Middle school presents an opportunity for kids to reinvent themselves-- we always tell them it's a clean start, a fresh slate, a chance to be the best they can. Some take advantage and some don't, and some are more successful than others. Six years ago, I taught a young man named Kenneth who introduced himself as Kenny. Kenny was as cute and charming as they come, but he didn't always complete his work, which was what I was telling his mom in our parent-teacher conference when she whipped out her cell phone. "Excuse me," she said to me as she deliberately dialed.
Bemused, I waited for her cue to continue. In a moment I heard the mwah mwah of a voice answering the phone. "Is Brandon there?" she asked. Confused, I wondered if I should pretend to be busy with something else. "Well get him out of bed," she told the other party. I shuffled a few papers and clicked my pen once or twice. Soon I heard another muffled "hello" and she picked up that progress report and started in on the person on the other end of the line about those missing assignments. It quickly became clear that Kenny was an alias for the student formerly known as Brandon, which was his middle name. Once she hung up, it was sort of challenging to continue the conference-- I wasn't sure how to refer to her child.
I saw Kenny's mom today in a professional development class I'm teaching. "Do you remember me?" she asked, and I smiled because when I had seen her name on the roster I couldn't wait to find out how Kenny was doing.
"I sure do," I told her. "How's that son of yours?"
"He's a senior! Can you believe it?" she said.
"Wow!" I answered. "What's he going by these days? Kenny or Brandon?"
"I still call him Brandon," she shrugged, "but everyone else? They call him Kenny, and he's doing great."
By that, I took it that he was getting all his assignments in, and silently I congratulated him on his successful reinvention.