I'm often torn between expanding my students' worlds and maintaining a professional distance. For most of my educational career, I knew very little about my teachers aside from their names. I knew my Kindergarten teacher (Mrs. Mullen) had a husband because she was pregnant (this was in 1963-1964). I knew my 8th grade science teacher (Mr. Benson) had a wife and children because some of the girls babysat for him. I knew the first names of a handful of teachers over the years, at the most. There was generally a wall, mine field, and fence with barbed wire between students and teachers when I was growing up.
It was the same way with all adults, though. My aunts and uncles and grandparents were mostly people who associated with my parents. Cousins were for the kids. I have fond memories, but my aunts and uncles certainly never played with me or listened to me in any way related to my relationships with my nieces and nephew.
Therefore, in my classroom, I often have to decide for myself where my own line is drawn. I don't discuss things like the fact that I'm single, anything about my marriage from years ago, or anything personal of that nature. My students know about my two cats. The one thing that I have shared with them recently (at this last school) is my age. I'm 53.
I don't look like anyone's preconceived notion of 53, nor do I act like it. I weigh more than I did when I was young and smoking, and I'm more afraid of heights and more cowardly at amusement parks than I was when I was younger. Otherwise, there's not much that I can't do, except for whatever I couldn't do before.
I think this is why I let my students know how old I am. I want them to know that "old" is a relative concept. I want them to know that they get to choose how they age. When people talk to them about someone who's "old" -- and younger than I am, I want them to remember and point out that I was 53 and I am certainly not tinting my hair lavendar or sitting in a nursing home playing BINGO. We like some of the same movies, TV shows, singers, and jokes. We have been through tragedy together, celebrated together, and complain together. We enjoy Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and dragons. When we do our Tuesday walk/run, I'm right there doing it with them, not watching from the side.
When I began teaching (and was much younger), there was no way I would have told my students my age. It was none of their business. Even now, I let them know that it's not polite to ask a woman her age, because most women are taught by society to be very sensitive about their age. As they watch their mothers panic about turning thirty, they can look at me and see that it is something their mothers will get over. They, too, will discover that it really is just a number.