As more of my students filed into the classroom and filled the empty desks, the more I found myself pacing in front of the lab table, a manic energy coursing through me as I greeted them. I’m sure I would have been nervous on my very first day of teaching no matter what, but my anxiety was compounded by not only being forced to teach an unfamiliar subject, but also by having Cole in my class. Pat and I had stayed late twice to plan the expedition, and each time I asked if she’d like to get a drink or a bite to eat afterwards, and each time she had politely refused. I had a feeling that if I was to get anywhere with her, Cole was the key. I wanted all my students to like me, to think I was the cool new teacher, but especially Cole. If I could win him over, I was certain I could win over Pat as well.
After the bell rang signaling the start of class, the majority of the period was spent doing housekeeping tasks: reviewing homework, attendance, and detention policies; explaining the grading system for the semester; handing out lab books. Cole ignored me the entire time, his head bent to his drawing. Occasionally, I would hear him sigh or mutter “Boring” under his breath.
“The real foundation for the fall semester is The Seventh Grade Expedition. Does anyone know what that is?” I asked, looking out on rows of blank, bored faces.
I looked toward Cole, but his head was resting on the crook of his arm. Pat had told me she wasn’t going to tell him about the trip until she had to; she was afraid he’d start making plans like Jason had.
“Don’t we go somewhere and study something?” a girl in the front row answered. I think her name was Jill. Or Judy.
“That’s right,” I said. “And this year, all the seventh graders, not just this class, the whole seventh grade, will go camping in Delaware Park and Forest Lawn to study the wildlife and plant life of the region. It will give you a feel for how real biologists and botanists work in the field and the skills and tools they use to conduct research.”
Cole’s head snapped up. “The cemetery?”
Jill-Judy wrinkled her nose. “We’re going to camp out on graves?”
“No, we’ll camp in the park, but we’ll spend a lot of time studying the flora of cemetery. They named it Forest Lawn for a reason, right?”
“The Wolf Boy lives in the cemetery,” Cole said.
Jill-Judy half-turned in her seat and looked back at Cole. “No, he doesn’t. He disappeared from the cemetery. He doesn’t live there.”
“Yeah, he does,” Cole answered. “He’s like Mega-Scout. He could live anywhere.”
“I heard that, too,” another boy with a mouthful of silver braces said. “He’s a jungle boy.”
“I think he’s part Indian,” a girl with acne said. “Iroquois or something.”
“He is not. I went to Sunday School with him,” a redheaded kid said. “I think he’s German.”
Suddenly my class was alive. For the first time that morning they were attentive, engaged, and talking. They had found a topic that interested them – The Wolf Boy– and everybody had an opinion.
“Why couldn’t the police find him in the cemetery then?”
“Because he’s The Wolf Boy!” Cole yelled.
“Some psycho got him. They’ll find his chopped up and rotted body next spring when the snow melts.”
“Yeah, and what about the snow? How’s he going to survive the winter?”
“I heard he runs around the cemetery naked,” a kid in the back of the room said.
“You’re weird,” the girl next to him replied.
“What does he eat?” Jill-Judy asked.
Suddenly I saw how I could reach them, how I might actually educate them. “OK, OK. Time out,” I said, making a ‘T’ with my hands like a referee. “Jill raises a good question.”
“Judy,” she corrected.
“Judy,” I repeated, and smiled apologetically before walking toward the chalkboard. “What would The Wolf Boy eat if he was living in Delaware Park and Forest Lawn?”
No one answered.