DEAR ABBY: After reading your column this morning (Dec. 9) with the letter from the Arizona substitute teacher, I had to respond. I am also an older substitute teacher with white hair, and I, too, used to be offended when children would ask how old I am.
However, I found that if I seemed offended by the question, the children would be hurt and distant for the rest of the day. When I laughed and said something like, "Oh my, I'm old enough to be your grandmother," or, "Would you believe I'm older than dirt?" the children would laugh with me, and we'd have a positive relationship for the rest of the day.
Substitute teaching is about helping the children to learn and have a good day while their teacher is out, not about making me feel good. When I can no longer laugh and enjoy the children, it's time for me to retire. -- COLORADO SENIOR SUBSTITUTE
DEAR COLORADO SUBSTITUTE: Thank you for weighing in on the issue. I heard from others in the field of education (and out), and all of their input was interesting. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I'm a first-grade teacher and have found that kids come to school unaware of many of life's "rules." I cover the rule about asking your age the first day in my class.
When I introduce myself, I tell the children that I'm a grandma and laughingly tell them that makes me "old." Someone always asks me the question, "How old are you? And that's when I tell them the first of many of life's rules: "There are two things you never ask a woman -- her age and how much she weighs."
The kids always remember this rule, and many have told their parents. If a new student comes to class and asks me how old I am, you can hear the gasps from the other students. Then another child will inform him/her of the rule. Problem solved! -- TEACHER IN OHIO
DEAR ABBY: I started substitute teaching after 35 years in the classroom. Young children have no concept of age. We, as adults, are always asking children their ages, and they are proud to tell us. Telling young children the question is inappropriate sets a double standard.
When I am asked, I always reply, "How old do you think I am?" The answer may be anywhere from 5 to 100. Then I tell them they are close to being right, chuckle to myself and continue with the day's activities. They are happy, no one is offended, and it puts a smile on my face. -- JOAN IN STEWARTSTOWN, PA.
DEAR ABBY: A child who asks the teacher's age is probably too young to understand the word "inappropriate," Abby. I suggest that the teacher respond by saying, "Some people don't like to tell their ages. I'm old enough to know you are special." -- ANGIE IN DAYTON, OHIO
DEAR ABBY: The next time that substitute teacher is asked her age, she should reply, "I have an unlisted number!" -- NANCY IN NORTH PORT, FLA.
DEAR ABBY: When I was asked the same question, I replied, "Twenty-one." (At the time, our daughter was going to college.) Two answers were unique: A 6-year-old girl said, "You were a very young mother." A boy the same age answered, "... and next year you'll be 22." A difference in the male-female brain? - - MARGARET IN GREENVILLE, S.C.
DEAR ABBY: Our youth badly need examples of how people of all ages contribute to making our society a success. That teacher should say, "My dear, it is not always appropriate to ask adults their ages, but I'm 73 and proud to be able to teach."
I am a busy 71-year-old volunteer for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) advocating on behalf of abused and neglected children, and feel honored to have them know there's a grandma out there who cares about them. -- LOUISE IN CONWAY, ARK.