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Nicole Lavonne Smith Headshot

Go Ahead, Tell Them Your Age!

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A student and I sat reflecting on the dance we had just performed for the school talent show when he asked me, "Nicole, how old are you?"

"I'll be thir..." was as far as I got before a co-worker cut me off and gave the student the disapproving eye.

"I don't mind," I reassured her, knowing that when I told him it would have a positive effect. "Thirty-seven?! Are you serious? I was surprised when I found out you have a son, but this?!" (Regarding my son, I always find it helpful that my students know my age.)

When you work with youth, teachable moments occur all the time, and capitalizing on them becomes an art. I recently acknowledged that telling a student my age could be one such moment, potentially providing real world context in response to student inquiry. If students are interested enough to ask, I don't assume they're asking because they're nosy, but that it satisfies some more useful level of curiosity. The older the students, the more relevant it seems to tell them; I didn't tell my middle school kids, and I don't recall my elementary students ever asking. Imagine, students liked you when they thought you were in your twenties, but you're in your thirties, forties, and beyond and STILL cool!? Perhaps there will even be reassurance in knowing that the support and guidance they're receiving is backed by significant age and experience. Or just maybe they'll begin to consider that their own parents are not relics and do actually have something meaningful to share.

Open discourse with students is one of many tools in the culturally responsive educator's kit. When the time is right and trust has been established, this level of honest, informed communication can be applied to conversations on just about anything -- ageism, sexism, racial and ethnic identity, sexuality and gender identification, power and privilege, etc. Age would appear to be an easier topic to broach than others, but the possibilities for talking points multiply when these genuine relationships are cultivated and students can experience a deeper side to the adults in their lives. It may begin with sharing your age -- or some equally small tidbit -- but it leads to so much more. And in the end, your students keep you younger longer, while they learn that 37 is the new (and improved) 23.