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That Thing You Do

Many years ago, not long out of college and still a bit wet behind the ears, I headed off to China. Like any young person worth her salt, I was off to the ends of the earth for better or for worse. The year was 1985, and it was the beginning of my teaching career. I’ve been teaching more or less, full-time and part-time, ever since. That is, until October 2011.

And now I have this question: When do I have to stop calling myself a teacher? Because it feels to me like being a teacher is more than the title of an occupation. If you are a retired doctor, are you no longer a doctor? No, of course not. So how do I introduce myself and what do I put in my bio? I’m not even a retired teacher, because that implies I’m collecting some sort of retirement income, or that I’ve reached a certain age; I am not and have not. If I join some online website and have the option of entering myself as a teacher, should I? What happens when I’m then asked to “set up my classroom,” or list my school address?

I feel like I’m still a teacher. I could go back. My license is current. In fact, I still teach one very small volunteer ESL class in the community. One night a week. Does that count?

If I’m not being paid, if nobody is calling me Mrs. Smith, if I’m without an actual classroom of my own, am I no longer a teacher?

For now, I will continue to identify myself as a teacher. I also identify myself as an author. This thing of identity can be confusing. If it’s the thing we do “for a living,” then perhaps “farm hand,” would just as accurately describe me.

I like being a teacher. I like being an author. And I like picking and selling apples. Maybe from now on we can just ask people “What do you like doing?” instead of “What do you do for a living?”

But what will we write on that little line at the bottom of our tax returns?

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