“I’m not really a waiter…”

You have heard it a million times before if you have spent any time in Southern California… In Hong Kong, the equivalent is, “I’m not really an English Teacher…”

But the question is, “Well, then what are you?’ Of course, in LA, all the waiters are actors, the baristas are writers and the valets are directors.

In Hong Kong it is a little different, but more like the “same same but different” kind of different. Kindergarten English Teachers are gap year backpackers, ex-pat moms, or creepy American dudes who need an extended visa. Government NETs are teachers who don’t really like teaching but like the schedule so they hide out in the New Territories in hulking government primary and secondary schools. International school teachers are their own private clique who may or may not have taught in their home country, but feel they can look down on all the rest of the teachers around them. Private English tutors are the ones who didn’t fit the bill elsewhere. [Shit, guess what category I am in?] Since I have been in Hong Kong I have become embarrassed to admit what I do for a living – I got to great lengths to not have to tell people I teach, and then have to explain where, and that I do not teach English. Whenever someone asks a Westerner who is not a banker what they do for a living here the expectation is that they will say they are a teacher. And honestly, ANYone can be a teacher here. You do not need credentials, or you can buy them on the street in various places, you basically need to be pale-faced, have a pulse and speak English (in my experience you don’t even have to really be able to speak it well.) You do not need to have a college education nor do you need experience. So, actually, I guess people are correct when they say they are ‘not really a teacher.’ Many people will tell you they are “Teaching, but only until… [their book is published] [their business opens] [their free-lance photography studio hits the ground running] [they get their next ‘Big Break’]…” I look for all sorts of reasons to avoid explaining what I do for work, or I simply cut to the chase and make a joke about it, because the inevitable reply to the “I’m a teacher” response is the raised eyebrow, “Oohhhh, yeah. Right” conversation-ender. And then you have dodge the “Those who cannot do, teach…” comment that is the barely euphemistic euphemism to indicate that it is such a shame you couldn’t get a real job.

I have always loved my job, seriously. I have not enjoyed every minute of it and I have certainly not loved every person I have worked with [some have been down right loathsome… Hello, Charlie Walsh.] But I have always loved my work. I have been a high school teacher since 1995. That is a complete trip when I think about it, almost fifteen years. I suppose that qualifies as a career. The data says that someone my age will have changed jobs an average of ten times. In fact in 2007, 50% of employed people had been with their current job for less than five years. So, in a way I am a bit of an anomaly. I am part of Generation X – the group born between 1961 and 1981, and having been born in 1970, the lowest birth rate in the 20-year span, I am yet again, an anomaly. Or perhaps just more X-like. And Gen-X people are supposed to be reactive and nomadic and somehow less grounded than their predecessors. This seems to bear out for the most part when I look around, but I am not sure what the long-term effects of this might be. My logical mind tends to think that those less compelled to stick with one singular professional destination are more likely to open doors, minds and the far frontiers. To this end, I have been wondering lately about where my professional road will be headed in the next few years. And that in itself is totally bizarre behavior for me because I am a teacher. It is sort of the only thing I have really done professionally – ever.

Not too long ago, while lamenting the employment situation in the US, where I hope to return, I expressed with frustration to my BFF, “That the only thing I could do was teach, it is all I have ever done…” Though I did not realize it at the time, she told me later that had been one of the most depressing things she had ever heard me say. This was not totally logical to me at first, but then I realized she just meant that there were so many other options that I was not considering because of my history as a [history] teacher. And what does history itself teach us? Certainly that nothing really remains the same; you know that old river might look the same, but as they say, you are never really stepping in the same one twice.

And so, consider the irony: I have just lambasted people for saying they are not really teachers, when, according to my own definition they are not teachers, and then I turn around and begin to consider what else I may be able to do after teaching has been tiding me over all this while. Hm. Hypocrites are us.

And what would I do if I did not teach? Am I the barista who is a writer? The teacher who is a photographer? The malingerer who would shirk all work for the chance to bang on a drum all day? I still love teaching, and I think I am kind of okay at it, so I wouldn’t mind carrying on. Mostly this rant is just about embracing change and realizing that one’s talents are not really limited by titles nor should they be pigeon-holed by professional labels or misnomers.

2010 is looking to be verrrrry interesting by all accounts.


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Hong Kong, Life, The Future, Work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “I’m not really a waiter…”

  1. peruadele says:

    imagine the freedom when you can let go of all your identities…wow, you can be anything and EVERYTHING.
    love you.

  2. Amanda says:

    I am not an English teacher nor do I teach English, and when I did, I sucked at it – it was hard. That is sort of part of my point, people assume anyone can BE a teacher simply because here anyone can get a job AS a teacher. Being a good teacher is hard work… It should not be considered a default position – by those in it or those assessing it.

  3. driss says:

    This really gives some perspective to the person whose hands have administered multiple whippings to me with the “how many times do I have to tell you that I do not teach English…” stick.

    During the dot com boom, i’ve had to hear similar from people who were “not really tech support people” waiting for their turn to hit it big in real estate. Not sure where any of them are these days, now that both bubbles have long since burst. People whose voices did little to hide the fact that they’d prefer to be doing *something* else when we needed to speak to them, who were on the verge of seeing their own creative/entrepreneurial/athletic talents “blow up” once the opportunity presented itself.

    I think i’m coming to terms with being good at what i do. Not at the point yet where i can say that i thoroughly enjoy my job, but there’s a difference between complacency in accepting a role to play for “a limited time”, and deciding to embrace the fact that a major reason behind your longevity in your particular field is indeed because you can go home at the end of the day and know that you kicked massive ass, so to speak- and had fun doing it.

    My NYC photography studio will likely never open for business. I’m a Unix admin, not an entrepreneur.

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