Thank you, friend.
I always look forward to your posts and this one has special significance to me. I grew up with a parent who was a dream crusher and was reminded of the pain and anguish it caused me growing up as I read your post. All of my dreams were never good enough, unattainable, too common, just a passing phase. I have vowed I will never do this to my child and I am so glad you are able to communicate this message to a broad audience. It is SO important!! Thank you!
There will be plenty of obstacles between my child and her dream, but I will not be one of them.
This is the best! It is going on my bulletin board to remind me who I want to be. Maybe something won’t work, but who am I to say? And when my kids think back on me, I want them to remember someone who supported them tirelessly, even if it didn’t end up working out.
Thanks for the reminder Rachel.
Rachel, this made me cry out loud. As a female firefighter/paramedic in a male-dominated profession, I’ve heard the words “you’re too sensitive” too many times to count. Those words have stung, and I’ve actually tried to ‘toughen up’. It was only in the last year (at age 45!) that I realized my sensitive nature also makes me an incredibly compassionate care provider and should be embraced rather than changed. Raising a six year-old boy who is also quite sensitive and quiet, I hope to give him the wings to be who he is without trying to change him. Your words provide great inspiration. Thank you for your gift.
Once again, you’ve made me cry, Rachel (and I’m not a mom, just a 20-something fan of living life to its fullest!). I wanted to be a teacher ever since I stepped into my kindergarten classroom and thought my teacher was the greatest person on earth. I never wavered in my passion for teaching, volunteering and leading clubs and tutoring every chance I got. When it came time for college applications, I was ‘encouraged’ out of teaching and into engineering (because I did really well in all my subjects, including math and science, and there’s a lack of women in engineering). I still remember my cousins, in particular, who are the same age as me: “You’re too smart to be a teacher. You should do something better.”
Guess what? I listened to them. And the years passed and though I continued volunteering as much as I could, I kept receiving encouragement to continue in engineering and I’m a people pleaser, so I listened to them… now I’m an engineering PhD student at MIT and I absolutely hate it. It’s been really difficult to admit this to anyone, because there is insane pressure to stay in academia, especially as a woman. Everyone wants to increase their quota of women in engineering/academia. But I’m finally taking steps to re-align myself with my lifelong passion for teaching, and it feels good but also terrifying. The hope is to graduate with a Masters next spring and transition to teaching high school math, physics, or chemistry.
Sometimes I think I’m making the wrong choice, that I’m quitting too easily, that I shouldn’t “give up.” If only I worked harder, maybe I’d like the PhD program? I get down on myself for being a failure, wondering why am I such a terrible graduate student? But then I read your words and started bawling silently at my desk because THAT was me all throughout K-12: the little girl with the twinkle in her eyes, CERTAIN she was going to be a teacher. I knew it in every fiber of my being that that was my calling. Where did she go? Why do I doubt her so much? How do I get her back?
Thanks for your healing words. It’s not too late, even for us older folks on the wrong path.
Kelsey, this probably won’t mean much coming from a complete stranger but I believe there is not much more important than loving your vocation. And I also am a firm believer that the best teachers are the ones who have a degree in the subject they are teaching, not just an education degree. (Please don’t take offense, education majors. I know there are a lot of you who are fabulous as well.) I’m just thinking that maybe your side path will make you a truly amazing teacher. This comes from someone who has watched her husband spend his entire career doing a job he dislikes. While he is too close to retirement age to change careers he has been immersing himself in his true love…music, singing and starting to try to write some songs. While he still gets frustrated, the joy in pursuing something that has always been within him is wonderful to see. May your new path bring you much happiness.:)
Cheryl, thank you for your sweet response and well wishes! I hope you are right that my years going down this path aren’t wasted, and that I can put them to good and productive use. I think part of the issue is the social hierarchy we’ve built whereby certain jobs are considered to be “better” and more “prestigious” than others, so my transition looks a bit like a step-down or a loss/failure (which is completely unfair to teachers, but is how this switch is perceived from the inside of the academic ivory tower). In reality, I think you’ve got it right: the focus should be on loving one’s vocation, not one’s place in the silly social ladders we’ve developed. Thanks again for speaking out, it’s comforting to hear the perspective from the spouse of someone who could have benefited from a long-ago career change. My fiancé is fully supportive of my move to become a teacher, but it’s hard for me to stop feeling like a failure or like I’m letting us down financially by moving to a job with less earning potential. So it’s a big relief to hear how you perceive it from “the other side” and how you would prefer to see him happy 🙂 Thank you!!
You are the ideal person to be a teacher and there are many children whom you will be able to help when you are a teacher. Let me tell you about a certain type of child you will find in your class room, a child with a natural curiosity and love of maths and science and a hunger to learn which will go way past their age peers. This child is bright but may have trouble with spelling and reading because they are dyslexic. 10% of kids are dyslexic, Albert Einstein was dyslexic and they need someone like you who can extend them in the class room who has the subject knowledge and will give them the encouragement to become one of the men or women in engineering., even if they have to work hard to improve their English to get there. It is not your job to fill the lack of women in engineering, it is actually the teachers in the classroom who develop the love of the subject in the classroom which will get the “quota” filled. So you will be helping indirectly and you will make a fine teacher…
Just remember though, when they put you in the ground, they don’t put all your possessions in with you. Money is not everything, it does help but it won’t make you happy. Best of luck, Ange from Australia
PS> As you might be able to guess, I have two kids like the above who would love to be taught by someone like you. I have also been widowed at 26 and one of the lessons I learnt was it is experiences not possessions that make you happy. If teaching does not work, you can always go back to engineering!
Ange, I know you said so many wonderful things, but this made me well up with tears: “It is not your job to fill the lack of women in engineering, it is actually the teachers in the classroom who develop the love of the subject in the classroom which will get the ‘quota’ filled.” You’re absolutely right. And I STILL somehow manage to think that it’s my job to help fill that lack. That’s so awfully presumptuous, isn’t it?! And also utterly ridiculous, since one person doesn’t fill a gap! And if I can make kids excited about engineering, that’s doing a world more of a difference than me being miserable in engineering will ever do. Thank you for that, I needed to hear it x
Also, regarding your story about children struggling to get the help they need in the regular school system, I hope they are able to get the education and support they deserve. And one day I sincerely hope I’m able to help students like yours, and so many others with a myriad of learning differences. That’s a big part of why I feel so drawn to teach math and science: there’s such GREAT opportunity to pull in, engage, and excite students who otherwise might not recognize the amazing things we can learn about the world and accomplish with STEM – simply because it’s not presented to them in an interesting and engaging way, or because it’s not made accessible to them. Anyways, I’m going to stop rambling, but I’m just so amazed by the kindness of you and Cheryl for both speaking up and making me feel like maybe I’m not so crazy after all!
It looks like you received some good encouragement already, but I was really motivated to respond to you because I felt that I could really relate. I am also good at math, all through my school years. I have also loved school since Kindergarten. I don’t remember much about my childhood, but I remember waiting for the bus on my first day, and COULDN’T WAIT! I also remember wanting to be a teacher since I was 8 years old. I had awesome teachers growing up, and I wanted to be just like them. So that was my goal until I was a senior. My dad was opposite of yours, though. He tried to encourage me (without stepping on my toes) to be a math teacher. But I didn’t want to teach math. I like to do math, but had no desire whatsoever to teach it. He was in computers, so I changed my dream to be a computer programmer. That lasted for one semester in college. My uncle even told me that I would switch back to teaching. And I did. I kept Math as my second major though, so I graduated with a Math degree, alongside my Early Childhood Education degree. I went on to get a certificate in Autism, and another certificate in Special Education, THAT is where my heart really is. I’m not sure what my point is, because it looks like I’m just spewing a bunch of facts about myself. But to finish, I taught for about 5 years in the Special Education field, and loved it. Then I decided to stay home with my two children. They went to school for a while, I had two more children, and now I home school. Oh yeah, this is my point. 😉 God placed the love of teaching on my heart for a reason. And He has also placed certain people in my life for a reason. It has all led me to where I am today. Home schooling is awesome, but because of my great love for school, it has been a difficult adjustment. I often get restless at home, because I feel like someone else needs me out there. My kids are great kids, and they learn easily. Because special education is my passion, I’m not really able to use my skills here at home. (I worked with severely disabled children.) BUT, the cool thing is that I am learning how to teach Math. It has always come so easily to me, so it was very hard for me to teach it. Now I feel so good at it. And who knows, maybe some time in the future, I might be called to enter the workforce again and teach Math. Or maybe never. This might just be where God wants me to be, and wants me to stay. I really don’t know. My point is, is that everything happens for a reason. We might not see that reason right now, where we sit. But I bet if you look back, maybe not now, but at some point in the future, you will be able to see God’s hand in everything that has happened. He will use everything for the good. Like Cheryl said, I think it was Cheryl ;), maybe getting your Master’s, or doctorate, will help you teach. And if I might say also, don’t just limit yourself to high school, just because you have such a high degree. Go where your passion is. They need good, and yes, even female, teachers of Math in the lower grades as well. Do I feel like I am wasting my Math degree being home and teaching my children? Yes I do, a lot. BUT, then God always shows me that there is more to life than a degree. There is more to life than a piece of paper, framed, on a wall. There is more to life than a paycheck. He shows me, if I am willing to listen…. Many blessings to you! I will be praying for you!
Thank you for this wonderful article! I am a mother of four and a future teacher. Like you, I say those silent prayers and will continue to do so. I will not be the one that destroy’s a child’s dreams. Instead I will try to help build them up so they can reach those dreams.
Of course, like most of your posts, I’m wiping away tears right now! Beautiful reminders! And how lucky you are to have encouraged the children you did last week and hear them, as some are likely not heard and/or discouraged. I wish more teachers had the time to do what you did, as they’re so overwhelmed most days in just the day to day hecticness of teaching. Very poignant words about how we can encourage or ‘beat down’ every day we have with our kids. I try to remember that the world will do enough of the beating down and facing reality, they just need our love when they come home. And awesome reminders about how to not channel our frustrations with our kids into changing behavior – they’re doing exactly what they should be, even if it’s not paying attention or goofing off! Thanks again for all you do! And thanks for getting to what’s important in a way that doesn’t make us feel guilty. Gentle reminders and heart felt stories are always the most effective ways I learn!
Really needed to see this. My three year old started pre-school this year and already they want the Intermediate Unit to test him…for lack of focus among other things. We’ve been struggling with how to handle it—to my husband and me, he’s always been a very curious kid with his head a little bit in the clouds…a dreamer with a big imagination. This post is an excellent reminder to let him be who he is. Thank you.
Mary Kay says
Oh I wish I had you for a teacher. Oh how I wish more children have teachers that inspire them and let them dream. What would we be if it weren’t for our dreams 🙂
Wow, what a great article. Being influenced by someone outside of one’s family brought back painful memories for me. My entire life growing up I knew I was meant to be a veterinarian. I was the child who got lost for the first time at 2 following a neighborhood dog down the street. As I prepared for college in my senior year (this was back in the day when this sort of thing wasn’t set in stone or really being prepared for the first day in high school like it seems to be now!) I visited with my counselor. When I expressed my dream to her she looked at me like I was from another planet…like it was something not really right for a woman, even though I definitely had the grades to show I was capable. I allowed her to sway me into considering a career as a veterinary medical technician. I did pursue this career…flew through the 2 years of school not understanding why it was hard for some of the students. My dad always tried to convince me to pursue my original dream. During the summer between my two college years he even arranged for a visit to the vet school in our state (a few hours away) in hopes of changing my path, but I couldn’t get that counselor (and by this time my own doubting inside voice) out of my mind. Now don’t get me wrong. I haven’t sat back and mourned my decisions my entire life. I went on to be a great vet tech becoming the first one registered in GA. I have changed careers twice after that…well, three when one considers the “mommy” career (my favorite one). But my point is that the teenaged brain can be so easily influenced by people outside the family. That’s why it is so important for our kids to have rock-like, emmense support from the ones who love them the most and know them the best!! Rachel, your children have a great blessing in you.
Thank you. Thank you for caring, and sharing, and most of all believing.
I’ve always wondered why they coined the phrase, ‘reaching one’s potential’ it’s truly an oxymoron, as it implies there being a limit to potential when in reality….who knows?
Practical Mama says
Such a touching article. Sometimes, parents don’t realize they are crushing dreams, when their intentions are helping their children. I was thinking about this exact subject when I was driving to work this morning. I was thinking about my “future fashion designer” self at 16 and “corporate” in a completely unrelated industry self at 36. My parents encouraged me to have a good, solid education in business that resulted in a career job would be better for me. It did. I got a good education and nice well-paying career. I am not unhappy or worse off because I didn’t follow my youth dreams. I don’t solely blame my parents either. I didn’t fight for my dreams either. I occasionally think, what would have been of me, if took the other path.
Don’t Change, Extraordinary One
They might say change is needed.
But I ask that they look a little deeper and observe a little longer.
From where I stand, these individuals are just as they should be …
On their path to bring the world exactly what it needs to thrive.
Don’t change, extraordinary one.
You’re gonna light this place up.
This poem is beautiful … I have been dealing with a school for the past two years who have been trying to change and fix my 10 year old autistic son instead of changing his environment and the way they work with him.
When things went wrong it was always his fault and yet he has only ever reacted to what they did to him. I have fought for my son’s right to an education in a caring, supportive environment where he is accepted and encouraged and that hasn’t happened, so we are now in a position of having to find another school.
My dream is to find that school and people throughout his life that say to him – Don’t change, extraordinary one. You’re gonna light this place up.
My son is beautiful just the way he is and he will do great things in life and he will shine.
just beautiful, wonderful post Rachel! People, especially children believe what they’re told – they take it, internalize it and carry those beliefs with them for a long time, affecting their entire lives, until they find the courage to wake up and live their truth. If you believe you can or you can’t, either way you’re right. We must help our little ones believe in themselves – who are we to say they can’t?
Thank you for encouraging kids to me what they want to be and going after their dreams. It seems everyone has a story of being encouraged or crushed and I will add mine in. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little kid. When I was in grade 8 (oops, can you tell I am Canadian) my teacher crushed that dream for me. What I have come to understand since then is that I shouldn’t be an academic writer, I shouldn’t analyze books or literature. I’m not good at it and I dislike it. I am however good at writing non-fiction, my story, others stories, and so I started a blog. I also am a technical writer for a living and I am good at that. My teacher looked at one aspect of writing and crushed a dream. I’m sure she was only trying to help, but she didn’t. I am determined to be a dream builder for my nephews (as I don’t have kids of my own). I hope that they will always know that their aunt is here for them and believes in them.
I look forward to your posts every morning, and am grateful for Mondays when your words again bring inspiration to my day. Thank you for saying so clearly words that help to change the world.
Also Jen says
I only started reading your blog recently, but I love it. I have two memories from my preteen years related to this topic. One is of talking to a woman I babysat for, an attorney, who asked me what I might want to be when I grew up. I was really interested in buildings and architecture (still am), so I said, “I’d like to be an architect.” She said, with caution, “Oh, you have to be really good at math to do that.” I barely knew this woman, and I’m pretty sure she didn’t have a copy of my last report card, but her comment led me to believe I wasn’t smart enough to be an architect, so I gave it up right then and there, on the ride home from a babysitting job.
My second memory is from the year prior, I was in sixth grade, and my teacher (still one of my all-time favorites) took me aside and told me I was really gifted, that I would go places and would really be successful in school and life. Now, she may have had this “you’re special” talk with every kid in my class, but it meant a lot to me both then and now.
Kudos to you for encouraging these kids to follow their hearts – many of them will remember you for years to come. And even better was the way you are handling your daughter’s declaration of a career choice. My son (who is only 5) says he wants to be a doctor and is oddly fascinated with the human body in the same way. I just tell him he will make a great doctor.
Just Me says
I was asked this question and given this as a graded assignment in the 5th grade, too. I was a rejected child, separated from my family, alcoholics, neglect, violence and in the care of a family that horrifically abused me. I did not hesitate either when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’ve saved the paper since childhood and still have it. I wrote this (verbatim, including errors): ” I want be good mommy. I want to have a good husband who loves me and children. I want to have six children. I don’t care if they are boy or girls. I will love them and fix them a birthday cake on there birthdays and I wont hit them or been mean to them. I will make them happy and happy family. I will be a mom that is there frend forever and wont let them any bad hurt them ever.” I got a big, fat, red “F” on it, with the comment “you have no ambition” and “think about a REAL career” and “very disappointed” with a frowny face. I still remember the feeling of shock. My dearest ambition was considered worthless and undesirable. It had a huge influence on me. I became rebellious against everything that contradicted my dream. Unfortunately, I married poorly (teenage escape marriage) but I did have a child and foster children that were unconditionally valued and loved. So I built most of my dream.
Rachel Stafford says
Dear Just Me – I am so sorry your teacher could not see the tremendous value in your beautifully stated dream. If I were your teacher, I like to think I would have written something like this on your paper:
“You are going to make the world a better place. By loving and caring and befriending, you will provide what this world needs. Thank you for making a difference in the world!”
Just Me, I hope you can feel my hand giving you a high five and holding on. Not only did you overcome tremendous challenges and heartache in your lifetime, but you did it with your loving heart still in tact. That loving 5th grade heart that was so wise on what makes a happy home remained soft and loving through the years. Oh how you have surpassed your dream, my friend! And now you are here to inspire us all. Your story will stay with me forever. I celebrate your achievement today.
Rachel said it so well, Just Me. I believe anyone who comes out of your situation with any love left to give is one amazing person. If you made your child and then children who weren’t your own feel safe and loved you have given the greatest gift and accomplished the most worthy goal in this world. Congratulations on your success.
Yes Rachel said it so well.
‘Just Me’, I could see a part of your loving fifth grader heart through your words on the assignment. You can still use your wisdom and compassion to speak wonderful words of life into the people around you. You have much love to give, thoughtful and beautiful one 🙂
Just Me, It sounds like we have lived similar lives. Many told me that those goals were “not good enough” either, but I have 4 wonderful children that I have done my best with. I have made mistakes, as we all do, but they all came out very well loved, unharmed (by me or anyone else) and so far quite successful in being loving, considerate, productive members of society. Congratulations on the success of your dream!
Just Me, I commented much later in the comment section about this very thing. I love being a mom. It took me a long time to say that, but God worked on my heart and I can honestly say it is the most challenging, sanctifying, worthwhile, and important “job” we could ever do. Your fifth grade dream was an awesome dream. T was in just the right place. Your teacher had no business doing that to you. Maybe you struck a nerve with her, though. Maybe she thinks about your assignment, too. Maybe you changed her mind somewhere along the way. You never know. 😉 But the important thing is that you know, which you probably already do, that it’s not about money or fame, it’s about your heart and how you love others. Look at how God used your pain for good!! Taking in children that aren’t yours to raise and to love as if they were your own!! No one can measure that success. You keep living your dream. I think it’s awesome. Much love.
I have some of these types of children, the ‘too sensitive’ and ‘too absent minded’, and once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head -they are compassionate and creative, among many other wonderful things. My children are my world. Thank you for ‘grounding’ me at a time when I was stressed and overwhelmed, and not enjoying life as I should. May God continue to bless you in your endeavors! Thank you!
You really see people. You see not only your daughters, but you also see perfect strangers. You assume the gentlest, kindest things about people. Thank you for inspiring me to assume the best of people. Comments on this post have reminded me that people can get by with the smallest hope, but they do need a tiny bit to go on. I pray that I can be my children’s constant supporter, as well as someone else’s tiny bit.
My tiny bit was the casual acquaintance who, instead of laughing at the idea of me completing an Ironman triathlon, said “Sure you can! Why not”?, and stood there and waited for an answer. There wasn’t a reason “why not” that she couldn’t knock down. And now I am an Ironmomof5. And asking others “Sure you can! Why not?”
Thank you for this post and especially for the piece at the end. Our wonderful little firefly has been struggling this year in school and it seems that she is constantly being reminded that she is distracted, off-task, the last one ready, daydreaming etc.
Your poem reminded me not to let the concerned notes from the teacher diminish all of the good that lies within and that we should always be her safe place, her cheerleaders!
Just wanted to say thank you for your insight. I’m afraid I am a dream killer, trying to protect my childrens’ fragile hearts while I am, in reality, eroding their dreams…Your article was a gentle correction that I needed.
Thank you 🙂
Thank you for this article, it really struck.a chord. I don’t have children but I do identify with your story of going after your dream and encouraging others to do the same. I think much is often put on being realistic however this has the effect of dampening the spirit and reducing creativity. Look forward to reading more of your articles
My oldest child is 22, and from the time she was very young she has always had huge goals. I always told her she could do anything she put her mind to. She is now a Senior in college (paying her own way and supporting herself) and on her way to reaching her current goals. Over the years her goals have changed many times and every time they do I embrace the new goal with her. I hope that I have been her biggest supporter and given her the strength to go after and sometimes alter her goals. Something that I think is important is for them to know that they can always go a different direction if they change their minds. Also, I want to say thank you! Your blog is an insperation to me even though my youngest child is 17.
Alyssa Royster says
I’m inspired by this message and believe that some of my Facebook friends/family will be too. So, I shared it in the spirit of acceptance of Daniel, my four year old, who brought me joy this morning, when he came to my room at 5:55 am. I love his heart. Yep, 5:55 am–it’s this darn Daylight Savings Time. I do not love Daylight Savings Time…currently checking into how to change it here in Raleigh. 🙂
Thank you, Rachel. I’m inspired by your messages often.
I told my parents that I wanted to be a farmer when I was 12. My mom grew up on a farm and my dad joined them for the first decade of their marriage, so I had some exposure but since we’d left the farm when I started school I’d never done the day-in, day-out work that’s required. My parents heard this, laughed at me, and gave me a laundry list of reasons why I couldn’t be a farmer, most of them having to do with their opinion of my willingness and ability to work hard.
I wound up majoring in agricultural sciences with a focus on communication. My interest evolved as I grew up and learned more, and in some ways I now agree with my parents’ original assessment of my potential as a farmer. But it still hurts that they laughed at me instead of honoring and encouraging my interest. They could have helped me to learn more and supported me through the evolution from “want to be a farmer” to “want to write about farming & help the public understand food production”.
My parents were so supportive in so many other ways. They even encouraged me to become a writer, but I think they just lacked the imagination to realize that my interest in farming could evolve and that I could blend those interests.
I’ll respectfully disagree with your caveat at the end about being realistic and practical with kids. Realism and practicality are already there in the world in spades and kids can’t help getting a good dose along the way. Adults who step in the moment a kid voices a dream to tell them about the obstacles are just discouraging. As other comments show, dreams are fragile and the smallest comment from an adult, any adult, can kill a dream immediately. I really think the only proper response to a kid who says “I want to do x when I grow up” is to say “That’s great! How can I help?”
Thank you for encouraging your daughter to explore her interest and allowing her space to develop it in her own way and time, and thank you for encouraging others to do the same.
I am a 54. When I was nine, our elementary school offered band for 4th graders. I passionately wanted to play the flute. My parents rented me one, and with the other kiddos, I sat in band class, trying my darnedest to make music with the thing. After a few days, the band was able to squeak and squawk out a truly horrid rendition of Mary Had a Little Lamb; the whole band, that is, except me. Try as I might – and I tried and tried and tried with all that was in me – I could not produce even a hint of sound, much less music.
The band director called my parents in and told the three of us that I had no musical ability, that I would never be able to do anything with music, and that they should get me involved in some other activity where I might at least have a chance to succeed.
I was heartbroken.
We returned the rented flute and my parents bought a piano. I took piano lessons from age nine to fifteen and did pretty well with it. I sang in honors choirs in high school and college. I loved music theory. In college, I minored in music with an emphasis in organ.
In my late 40s, after nearly 27 years during which I never touched a keyboard, my kids recruited secretly friends to pool their resources and give me a very special birthday gift: a year of piano lessons, which I LOVED! I spaced them out and for three years, I took lessons and played in recitals with a bunch of little kids. I now play the piano for my own pleasure and to worship God, and for the past three years, I have been singing in a wonderful community choir.
I know this will never happen, but I’ve always wanted to go back and say to that band director, “Look! I did it! I DID do something with music. You said I couldn’t do it. You tried to kill my dream, but I didn’t given up; I didn’t let it die.”
Your post encourages me. I think I will look into learning to play the flute.
Oh, *do* look into playing the flute! I played for several years (9 or so?) – I remember it taking *weeks* of practice for some kids to get a noise out of that thing! I can’t believe your teacher thought *that* was a sign of musical ability or not. I played for years and even now I struggle to make it play because my bite has changed through two sets of braces – there’s a real learning curve there! You can do it!
When I was 13i told the careers aussie in a classroom situation that I wanted to be a dietitian. Immediately she was negative told me I could never achieve those marks, uni old took the top 10% etc etc. I was defeated. I wish I never believed her. My parents weren’t much better. …. They were desperate for me to work to take the pressure off them. Now I work shuffling paper, in sales, juggling. Stuck in my situation. It’s too hard to get out of. I’m drowning. It’s too late for me now. It will effect too many other people If I chase my dream. But, I have cleared the path for my kids to chase their dreams. My daughter has massive dreams of working in genetics. …..i make sure the path is well lit, I’ve made sure she is in contact with all the people she needs for guidance. I’ve discouraged Her from getting a casual job so she can study. (She will end up working eventually). Thank you for writing these words x
Shayne, I want to give you a big hug or do something to help the misery I sense from your writing. I know the misery, I’ve been there. Is there one small thing you could do to change your situation? Just a thought. In my life one small step was what it took to restore hope, joy and life. Good for you for supporting your daughter, but I sincerely hope you can find a way to support yourself. All the best to you.
Please tell your daughter congratulations. She has found her passion! As for you, I think it is absolutely wonderful you are encouraging her. You never know. I love the image of her making her own business card. She is on her way! Have you read the book The Brainy Bunch? That family wholeheartedly believes in children finding their passion early on and parents encouraging them. Their children are doctors, architects, entrepreneurs, etc. Keep up the good work, future surgeon! 🙂
This is very inspiring. As someone who didn’t have parents like you I appreciate it a lot. I’ll always remember your words when my DD grows and shares her dreams with me.
On a side note, I didn’t know you could add “to” after “gonna”. I thought it was either, You’re going to bring or You’re gonna bring. I confess You’re gonna to bring unsettles me. Is it some type of colloquialism? Please please answer me or I won’t ever be able to sleep again! 🙂
Rachel Stafford says
Thank you for catching the error! My husband usually proof-reads my posts for me, but this week he wasn’t able to. I appreciate you pointing it out.
Cynthia Lau says
I just want to thank you for these encouraging words. We are raising our 6 year old grandson. Our daughter is still a part of our lives, and sees him weekly, which I understand is very rare. She resents us and has as little contact with us as possible. I have recently come to realize that this is a very difficult position to be in. And that no matter what, my daughter will always be between our grandson and us. Our grandson is so bright and so smart, and has dreams, which aren’t recognized or encouraged at his mother’s home and around her in-laws. But is is my job to help my grandson be the best he can be, and to accomplish his dreams.
My eyes filled with tears as I read this post. I too, had my dreams crushed at the “ripe old age” of 4, when I told my mother I wanted to “play the guitar and sing like Hank Williams!” (We had several of his records, and I knew every word of every song by the time I was 4). Her response was, “Do you know how many people want to do that??? Too much competition!” I was devastated. I was in our first grade choir with 70 students. The director went around listening to all of us singing. She chose 6 out of those 70 to be in an ensemble, and I was one of them. She wrote on my report card that I could “go far with the proper training and encouragement. I got none. I wanted to learn to play the organ, and asked my parents for one. I was told “you won’t keep up with it anyway.” I was never given a chance. I taught myself guitar but gave it up. I do some singing at church (solo in the Christmas program), and have been told countless times that I have a beautiful voice, yet I am so afraid to do anything with it. I have been a RN for 30 yrs and unemployed for the last yr and a half, and decided I just can no longer do what I’ve been doing as I no longer like it. It is a numbers game in my part of the business, and I’m tired of being treated like a pawn in a chess game. I wanted to pursue Psychology, but gave myself so many reasons why it wouldn’t work, despite the fact that counseling/coaching lit a fire in me. (I have always been approached for help by friends). I now am considering becoming an integrative health coach, which seems to combine my healthcare experience (I also have a bachelors in healthcare administration) and the desire to counsel and coach. I am afraid…afraid of failure, just like was implanted in me yrs ago. Half-way through my bachelors program, I knew it wasn’t for me, but stuck with it anyway because I felt I’d just be “giving up” and not following through. I have student loan debt to pay for a degree I feel I will never use, and now have no way to pay for furthering my education and getting into something I will enjoy. Teaching/coaching lights my fire. I wish I had pursued Psychology…I would have a Masters and my own practice by now. I know God in His infinite wisdom will use it all to His glory.
I don’t think you’re living in the real world- not everyone gets to be a fancy author- we need more hamburger slingers!
Thank you again for a wonderful post. Loved the poem at the end!
Thank you for another beautiful reminder of how we can encourage the hearts of our little ones! This has been a hard area for me, as my 10 year old dreams of building robots and inventing things, even creating them right now, and me being the ‘practical’ sort, I tend to say things like “but we don’t have the materials” or “you’ll have to learn how to solder and learn about electricity and motors first”. I will let him dream now!!
And I loved your book! and love that poem!!
This is such an important post!I have been there..wanted to be a scientist but when the time came,wasn’t encouraged at all…too many cultural barriers to break.Immigrating to USA made me realize that the opportunities are endless here.I did manage to get into a science carrier,though not a full fledged scientist that I dreamed to be.
I recently read a book authored by Dr.Pamela McCauley -Bell.She is the first African American woman to get a PhD in engineering from Oklahoma.I think you should read the book and maybe share parts of it with your eleven year old(some parts may not be appropriate- there is domestic abuse and teen pregnancy e.t.c discussed ).The book is titled “Winners don’t quit..Today they call me a doctor”.I plan on letting my kids read it when they are in high school.
I love how your daughter wrote”future orthopedic surgeon” on a business card! I keep telling my daughter that she can be anything that she wants,doesn’t matter that she is a girl!.She wanted to be a writer when she was younger and my husband told her that she would never make enough money.I don’t think he meant it to sound the way it does,but she did tell me once that she felt hurt:-(
Your kids are so lucky to have a mom like you!
Hi. I was delighted to read this post which resonated so deeply with me and my experience of working with children. I was part way through writing a similar post myself and I took the liberty of adding your wonderful poem as it captured quite beautifully what I wanted to say! I do hope it was okay to do this – please let me know if not. Looking forward to future snippets of inspiration!
Rachel, once again, bringing tears to my eyes, I am responding. And I just want to say that I often wonder if we really need all this Internet stuff, and why can’t we just do it like the good ol’ days and get together face-to-face. Then I read your post, and continue to read the comments. And all of this is why the Internet can be good. Look at all the encouragement on this page! It amazes me all the time that women from all over can get on this Internet thing and be so encouraging to one another. I think it.is.AWESOME. With that being said, I also want to say that I had encouraging parents growing up. Well, I don’t know if they were outright encouraging, but they didn’t stop me from pursuing my dreams. They were supportive. And I followed my dreams. I have several certificates in teaching and I also have a Master’s in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. I had a dream, a dream to be a behavioral specialist, a dream to cure autism, a dream to change the world, one child at a time. My dream now? It’s still the same, I just do it in my home (except the cure autism part). I home school my children now, and I am changing the world, one child at a time. And I am changing the world one person at a time, starting with myself. Our dreams can change. I just want to encourage you ladies who feel like you are missing out on the dream you had when you were 5, or 8, or 12. It’s OK if your dream changes, or it’s still the same, just in a different context, like mine. I’m 37 and I have four children. My dream was to get married, have two children, and change the world. Well, now I’m married, I have four children, and I am changing the world, even if the world can’t see it, even if I don’t get a paycheck, and even if people don’t approve. It’s OK if things have changed. Take what God has given you and make of it what you can now. What is your dream right NOW? As moms, we often look back and wonder what we could have been, especially if we have decided to stay home. We are who we are supposed to be, right now. And we can be a dream builder for our own children, even if that dream is to be a mom, just like us.
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