Picture a puppy at play. Imagine one running at you only to be distracted by a squirrel, or a robin, or a leaf, or its shadow or tail, or any number of other things that sidetrack puppies from their task at hand. In fact, you can say a puppy’s task at hand is to get sidetracked. That’s when a puppy is truly being a puppy. But that’s not all they do. They also wake up every morning embracing a brand new day, full of exuberance, inspecting everything, doing random things that make no sense to you, exploring their world, gradually understanding it, wanting to please you, and by their very nature—a wag of their tail and the cock of their head—trusting you to love them.
Now picture an 8th grader at school. Imagine their walking to school or getting off the bus only to be distracted by a squirrel, a robin, or by someone carrying a box of treats, wearing a funny outfit, or any number of other things that sidetrack them from the task at hand. For them, it’s been stipulated that their task at hand is school. And to their credit they wake up every morning embracing their brand new day, full of exuberance, inspecting each new thing, often making choices that make no sense to you, exploring their world, gradually understanding it, wanting to please you, and by their very nature—a smile, a look for acceptance—trusting you to love them.
Nice picture, isn’t it? Makes puppies seem like one of the greatest things on earth. Makes teaching seem like one of the greatest professions. For it is truly a great feeling to be greeted each day, be it a bright smile or a wag of the tail, telling you how happy they are to see you, how happy they are to be there. And there are few things quite as rewarding as seeing a student’s eyes literally LIGHT up when they finally get it, or a puppy’s unbridled delight when they have mastered a trick. These responses come easily, when the stories are good.
But what about the ones from the puppy mill, or those that have been mistreated at home? They want to understand their world, too. They want to please you, to trust you to love them. But they can’t, not easily, anyway. Sometimes their story doesn’t permit it. Sometimes our responses don’t invite it.
Students are like puppies, some are easier to love than others. Some have better stories than others. Some stories are unthinkable. All of them want to trust us. Can they? All of them want our love. Can we?