Last March when I visited the Vermont school where Nacho had been raised by an elementary teacher, I encountered one of the more startling moments of my partnership with this extraordinary guide dog. I was delivering an emotional convocation to students and staff, expressing gratitude for their hand in raising Nacho. As we'd done often for convocations, Nacho and I were apart with me at the podium in the middle of the gym and Nacho in the hallway waiting for the moment when he would be released to charge across the gym floor and into my arms.
This time, though, instead of running to me when released, Nacho ran straight to the place where he had sat with his puppy raiser and class, then circled the entire gym to say hello to the people who had been part of his past. I, of course, had no idea what was happening until much later, but I knew Nacho wasn't coming to me even though I was calling him. I was positive I had destroyed our young partnership by bringing him back to his first human family whom he was choosing over me.
Nacho did eventually charge up to the podium for a joyful, slobbery reunion. And, our partnership actually grew after that experience. His behavior that I had thought was dreadful--having split allegiances and sorting through what must have been ridiculously confusing canine memories of a once-familiar place--reminds me of something I forget too often.
We are influenced by a past that adds to the innate qualities we have. Both parts of that equation are valid. The combination means each of us has gifts and aptitudes but also has the potential to be polished, refined, and expanded. That polishing, refinement, and expansion began before, continues now, and won't ever stop. Our journeys don't leave us.
Applying the Lesson
As we educators start a new semester and a new year, I challenge you to join me in remembering that our students carry an even richer mix of past and present that my beautiful yellow lab exhibited in his reaction that Vermont morning. I love that dog even more because he has a past that influenced him and that he honored with his self-initiated victory lap around that gym, even though the moment of meshing was a hard one. Can we remember to love our students when their successes, struggles, disappointments, and curiosities--crafted from years of living--come trailing behind them as they enter our classrooms now, even when that meshing is hard? Let's work to see them fully as they are now, which is in part who they were before, so we make them even more able to face what is to come tomorrow.