I’ve always loved teaching. I guess because I was raised by teachers and saw the dark side of teaching in a classroom under strict bureaucracy, I decided never to put myself there. I would be climbing the walls. But I have managed to eke out a life where I taught drama, improvisation to preschoolers, theater camps to middle school kids. I got to teach ESL to three Vietnamese students who had arrived in the US two days before I met them. We used a lot of puppets and it was very confusing for all of us.I taught ESL in Kiribati, where I got to watch my students prepare for the test which determined whether they would have a future off island or remain on island and have babies and get married. And now I get to teach refugees from all over the world in the town where I grew up. I decided to commit myself to getting certified because it’s a trade.It is something I will have for the rest of my life, no matter what I decide to do. Even if I go back and work on boats or do something entirely unexpected, I will have the knowledge that in 55 countries, I am qualified to teach English. I can write while I do it. Maybe I can even scheme a way to sail while I teach. But mainly, I won’t have to wait tables or do a job that is strictly to make money between adventures. Now the whole thing can be an adventure.
In my group, there is a Syrian man who used to be a professor of French in his country. I am reminded again that we are all humbled when traveling abroad. No one knows our back story or how intelligent we are in our native tongue. That is the main thing I try to remember when working with adults. They had a whole life before I met them; a career probably. He is 68 and starting over. He is brave and frustrated.
There are other students, like Spawow (pronounced like a mix between swallow and sparrow, which I think is cool because he is finding home after a long journey). He has grown the most in the time I’ve worked with him. When we first met, he was quiet and afraid to participate. Now he laughs often and is the first to volunteer an answer. If it’s wrong, he doesn’t fall apart. He just moves on and tries again. All of them are grateful and appreciative of my time.
I think the best question I’ve gotten during these courses was from a man from Congo.
He came up to me and said Teacher. Please. Can you tell me the difference between want and need?
His question caught me in a really tender place. I tried to explain that wanting was something above and beyond basic survival. You need water, food, shelter. People may want good food, a fancy home, maybe some special vitamin water. You maybe need shoes but you may want stilettos or some brand name shoe like Air Jordans (I am out of touch with brand name sports shoes. Guilty as charged). He nodded solemnly, appearing satisfied with my answer. I could have talked to him all day about it.
The truth about me wanting to teach is that I love the constant questioning of the world and of life that I find myself doing with my students from other cultures. Sometimes it’s a realization that my life and so many of our lives are charmed. I’ve only had to work for clean water for a few years of my life. I’ve never had to live in a refugee camp or feared for my life on the regular. And in other cases, it reminds me that we all basically desire the same things. Basic human rights. Love. Attention. Health. Safety. Education. Laughter. Man, do people love to find humor in situations.
I don’t know how long I will teach but I think that for right now, as I take a hiatus from other things that I love, it is a perfect way for me to explore the world and other cultures while putting money away so I don’t have to chase my tail anymore. I mean, if I work somewhere like South Korea, I could save up to buy a boat in the not too far off future. That’s insane. And I love it. It is fulfilling in a way I can’t explain if you’ve never taught. It’s always an exchange. You are always learning and finding new ways to communicate with people. How many jobs can say that? Can boast an equal reward for effort put forth? Maybe a few of the coolest.
I am really excited to explore teaching overseas again. This time it will bring me to Asia. I currently think Thailand is at the top of my list, either in a remote village or in Chiang Mai. Cambodia and Vietnam are also 2 and 3 on my list respectively. The main deal though, is that I want to keep my mind open to something I didn’t expect to fit me well. I am excited to see temples and ride bikes and explore a place I didn’t even know I was this interested in seeing at this point in my life.
The coolest part is that I can take it on the road. My instructor is this really cool guy who spent tons of time in Asia. He is already trying to sell me on teaching aboard Peace Boat out of Japan.
In ten days my classes start. So in the meantime, I am waiting tables and making mad money. I regularly share honest details to my tables. I forgot to put in your order. I honestly am too busy to promise that I will remember what you just asked me. It’s a job I am not well-suited for but can usually charm my way through.
Tonight I got shade at a table because my customer and I disagreed on what a Frosty Mule is. I actually served her a drink in a martini glass and she was upset because it’s supposed to come in a copper mug. I told her I could dump it in a mug if that would make her happy. I don’t know why I have to be so stubborn on those things. I think it’s just when someone treats me badly about something so small.
There’s a level of “I can’t” in my job performance, worse than usual when serving people. When you know something big and beautiful is on the horizon, people’s concern about which cup their alcohol is served in is low on my list of concerns.
But I smile and I suck it up because you know what? Every single person is helping pay for my education and my plane ticket. So even if she may have been having a bad day and been a snob, she is still on my side. Right?That’s the perspective I’m trying to adopt.
So cheers to putting aside pettiness for the greater joy of my life and hoping in three months, I never have to wait tables again.