I'm a teacher

I'm a teacher, I'm not a...

When you are around teachers long enough, you will certainly hear one of them say “I’m a teacher”, and not some other role. This generally happens because they have been asked or expected to do something they don’t like doing.

When teaching methodology books discuss the role of the teacher, they often mention such things as facilitator, mentor, coach and instructor. They rarely mention some of the lesser-known roles that teachers are sometimes expected to do.

This post explores the limitations of what teachers, academic managers and other stakeholders can expect in relation to some of these less familiar, and often unwanted, roles.

Introduction

As teachers, we have many roles to perform in the classroom. Some of the most obvious roles are that of presenter (of information) and instructor (i.e. one who gives instructions). We might call ourselves more of a facilitator, who does less presentation and gives more opportunities for self-discovery. If you teach young learners, you will certainly be a disciplinarian (in the sense that you keep discipline, not necessarily that you are unduly harsh in doing so). With adult students, you might find that you are often a motivator especially at low levels.

What roles do you perform in the classroom as a teacher? 

Methodology books seem to offer no end to the list of roles that teachers play. This is not the focus of this post, but some common roles that you might have touched on:

  • Leader
  • Organiser
  • Motivator
  • Gudie
  • Counsellor
  • Knower
  • Conductor
  • Facilitator
  • Disciplinarian
  • Mentor
  • Presenter
  • Instructor

The Unwanted Roles

From time as teachers we are asked to step outside of the roles that we are normally happy to perform. This could come from many directions – from the management, from students or their parents, or simply from the situation that calls for a shift in role.

Sales person

If you work in a private language school, it is almost certainly a business that exists to make money. If you work in a mainstream school it is probably state-funded, but still has to operate within a budget. In both cases, schools often need to ask teachers to “sell” options to their students such as additional classes in order to boost their revenue.

Teachers often don’t want to do this because they feel it is not something they are trained to do. Sales typically involves promising something will make the student’s life better, and they don’t feel they know what the product is they are selling.

Academic managers can make this process easier for teachers by informing them about what is being sold and highlighting the benefits for the teachers. If teachers are still reluctant to do this, it may help to remind the teachers of the commercial reality of running a school (i.e. the more money the school makes, the more it can pay its teachers!).

In any event, teachers should not be expected to ‘close’ sales. They will have to refer them to the relevant sales people in their school. In this way teachers are actually not doing a sales role, but more of a marketing role, and this internal marketing should just be one part of the school’s marketing mix.

Model

In this sense, we don’t mean a model of language, which is really an inseparable part of teaching. What we mean is to be on all of the schools marketing materials, including photos, video or even just quotes.

There are several reasons why teachers might not want to do this. Many people do not feel they are very photogenic at the best of times. Others just see it as a “faff” that takes up time in their day. Others may feel that their image is worth something, or that their image might be used by the school indefinitely after they have left.

Of course one option, which is probably on the increase, is to obligate teachers in their contracts to be a part of such campaigns. However, the problem with this is that teachers don’t tend to know that this clause exists, or quite what it means until it is too late. Thus teachers may do what they are contractually bound to, but with no enthusiasm for the task.

The first thing an academic manager could do is to find out who is happy to be in such materials and in what capacity. Other teachers can be utilised for other preparatory tasks that keep them off film. However, in order to move to a position where all teachers are happy to be part of this, you need to ensure that the teachers who do it are not disincentivised (and ideally rewarded). There are a number of things which disincentivise teachers about this role:

  • not seeing what is produced
  • marketing personnel turning up late or not at all, or not being ready to film/take photos
  • disorganisation and lack of clear direction
  • short notice

To keep teachers incentivised in this role you therefore simply need to:

  • hire professional, punctual marketing staff;
  • ensure campaigns are organised;
  • be clear about what you want a teacher to do in photos/videos;
  • email teachers a link to where they can see the finished material.

Administrator

Generally, some administration is probably accepted by teachers as a part of their work. The real question is the limit.

Recording attendance, what was done in lesson, homework pages and test results should be well within the expectations of most teachers.

Reports are where things begin to get tricky. In-company are often the worst for this, as training managers want detailed monthly reports on their employees’ progress.

The key with any administrative roles is to make sure that there is no duplication, and where possible automation saves teachers time.

Of course automation is a loaded word. Older teachers tend to panic firstly because automation can be synonymous with replacing staff, and secondly because their computer skills may be somewhat lacking. As with any paper-based system, the key to success is to provide training on how to do it, remembering that telling someone something once is often not enough. As for replacing staff, teachers simply need to be reminded that this should save them time which they can use to focus on their teaching.

Entertainer/Performing Monkey

In some parts of the world, it seems this is what schools expect of their teachers. While some teachers seem to be happy with this dynamic, others have a hard time reconciling the demand for non-stop fun with their students learning something. In other schools, there are teachers who believe learning need not have any fun or entertainment factor, and perhaps even those that believe if it is fun, something is going wrong!

We believe that learning should be engaging. We don’t believe in fun for the sake of it, but that any boring (but pedagogically sound) activity can be made more interesting with some creativity.

Teachers should also not spend all of their time “performing” for the class, as though it is a comedy gig, or a birthday party (and they are the clown).

However, short bursts of performance do seem to make for better learning outcomes. Teachers who make their students experience positive emotions or show them that language learning can be fun build their students’ motivation to learn the language. This often then transfers to outside the classroom, with students studying more at home.

Academic managers should be reasonable about what they expect from their teachers in terms of entertaining students. All teachers are different and have a different style in the classroom. The key is to work with teachers to find a style that students enjoy engaging with. Not every teacher can learn to be charismatic, funny, a juggler or magician, nor should they!

Friend

Unless you’re self-employed, you probably don’t get much say on which students you teach. Therefore, you will have students that you like, and others that you don’t like as much. If you’re teaching adults, in some cases you may make friends with students – in some cases maybe even forming a romantic relationship!

However, in the class teachers are not their students’ friends; they certainly should not show preferential (or discriminatory) treatment to any student.

Where some teachers seem to struggle however, is understanding there is a difference between being friendly and being a friend. Teachers can (and should) be friendly to all of their students, even the ones they don’t like. In fact, the old “kill ’em with kindness” approach to dealing with these students is often an effective strategy to pulling these students in line.

Of course friendliness should be suspended if needing to deal with some behaviour, but should return as a default setting.

Academic managers may need to point out to teachers where they are being perceived as unfriendly. This could be a case of a cultural misunderstanding, in which case this is often easily resolved. More difficult is where it seems that the teacher’s personality is in question. In this case, a more effective strategy may be to find out what is going on in the teacher’s life. This is particularly true where a teacher seems to undergo a personality shift.

Babysitter

Hopefully, when teachers say this, they are referring to young learners.

Teachers tend to say this either because their role is being reduced to keeping children entertained and from injuring themselves, or because they are being asked to look after children during breaks, or after a lesson.

Firstly, all staff should be careful about using the label “babysitting” for a class. In relation to looking after children, unless this expectation is made clear pre-contract, schools shouldn’t really make such requirements of teachers. Instead schools should provide adequate supervision for students where they will spend time in the school outside of lessons and academic managers should advocate for this. Breaks between classes, are breaks for the teacher too!

Boxing referee/Security guard/Designated shooter

Certainly in the UK, it seems to be well documented that violence in schools is increasing. In the US, the picture is more worrying. Around the world, teachers can find themselves in potentially dangerous classroom situations.

Teachers certainly should not be expected to have to defend themselves or their students. However, teachers do have some responsibility for ensuring tensions between students do not rise to a violent level. Teachers should set the rules, and be prepared to eject a student in order to diffuse issues.

Academic managers have a duty to ensure teachers feel properly supported in dealing with such matters. This may involve agreeing with admin staff how they can help in such conflicts, ensuring students understand the school’s behaviour code, and holding meetings with students (or their parents) to discuss unacceptable behaviour.

Follow Up

If you’re a teacher, which of these roles have you been asked to do. Have you ever felt the need to say “I’m a teacher, I’m not a …” Did we miss any other interesting roles you’ve been asked to do?

Academic managers, do you agree with our advice? Have you had to ask teachers to do any other roles? Do you ever feel the need to say “I’m an academic manager, not a …”?

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