Have you ever noticed how after a long teaching day you feel mentally and physically exhausted? Of course you have, teaching is hard work. During a class, there are at least five things to pay attention to at the same time; this, while trying to keep a calm and professional demeanor. One minute you might be trying to explain the present perfect, the next, you might be trying to herd students into different corners of the room and making sure that they don’t misbehave (yes, this could also be referring to an adult class).
Keeping track of all the different roles that we need to play as a teacher can be difficult. What often happens is that we naturally slip into different roles based on what it seems like the students need at that time. Often, we aren’t even aware of the role we are playing. But, are we choosing the right role for the right situation?
Defining the different roles that a teacher plays in a classroom, and being aware of which ones are appropriate for different situations, can help us reflect on our own teaching style and help us grow as a teacher. Read on for a description of different roles that a teacher takes on with real examples from my past teaching week, as well as tips on determining which work for different scenarios. Or, if you feel confident that you know the roles of a teacher and simply want a resource to help you reflect on your own teaching, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Defining the Roles of a Teacher
This is likely the role that you are most familiar with and expected when you thought of becoming an English teacher. As a fluent English speaker, you know the English language. Using this knowledge of phonology, grammar and your lexical resource you are sharing knowledge with the students. You are showing them how a grammatical rule works or how to pronounce a certain word.
Last week, in an IELTS class, I noticed that my students kept making a similar error when talking about past habits. After the final story, I took a moment to review “used to” and “would” when talking about past habits. I showed them how to use it, went through a number of examples and concept checking questions. This was me acting as a mentor.
Remember old Mr. (insert name of crotchety teacher from your past here)? Remember how they stood in front of the classroom and told you what exercises to do? The instructor tells you what to do, they receive and give feedback, they sometimes act in a similar role as a mentor, but largely they are like a conductor.
When teaching large classes, lecture style, the teacher is sometimes required to be the instructor. Otherwise, in my opinion, this role should be kept to a minimum and the facilitator role used more effectively (more on this in the next section).
On Sunday, when teaching a beginner kids class, I stood in front of the class with a few fruits. I elicited what the fruits were, but if the students didn’t know, I modelled the word. I then made a funny choral chant to accompany the word and made the whole class repeat it.
If your class is running well, you will be playing the part of the facilitator more than any other. The facilitator is the one that sets up activities and creates opportunity for student interaction. In a TEFL class, the name of the game is increasing student talking time to a maximum. When these activities are happening, the teacher is monitoring students: helping them along, doing error correction when appropriate, and making sure the game/activity is running smoothly.
Yesterday, my students were playing taboo to review all of the new words from the past two units. I set it up so that one student from each team was in front trying to describe the word and their team was guessing. After two words, I switched out the students who were in the front. I also had to indicate which word I wanted the students to try to describe. If mistakes were made, I noted them down and discussed the mistake after each round. Other than that, I was largely silent during the activity.
A coach is a good motivator. They manage the energy of the class and offer encouragement when necessary. Students can easily lose their motivation during the long path of English learning, it’s up to you to bring it back. Students can easily get discouraged about bad marks on a test, make sure they are looking at their progress and not comparing themselves with the whole class.
At the end of a great class last week, I gave all my students a high-five as they exited the classroom and told them “great job”. The students giggled and left the room with a smile, excited about the lesson and eager to tell their parents. That was coach Nathan.
The manager looks at the class in the long-term. The manager is the one who has expectations for what the students are going to learn during the course and plans the milestones for how to get there. The manager is also the one who needs to inform students about timetable changes, upcoming tests, homework, take roll call etc. Ya, know, all that administrative stuff.
It’s exam time here in Vietnam and my older IELTS teens are swamped trying to study for all of the coming tests. One student suggested that we suspend classes for a week so that the students could study. I checked with my line manager (in this case, since it is my school, myself) and decided that it was fine. As the class manager, I had to check that it was okay with all of the students, inform the parents as well as send home letters explaining why we were suspending classes the following week.
Assessing students isn’t simply about giving them tests, though it is that too. As a teacher, we need to continually assess our students to determine what their weak points are and come up with ways to help them. The assessor also needs to decide when students are making mistakes or errors. A mistake is done accidentally, though the student is aware of how to say something correctly. An error, however, is made due to lack of knowledge. When students make errors, these become teachable moments.
I gave my students a lengthy creative writing activity. I read each of their stories carefully, making notes about different mistakes and parts of their writing that were unclear. At the end, I gave them marks for different criteria to offer clear feedback.
Again, you know the language. When students are working in groups or pairs, they should feel comfortable asking you for help. My students are constantly trying to find the appropriate word, or trying to check if they are saying something the right way. You are a great resource for your students; better than a dictionary because you will lead them to the answer and not simply tell them.
This morning: “Teacher, teacher, what is the opposite of smile?” I gave the answer, but checked that “frown” was what they meant by frowning and getting confirmation from the student.
Class activities can get a little out of hand. The ring leader makes sure that students are in the right place, behaving and interacting appropriately. In a way, this role is similar to the facilitator, but it focuses more on the logistics and classroom management side of things.
During a poorly set up activity, I realized that I needed to go over the rules again. At the time, the students were mingling, but they weren’t doing the activity correctly. I told them to sit down, and started to count down from five. When they were all sitting down, I was able to put on my facilitator hat again and review the instructions.
Okay, now that you are comfortable with the definitions for different teaching roles, perhaps you’d like to assess yourself, and see whether you are using these roles appropriately. If you’d like to gain access to a free resource to help you reflect on your teaching roles, click on the button below.