This Is Why We Teach Kids How To Dream

“Fear and lack of imagination choke your dreams so that you already know on the day that you’re born just where you’ll die and who it is that’ll bury you.”
-Barack Obama

I keep going back to the notion that we don’t know what we don’t know. I taught a lesson this week about perseverance and grit and felt so discouraged that so many of my students struggled to think of what they wanted. Let that soak in for a minute. My students didn’t know what they wanted and asked me to tell them what they wanted. We’re not even talking about life goals kind of “want” because it was an open-ended question and they could pick anything–anything. Our kids are so used to being told what to do that they don’t know how to think and reflect on what they actually want for themselves.

One student completely broke my heart when he told me that he just wanted to “be a grown up” and when I asked him what he meant by saying that, he said that his “want” was “not to die” before he was able to become an adult.  Absolutely devastating.  I’m not sure I was able to articulate it before that moment, but I know my “why” now without question: I want to change kids’ belief of what is possible by illuminating the possibilities. 

I want to change kids’ belief of what is possible by illuminating the possibilities. 

When I was a kid I dreamt of working at a snow cone stand because I didn’t know what else was available to me. I didn’t have role models showing me anything beyond blue-collar work and I certainly didn’t have a school counselor teaching me about job possibilities. My job as a school counselor is to show kids what is possible and then give them the tools to reach for their goals. I teach them about self-discipline, self-control, and the basic systems that support a goal when motivation fails.

One of my students today told me that she likes it when people tell her she can’t do something because it gives her energy to do what they said she couldn’t, but that isn’t the case for everyone.  Some kids who are told that they can’t do something feel so defeated that they don’t attempt to reach their potential; most will live with that label or thought of unworthiness for the rest of their lives.  I’ve decided that anyone else in their life can be the person that feeds that desire to rebel, but I don’t ever want to be that person who tells a kid that they aren’t good enough.    

Years ago when I had just started out in counseling, I told a student that because of her low scores, she might want to consider a community college instead of going straight to a four-year program and she misunderstood me and thought that I was telling her that she wasn’t capable of going to college at all.  It hadn’t been what I’d meant, but she let it feed that part of her rebellious spirit and was able to be successful in spite of me.  I feel like I lucked out that time, but I don’t want a kid to ever think that I don’t believe in them.  Our kids will reach as high as we expect them to reach and I will always be the one rooting for the longshot. 

We have to give kids dreams to aim for and the hope and courage to believe that they are capable of achieving those goals.