If I was to ask you about a favorite teacher you had as a child, I’d imagine a few teachers would stand out. I think we’ve all been taught by a particularly caring, patient educator who showed a heart-warming interest in our lives and shared their passion for learning with us. For me, one of the many teachers that comes to mind is a high school history teacher. Even today, over a decade later, I can still remember some of the things he taught us.
As an adult, I’ve developed a different kind of appreciation for teachers. Quarantine during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic showed me how valuable and essential teachers are in children’s lives. Really good ones not only teach but motivate children, instill discipline, and facilitate growth. Aristotle said it much better: “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
This is why I am excited to spotlight Stacey Bess as an inspiring mom! As an award winning educator, she has received numerous awards, been featured in a movie, written several books, and delivers keynote speeches in many settings. And after a lifetime of teaching children, Bess is one of those teachers who many, many individuals think of when asked about their favorite teacher.
After receiving a degree in elementary education at the University of Utah, Stacey began her teaching career at what was then known as The School With No Name. For eleven years she taught homeless and transient children ranging in age from kindergarteners to twelfth graders about subjects ranging from math to reading to self worth. As you can imagine, the children Stacey worked with faced significant challenges. It was emotionally difficult to witness the lives of these underprivileged children.
“I was in the midst of chaos and crisis every day at the shelter,” Stacey related. Although she never intended to be a writer, she found writing about her experience therapeutic and a way to process what was happening. A friend convinced her to turn her written work into a publishing company and she “got picked up very quickly.” Published in 1994, the memoir “Nobody Don’t Love Nobody” presents a compilation of stories about Stacey’s students at The School with No Name.
Several years later, Gerald Molen, an executive producer on Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, reached out to Stacey. He asked if he could make a movie about her book because he “wanted the world to know what good teaching does for kids.” Molen flew to Salt Lake City to meet Stacey and she found him to be a gracious, amazing man. They’ve become lifelong friends and she sees him as “a remarkable mentor.”
If you haven’t already seen the resulting Hallmark Hall of Fame movie starring Emily VanCamp and Treat Williams you need to! “Beyond the Blackboard” is a feel-good, heart-warming film sure to renew your appreciation for teachers.
Today Stacey is a successful, skilled speaker. She travels all over the country to address social work groups, psychology groups, teacher associations, principals, superintendents, parent associations, and school boards.
When I asked her about the highlights of her career, she didn’t hesitate. “I have loved and educated hundreds and hundreds of children who as adults call me or find me on Facebook. I could fill an entire book of people who have found me and have said, ‘I don’t know who you are but my husband has never stopped talking about you. I just want you to know that he turned out to be a really great dad.’” Hearing this feedback has been her highest achievement.
Awards and Recognitions
Due to her exceptional work with children as an educator, Stacey has been the recipient of many awards and recognitions over the years. She told me: “I felt like I did not deserve all of those accolades but was grateful that it brought attention to the plight of at-risk families.”
Some of the awards she received include:
- National Jefferson Award This is given to someone 35 years or younger in the field of public and community service. Stacey received this the same year first lady Barbara Bush did!
- Dedication to Homeless Youth
- Rescuer of Humanity, Project Love Jimmy Carter also received this award with Stacey!
- Distinguished Woman of the Year
In addition to those great honors, Stacey has made several TV appearances on stations such as the Good Morning show and the CBS Evening News. She has also been featured in magazines, including People magazine, and newspapers around the country for her work teaching children.
I am embarrassed to admit that I had to reschedule our interview at the last minute due to a family emergency. But Stacey was gracious and understanding, assuring me that she’s been a mom for 41 years and has learned “You can’t have six children and not have crises.”
We proceeded to talk about her family, which is based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Stacey and her husband Greg have six adult children (the oldest is nearly 41 and the youngest is 17) and ten grandchildren. Like my family, the Bess family are active and enjoy playing golf and tennis together.
The family also takes advantage of the many opportunities to adventure outdoors in the beautiful Salt Lake area. They love being close to ski resorts, hiking trails, and reservoirs! They also have a houseboat at Lake Powell, which is a favorite activity for “old and young” to paddle board, water ski, and surf.
The Bess family is a close-knit group. In fact, four (almost five) of her grandchildren live close enough that they can get to her house in three minutes! The rest of the grandchildren live in Nebraska so she doesn’t see them as often.
In Stacey’s words, “We’re very pro-family. We love our kids to be with us. And I think there should be a rule that kids can’t live out of state!” She said this playfully and went on to explain that she understands the need to live out of state to get an education, but she really does want them all to live close enough to attend their family dinners every other Sunday night. She related that since there is a swimming pool in their backyard it is the grandchildren’s “happy grandma place.”
As a family they’ve traveled all over the world, often for her work. She said that she’s always loved to take a child with her when she travels to speak so they can “benefit from all the things that come my way.” Some of their favorite trips have included Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Virginia Beach, New Orleans, Washington DC, San Francisco, and Niagara Falls.
Stacey is known for her loving approach to teaching and it struck me that her children benefited from this. As we spoke it was obvious that she cherishes her children and they are her number one priority. We talked about lessons she’s learned from motherhood and I was struck by her thoughts, especially considering her background and experience teaching.
First, Stacey said, is that she “never stops talking to them.” She added that she always looks for something she has in common with her children in order to keep the chains of communication wide open. This open dialogue with her children generates a healthy friendship between them. She’s even found that they are better at listening to her parental instructions because of the closeness they enjoy.
The next insight on motherhood that Stacey offered was this: you don’t get to choose your kids’ lives. As a teacher, she wants to intervene in everything. She is inclined to teach and explain everything. But as a parent, she’s learned that it’s ok for her children to fall a little bit. She told me she’s not sure if it’s a good idea to “save them from difficulty” or “intervene too much.”
For those of you out there who struggle with this concept, Stacey gets it. “Because you love your children so deeply,” she told me, “a logical response is to help them out of a difficulty.” But she urges parents to say something like this to help teach children problem solving skills: “I’m sorry darling, you got yourself in this predicament. I will stand by but I would like you to solve it.” This approach teaches children to speak for themselves and stand up for themselves. In Stacey’s words, “We learn just as much from the difficulties as we do from the good stuff.”
Finally, Stacey said she learned to adjust her expectations of her children as needed. When our children are young, it’s natural to picture what their lives will be like. But various obstacles get in their paths and you have to alter your expectations as a parent. For Stacey, she always said “We don’t get C’s in this house.” But she came to really appreciate a couple of C’s. Her advice? “Hail those minor successes just as much as you hail the grand ones that come easier to some kids.” Well said!
Can’t Do Without Items
When asked about her favorite products, Stacey was a little stumped. She explained, “I’m a pretty simple human being so I’m not a big ‘things’ person.” I have tremendous respect for this perspective! Her response reminded me of a quote I’d recently jotted down in my journal from the philosopher Epictetus. He said, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”
After thinking about it, Stacey decided that she wouldn’t like to do without her recipe books or food channels. While she admits she’s “not a great cook” and would “love to hire someone to cook” for her if she was really, really wealthy, she does “love to look through recipe books and find[s] joy in that.” She is a big fan of Barefoot Contessa!
This led to a conversation about what Stacey has been working on in the kitchen lately: pizzas! Although she’s “had some failures and some success along the way” she finally feels like she’s mastered them! She taught herself how to make pizza dough from scratch (yum!) and has come up with a delicious BBQ chicken pizza and tomato basil margarita pizza. Since I LOVE pizza, I was encouraged when she said it was “really fun and surprisingly simple” to make!
To Learn More
Stacey loves opportunities to speak and welcomes all invitations. If you’re interested in connecting with her, you can find Stacey on her website www.staceybess.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m sure that like me, you’ll find her to be a big-hearted, wise, and generous woman!