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A student asked me yesterday if she could smoke her electronic cigarette in class. None of my standard facial expressions seemed appropriate for the situation: not my frustrated face, not my withering look, not even the one I save for when I try to appear open-minded but am not. No student had asked this before.
“What was that?” I said, deaf to the words “electronic” and “cigarette” put together.
She pulled out a small tube that resembled a pen, then pulled the cap off. “It’s a smokeless cigarette,” she said. “You can’t smell it and there’s hardly any nicotine in it.” She pushed the pen’s clicker and showed me how the inside glowed, kind of like my car’s cigarette lighter: coiled and hot. “It’s helping me quit smoking,” she added.
I’m sure I looked at her as if I was seeing a live birth for the first time, a car crash about to happen…somebody explaining AIDS or the computer to me for the first time.
“I don’t know about that,” I said sternly, searching for a good reason to say no: a legitimate and resounding “NO”. Surely there must be something in the handbook that would answer this question in my favor. There always is. I just didn’t have a copy on hand, so I did what most other parents-I-mean-teachers do around the country: I fished for more information. “What do your other instructors say about this!?” I boomed into the sparkly eyes, natural blush, and straight white teeth of this student.
“They say it’s okay!” she said, smiling. “They even asked me to give a class demonstration.”
Great. Now I’m the mean old teacher who is not allowing new technology into her classroom. Smoking is bad, I know that, but this seems better than the old style. Still, it’s only a matter of time before they all discover this device, start using it, bringing it to class, and then I’m competing against ear buds, cell phones, laptops…and smokes. How would I feel if they were all pursing their lips and taking drags off electronic cigarettes? Probably worse than how I feel now when they text during my lectures.
“Ya know,” I said, hedging in a way that more parents and politicians and teachers should do when it comes to determining right and wrong, yes and no, “I need to look into this. I myself certainly don’t want to break the law again, so bear with me.”
My student readily agreed and bounced back to her seat, no hard feelings. If I didn’t get Botox, I’m sure my brow would have been furrowed. My lips have taken on much of the heat that my forehead used to bear in times like these. I left campus that day chapped, wrinkles from whatever kind of smoking I used to do and might still do now easily found on my face. Right next to the dimples.
Electronic cigarettes, I thought as I drove home. What a frickin’ world. They want to smoke but I don’t want them to. I want a classroom’s attention but they want to smoke. I want to teach but somebody’s smoking. Is smoking okay if we’re learning? Maybe they would pay better attention if I let them electronically smoke. What would be best for the class? Am I a fuddy-duddy? Is the world dealing with this problem or is it just me?
My student’s words rang in my ears: “It’s just a vaporizer.”
At home, I changed out of my school clothes into my play clothes and went to light a match.
Weapons quickly surrendered, I watched the sunset from my patio. I took in the clouds and color in the far distance, then my beautiful yard, the canopies of my trees and new growth on my plants, then my radio and cement, and finally the pattern on my pajama bottoms. I loved it all.
I loved it all so much, I was not able to pick sides or determine who was right in that afternoon's schoolhouse tussle. Gaddafi over his citizens, Imelda over her shoes—who has time for that? I am a leader of tomorrow’s leaders. If they want to smoke raspberry flavored air-nicotine in my class, who’s stopping them?
God knows it's somebody better than me.