There are no borders -- no boundaries
"So -- do you ever smoke up with your students?"
It was in the 1970s and he, a recent American emigre to Canada, was a teaching colleague in the high school at which I toiled. And he, of faded green corduroy jacket, wheat jeans, desert boots and semi-shaven visage, was not talking about tobacco.
"Huh?" I responded, as eloquently as I could.
"You should, you know. It gets you closer to them. It lets you get into their heads, and they can get into yours.
I don't want them to get into my head, I thought. I have enough trouble there myself without wanting to share it with young people who, even though they were only four or five years younger at the time, were ostensibly my charges. I believed in a certain separation of our roles. I was the teacher and they were the students and, as callow as I was myself at the time, I perceived that I had been hired to set forth a model, a mentor, an advisor, and sometimes even a confidante -- but not a dope-smoking 'cool dude' they could hang with.
This meant I was not going to smoke with them, or toke with them, or shag with them; I was not going to be part of the intimate details of their lives (unless they were in need of some slightly older, perhaps a teeny bit wiser and more experienced counsel. My students were sure as hell not going to be part of the intimate details of my life; and I was most definitely not going to have sex with my young female charges, as alluring as a few youthful fantasy figures might have been at the time. I was only human, after all. But, such things were just not done! So I believed then; so I still believe.
But, the more egalitarian approach to the melting of role boundaries between teacher and student taken by my colleague was readily embraced by increasing numbers of novitiate teachers from that time forward. Not to suggest that all fresh-from-college teachers shared doobies with their kids, or removed their panties, but the trend of melding the two groups became increasingly pervasive through the 1970s, '80s and into the modern era.
Sartorial changes exemplified this well. Gone were ties and jackets for male teachers; and skirts and dresses were abandoned by females for the sake of at first slack-suits for females and ultimately, jeans. OK, more practical for the females than inadvertently flashing their panties at hormonally charged young males suffering from Mrs. Robinson fantasies, I'll agree. The fact that such fantasies have been realized by a few young males in recent years becomes the subject of an entirely other tale for another time.
But let's say that the old boundaries, as dehumanizing and artificial as they were in many instances, still had their reasons. And those reasons are kind of like the reasons for the Ten Commandments. We don't follow them to the letter, but even in attempting to respect them, society is kept from collapsing into chaos.
But, you know, it's funny about boundaries. Years later I attended a 20 year reunion of one of the graduating classes. I had with me my domestic partner of the time. As she was considerably younger, her graduating year was the same as the one that this group was celebrating, albeit from a different high school.
"So, your sweetheart graduated the same year that I did," said a former female student of mine whom I happened to remember quite fondly for acceptable and probably unacceptable reasons. I replied to her in the affirmative.
"Damn," she said, slightly tipsily walking away. "That could have been me there."
I was very flattered, but had no regrets that I had been drearily steadfast in my attitude towards decorum back when I was teaching.