Kevin stepped through the door on the first day of seventh grade exactly three seconds after the bell. I looked at him, and he smirked at me. He was letting me know exactly what I was in for for the rest of the year. Try as I might, he was saying, I would never be able to turn him into a good student, a good kid.
Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Kevin, I naively said with my smile back to him. I know you’re a good kid, and I’ll prove it to you. “You must be Kevin. I thought you were absent. Have a seat right here,” I said, pointing to a desk in the front of the room.
He sauntered over, his untied shoelaces pinging softly against the metal legs of all the desks he walked past. His fingers trailed on everybody’s new binders and pencils, and more than one scowl bounced right off the back of Kevin’s head.
As students got to work on an art project designed for me to learn all of their names, Kevin just stared at me, a lonely, pubescent Mona Lisa, moving only his eyes, following me around the room as I met each student individually. A single, dirty, yellow-blond tangle dropped over his eye.
“Good morning, Kevin.”
“Hi!” he exclaimed with a cheerfulness that didn’t meet his face.
“What are you going to draw?”
“Nothing!” he exclaimed, his smirk deepening. “I just feel, you know, that nothing would be a more accurate illustration of me than Charlie’s stick figure. There’s nothing here,” he remarked, tapping his greasy head.
Are you sure you’re 12? I thought. “Well, that’s the beauty of English class. As long as you can explain it, there are, often, no right or wrong answers.”
Round 1, me! I thought as I walked away.
“There are only two weeks left in the school year!” I begged, leaning over the Assistant Principal’s desk.
“There’s no way he can even pass a single class. What does it matter?” he asked, exasperated. “You gave him half of his detentions, anyway. He reached his limit. Kevin is suspended for the rest of the year.”
Walking back to my classroom, I reached into my pocket for the stack of colorful labels that have lived there for the last month. I looked at the first one. “Dear Madison, you grew up so much this year! I can’t believe how confident you are now. You’ve come so far from the girl too shy to talk to her partner on the first day of school. Have a great summer! -Ms. Lohman”
I flipped through the unfinished stack of 150, one yearbook note for each student. Finally, I found the one I was looking for, the one I’d never be able to deliver. “Dear Kevin, I’m sad to hear you’ll be moving away next year! I know this year was hard for you, but I’m so happy I got to know you. You’re so smart and funny. I know you’ll make something great of yourself someday. -Ms. Lohman”
Round 87, Kevin. You win, little man.