It was confirmed to me yesterday while teaching and meeting with students. I should not be surprised by these interactions. I am not in the same age cohort as my students. In fact, I could even be their parent (if things in my life had been very different). Even still, feeling old is a sign that one day, I may be out of touch with my students. And I do not like that prospect.
The evidence indicating I am old:
First, in my lecture on theories of learning, I was talking about Pavlovian conditioning. I wanted to give an example of a signal (not a bell) that could elicit the same biological reaction as salivating. (Remember Pavlov’s dogs—ring a bell and the dog salivates? It was a boon for psychology folks studying animal behavior). I did preface my statement with, this may not be your generation, but has anyone ever had a beeper? They immediately started laughing. Laughing. I explained how serving as an administrator on call at two colleges and having carried a beeper on and off for three years, I still have a rush of adrenaline when I hear the beeper alert. They sort of got it. I should have consulted the 27th item on Beloit’s Mindset List (a list of the “cultural touchstones” salient for each college cohort) that cites the “outdated” (and perhaps ironic) icons on their smart phones and tablets—a floppy disk for “save” and an actual phone for “call.”
Then, in a conversation with a student, she described her conversations with other “adults” and the word adult clearly applied to me. I am an adult. Clearly.
And finally, in an uncomfortable meeting with a student about his work, I had to get super serious about his progress this semester. I told him he wasn’t working up to his potential (something only adults can say) and that I expected more from him (see last parenthetical aside). Later on, that student emailed me to thank me for the proverbial kick in the backside. That only happens when someone older than you tells you like it is.
Data triangulated from several sources. I am old. And guess what? I would not trade my current life for another go at college for anything. Being old is supreme.
You enjoy being old if you’d like. I’m not sure how we compare in age (I actually had a beeper during my first year as a Trinity student), but I don’t think of myself as old at all. My friends may refuse to play tackle football with me anymore or play hoops with the kids from Central or stay up until 3:00 in the morning in order to driving in NYC for a show or Foxboro for a football game, but I’m still doing these things, damn it, With or without them.
On Friday, I overheard a fifth grader tell another fifth grader, “I hate to say it, but I think Mr. Dicks is the best four square player in the school. It’s either him or Dr. K, and it’s funny, because none of the other teachers can even slam the ball.”
Dr. K is 62.
Age is a mindset, my friend. Just because I once owned a beeper doesn’t mean I can’t outrun, outlast or outperform those slackers from your class.
You mistake me–being old doesn’t mean I don’t feel young. I was simply laughing at how the cultural touchstones shift. I’m 34 and you best believe that I don’t act or feel like I’m 34. Whatever that means.