wasting bandwidth since 1999

What Do You Do?

Sea Gulls

It’s a pretty common question when people meet for the first time. Part of the usual introductory ritual, at least here in the United States.

But how do you answer that query without boring everyone within earshot?1 After all, it’s likely the person asking isn’t looking for a long, nuanced answer.

When I was still in the classroom, I had a straightforward, easily understood response: “I’m a teacher”. Everyone you meet has been in school and has a good, if often clichéd, idea of what a teacher does.

Of course, the follow-on question was almost always, “What do you teach?”. Not who, what. Which tells you a lot about how people perceive school and teaching, with the emphasis on subjects, not people.

Anyway, I usually responded with “math”, since answering with “teenagers” rarely seemed sufficient.

Telling someone you teach math, or are involved with math in any way, very often leads to one of two responses: “I hate math” or “I was never very good at math”. Followed by a very rapid change of subject or group.

Nice talking with you.

When I moved into a job supporting teachers and school technology (in that order!), rather than working directly with kids, answering the “what do you do?” question became harder and more complex. For most of the back half of my career, my title was “Instructional Technology Specialist”.2

As I said, forget nuance. Most people don’t have the patience to listen to a personal bio that’s any longer than a Twitter profile. I’m not sure I do any more. My rather vaguely defined job required much exposition to fully explain.

At some point I decided to abandon the HR speak and started using something closer to Twitter length: Educator. Blogger. Learner. Geek. Listing each of the major things I actually did seemed much more efficient and easier to communicate, especially when dealing with people and organizations outside the district.

Now, that I’m no longer being paid to work at an actual HR-classified job, the answer to the question should have changed.

The overly-large school district, state, and IRS have me listed in their records as “retired”, but I really don’t like introducing myself that way. Retired gets you stereotyped very quickly. People assume you’re doing nothing particularly useful. Or worse, playing golf all the time.

So, I just kept the old “job description”.

Still an educator, just doing it in different ways. If you’re reading this, blogger should be obvious. Getting older is no excuse to stop learning, and geek is just part of my nature.

In the past couple of years, I added photographer to the list since that has become even more important to my life. Someday I might add something else as my interests change and expand.

Just not golf.

I couldn’t find an image to go with this post. So, since photographer is now part of my answer to the question, why not a recent photo? This is the Potomac River near Georgetown from earlier this week, with seagulls going nuts over something in the water.

1. The writer of the linked article offers a three suggestions for making this discussion easier.

2. Early in my central office life, the exact title became Education Specialist, Instructional Technology. HR speak makes everything worse.


  1. Doug Johnson

    Also retired, I now answer: Writer, Speaker, and Consultant. Not that I get asked much anymore to do those things. Maybe I should just answer – Traveler and Pain in the Ass?

    • tim

      Very nice. I thought about adding something like Curmudgeon to my list but decided to keep it positive instead.

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