The roles of a teacher

It is often helpful to use metaphore to describe what teachers do. Sometimes, for example, teachers say they are like actors because they feel as if they are always on the stage.

Others talk of themselves as orchestral conductors because they direct the conversation and set the pace and tone. Whether or  not we are more autocratic or democratic as teachers, we are called upon to play many different roles in a language learning classroom. Our ability to carry these out effectively will depend to a large extend on the rapport we establish with our students, and on our own level of knowledge and skill.

Students can pick up much from the way their teacher walks into the classroom at the start of that first lesson, the way we dress, the stance we adopt and our attitude to the class make an immediate impression on students. In this sense we need to make some kind of distinction between who we are and, and who we are as teachers.

The roles of a teacher

  • Controller: when teachers act as controllers they are in charge of the class and the activity taking place and are often leading from the front. Not all teachers possess this ability to inspire, and in less charismatic hands,transmission teaching appears to have less obvious advantages. For start, it denies students access to their own experiential learning by focusing everything on the teacher; in the second place, it cuts down on opportunities for students to speak because when the class is acting as a whole group, fewer individuals have a chance to say anything at all.
  • Participant: the traditional picture of teachers during students discussion,role-plays or group decision-making activities, is of people who stand back from the activity, letting the learners get on with it and only intervening later to offer feedback and correct mistakes. The danger when teachers act as participants, of course, is that they can easily dominate the proceeding
  • Resource: in some activities  it is inappropiate for us to take on any of the roles we have suggested so far. Suppose that the students are involved in a piece of group writing, or that they are preparing for a presentation they are to make to the class. Two things need to be said about this teacher role. Firstly, no teacher knows everything about the language. The teachers should be able to offer quidance as to where students can go to look for information. The teacher role is to encourage students to use resource material for themselves, and to become more independent in their learning in generally. When teachers act as a resource, they  will want to be helpful and available, but at the same time they  have to resist the urge to spoonfeed our students so that they become over reliant on us.
  • Tutor It is very difficult to be a tutor in a very large group since the term implies a more intimate relationship than that of a controller or organizer. However, when students are working in small groups or in pairs, we can go round the class and,staying briefly with a particular group or individual, offer the sort of general quidance we are describing. It is essential for us to act as tutors from time to time, however difficult this may be. In this more personal contact, the learners have a real chance to feel supported and helped, and the general class atmosphere is greatly enhanced  as a result. The role that we take on is dependent, as we have seen, on what it is we wish the students to achieve.

What we can say, with certainty, is that we need to be able to switch between the various roles we have described here,judging when it is appropriate to use one or other of them. And then, when we have made that decision, however consciously or subconsciously it is done, we need to be aware of how we carry out that role, how we perform.

It is suggested that there are three core teacher characteristics that help to create an effective learning environment. These are respect (a positive and non-judgemental regard for another person), empathy (being able to see things from the other person’s perspective,as if looking through their eyes) and authenticity (being oneself without hiding behind job titles, roles or masks)

When a teacher has these three qualities, the relationship within the classroom are likely to be stronger and deeper, and communication between people much more open and honest. The educational climate becomes positive, forward looking and supportive. The learners are able to work with less fear of taking risks or facing challenges. In doing this, they increase their own self-esteem and self-understanding, gradually taking more and more of the responsability for their own learning themselves rather than assuming that it is someone else’s job.

Harmer, Jeremy. ThePractice of English Language Teaching. Pearson Longman.
Scrievener, Jim. Learning teaching. MacMillan.

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