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You can Keep the "F"....

June 13, 2016

A few years ago, I had an experience with my two older children that left me somewhat puzzled. You see, they were in one of these international schools in Dar Es Salaam that offer great opportunities for children. However, they were not performing to the “standards” set by the said school, not because they were dumb, but because among other reasons, they had just come from a different school that had been teaching a different curriculum and it was taking them a while to catch up.  So it was that at the end of the term, there was an open day where the parents went to meet with the respective teachers to talk about the progress of their children.

What I was told by ALL the teachers left me hurt and heartbroken on behalf of my children. None of them had very positive things to say about my children. In a nutshell, I was told to take my children elsewhere. Really? I do agree that they probably didn’t put their all into their studies and that they could have done better, but you mean there was nothing positive any of the teachers could see in my kids? Had they (the teachers) done all they could to bring out the good in them? You mean both of them had ISSUES? Those were the questions running through my mind, but I had no option but to do exactly what I'd been told because I knew leaving them in that same school would not have helped them. The teachers already had a wrong perception of them and it was quite clear there was a unanimous decision to “fire” them from the school.

I made a decision right there and then to take them back to Kenya but because the syllabus they were following was different, they were forced to go back two classes, a situation that led them to waste 2½ years of their life. Needless to say, they were very bitter with me and they hated my guts for a few terms, but this drastic move changed their mindset and their behavior completely. By the time they were sitting for their final primary school examinations, they were back to being A-Students and they passed with flying colors. Both got placements in top schools in Kenya, but most importantly, they got there by MERIT. Today, they have great dreams and I see a bright future for them, something I am forever grateful to God about.

When I look back at what happened nearly five years ago when I had to take them out of their previous school, what I now understand is that those teachers gave up on my kids and classified them as potential failures. The reason I was asked to take them out of that school is not because they could not be turned around, but because the teachers did not want to take time to invest in those kids; unless of course there was extra money coming in from their doing so. It is so sad to note that everything today has become so monetized and nobody seems to want to do something unless they are gaining from it. Yep, that’s the world we are living in today. All the same I believe that decision was a blessing in disguise for them because this move opened greater opportunities for them.

I have heard and read so many stories of people whose dreams and hopes were dashed by their teachers, just because the latter could not see the greatness in the children they were teaching. Don’t get me wrong, but please let me explain before I get a barrage of emails and letters from teachers reading this article today.  Not all teachers fall under this category, no. Some teachers go to school and teach children because it is a calling, because this is their life’s purpose and when you meet such a teacher, you can tell because they teach from the bottom of their hearts and they do their jobs with a passion. To them, the satisfaction they get in seeing their students graduate and become people of substance in the world is the best remuneration you could ever give them. Their motivation is not in the paycheck they get at the end of the month.

Then there is the category that is motivated by the number of zeros on their paycheck. Now this is the category of teachers I am referring to, and this is the category to be weary of because enough times they kill dreams by the way they handle their students in class.  If I owned a school, I would find a way of recruiting teachers based not purely on their professional qualifications but on their compassion and passion. But then again what do I know…

Earlier this week I was listening to a motivational podcast that had a story in it of a teacher who I’d say falls in the second category I just described above. As you know, whenever I come across something good I always share it with you and so please allow me share the story with you here…oh and by the way, this podcast is what reminded me of my kids’ experience. Here goes...

There was this kid called Monty Roberts. He was a kid who moved around a lot because his dad was a horse trainer. They lived on the back of a truck in one of those little campers. They went from town to town and were hardly in the same school district from one year to the next.

One day in class the teacher had them write an assignment on what they want to be when they grow up. Well Monty took this assignment seriously and poured his heart into doing it the best way he could. He said his greatest dream was to raise thoroughbred racehorses and said he wanted to have acres and acres of land in the valley, living in a big house. Monty was so specific about his dream that he not only described his dream in great detail, but he also drew diagrams of where the racetrack would be, the stables, etc. In short, he put a lot of time and energy into this paper and he could hardly wait to turn in his assignment to the teacher.

Well, the day finally came when they handed in their assignments and when she read Monty’s assignment, in big red letters, right across the assignment, she wrote a GIANTF” followed by the dreaded words, “see me after class”. In other words, she graded Monty’s assignment with an F for Fail!! 

Needless to say, Monty was broken! He looked at that paper and couldn’t believe his eyes. All is morale just dropped and he couldn’t understand why his teacher had given him an “F”. Anyway, he obeyed the instructions on the paper and went to see the teacher after class.

When he saw her he asked her, “why did you give me an “F”? She looked at Monty and said to him, “Monty, it’s my job as a teacher to not let you have unrealistic dreams for yourself”. She posed a little then continued, “this is an unrealistic dream for a kid like you. Do you even know what land costs in the valley? For goodness sake, you live in the back of a truck! I don’t want you to grow up disappointed as it is my job as a teacher to help you”. Then she said to him, “now go re-write the paper and I will give you a higher grade”.

Monty went back home devastated, showed the paper to his dad and asked him,“Dad, what do I do?” His dad looked at him and told him this, “Son, I can’t tell you what to do, but I will tell you this; whatever you decide, it will affect the rest of your life” (What wisdom from a father to a son!)

Monty thought about what his dad had said to him and made a decision. The next day he went back to his teacher with the very same paper and softly said to her, “Madam, you can keep the “F”, but I will keep my Dream”.

Wow! I wish I could have seen the teacher’s face when Monty said that to her. That right there was a BOOYAH! moment.

As I write this article Monty is 81 years old and lives his dream. In fact scratch that, that’s a lie. Monty lives more than the dream his teacher failed him for. He owns a 154-acre ranch in Solvang, California, training horses without use of pain or force. He and his wife Pat have raised their own three children as well as forty-seven foster children who return regularly to spend time on the ranch.

What else does he do or has he done? Monty is not only known as the Man Who listens to Horses but he is also an award-winning trainer of championship horses; as a matter of fact guess who is among his clientele list? How about Queen Elizabeth II’s equestrian’s team in England!

And that’s not all! He is the best-selling author of three books that have made it to the New York Times best-seller list. And if you thought that was all, Monty is also a Hollywood stunt man and creator of the world-renowned and revolutionary equine training technique called Join-Up.

Yes, this is the same Monty whose teacher shot down his dream telling him he shouldn’t have unrealistic dreams! I wonder whether that teacher is still alive today to see the accomplishments of the boy whose morale she wanted to kill. She’s probably still living the same life she lived then, a dreamless life. I am glad Monty made the right decision that day not to change his dream because someone else couldn't see it his way.

As I come to the end of my article this week I have some questions to ask you:

  • Do you have a dream?
  • Who has been trying to talk you out of your dream?
  • Who is been telling you you’re crazy and it can’t be done?
  • When you look at that person, what level of success is that person experiencing?
  • Have you ever noticed that most naysayers and dream kickers are unhappy and unfulfilled themselves?

Don’t let them bring you down to their level.  Like Lupita Nyong’o said when she won her first Oscar, “No matter where you are from, your dreams are valid”. Monty Roberts is a living testament of this.

Again I ask, do you have a dream? Then go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have always imagined like Monty did and is still doing.

Lastly, like Mark Twain said, “keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great!”

I give you the power to go live your dream.

You can read more about Monty Roberts on his website, http://www.montyroberts.com


PS: Article originally published in Tanzania's Guardian on Sunday on the 12th June, 2016, under my weekly column "Thoughts in Words".





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