Role of the teacher Teaching is not merely sharing of
Teaching is not merely sharing of information or knowledge, but also an expression of values and attitudes. What teachers usually get back from their students is what they themselves have brought to the teaching-learning process. The role of the teacher is multi-faceted and diverse. Just some of the roles that a teacher must take on are that of motivator, mentor, decision maker, coach, facilitator, psychologist, parent, speaker, actor/actress, assessor, organizer, model, observer and disciplinarian amongst others. Ultimately in the world of TEFL, the teacher teaches language, reading, writing, speaking and listening. To be able to do this, the teacher must take on many other roles which make it one of the most challenging professions. To put it mildly, teaching is not for the faint hearted!
The teacher plans and supports activities that allow learners to learn. This role includes planning themes, helping students activate the appropriate prior knowledge, and supporting students in reading and responding to the literature in appropriate ways (Martinez & Roser, 1991). In some instances the teacher plans and teaches mini- lessons using the literature as a model for helping students learn a needed strategy or skill (Trachtenberg, 1990). As a mentor, the teacher serves as a model for reading and writing. By reading aloud to students, the teacher models language for them. Through shared writing (McKenzie, 1985), the teacher models all aspects of writing, grammar, usage, and spelling. By supporting students with such activities as shared reading, literature discussion circles, and response activities, the teacher plays the role of coach.
It is expected that the teacher is more knowledgeable, and is therefore called upon to act, among other things, as a mediator, influencing and being influenced by the students, who happen to lack this knowledge. In reality, this process is far more complicated than it seems, as there are a host of factors that affect its outcomes, for example, learner abilities, the classroom environment, infrastructure, etc.
Examining the role of the teacher and his/her contribution to learning one will find that teachers in the real world come in all shapes and sizes, exhibiting a wide range of different personalities, beliefs and ways of thinking and working. Thus, we cannot hold that someone who uses methods and models of teaching that differ from the ones informed by research is necessarily a "bad teacher."
Ernst von Glasersfeld, believes that education has two main purposes: to empower learners to think for themselves, and to promote in the next generation ways of thinking and acting that are deemed important by the present generation (Glasersfeld, 1995). In his view, learning is best put into practice by presenting the learners with issues and concepts in the form of problems to be explored, rather than as facts to be digested and then rehearsed. The teacher´s role is very important, as is evidenced below: The teacher cannot tell students what concepts to construct or how to construct them, but by judicious use of language they can be prevented from constructing in directions which the teacher considers futile but which, as he knows from experience, are likely to be tried (von Glasersfeld, 1995: 184). This poses a problem, as the teacher may hinder the development of critical reflection on the students´ part by acting in such a preventative way.
For Thomas and Harri-Augstein (1985), all approaches to learning and teaching are organised attempts to bring some kind of meaning to our lives. For them, education can be an enriching experience, as long as the meanings that emerge are personal and significant in some part of the person´s life. Meanings should also be viable, in that they should prove useful in mediating one´s transactions - with stored knowledge and the world around (Thomas and Harri-Augstein, 1985: 257). In their attempts to understand the meaning that teachers make of their work, researchers have resorted to a wide variety of different methods, ranging from looking into the thinking and planning that teachers do outside the classroom (Clark and Peterson, 1986), through ethnographic studies, to autobiographical accounts of the understanding teachers bring to their work (Ashton-Warner, 1980; Connelly and Clandinin, 1990). It seems that when confronted by new challenges, a teacher strives to resolve them in ways that are corresponding with the understanding she brings to the problem - a process that leads to new horizons of understanding (see Louden, 1991 for further details). Besides, Salmon (1988: 37) maintains that teaching is "not the passing on of a parcel of objective knowledge, but the attempt to share what you yourself find personally meaningful".
The above views have been instrumental in casting the role of the teacher in a different, more liberating "mould." Teachers are no longer seen as competent or incompetent because they are simply unique.
The teacher as reflective practitioner
According to Chris Argyris and Donald Schon (1974, 1978), there is usually a discrepancy between what teachers say they believe (their "espoused" theories) and the ways in which they act (their "theories-in-action"). What could resolve this discrepancy is an attempt to help teachers become "reflective practitioners" (Shon, 1983), thereby subjecting their professional practice to ongoing critical reflection and making clear their own particular world view. Smyth (1991: 116) suggests that this critical reflection can be fostered by means of asking a number of questions:
'What do my practices say about my assumptions, values and beliefs about teaching'
'Where did these ideas come from'
'What views of power do they embody' 'Whose interests do my practices seem to serve' While critical reflection is not negative, it does imply that teachers should be aware of their belief systems, in order to monitor how far their actions reflect those beliefs. Becoming effective and autonomous is a shared process, whereby both teachers and learners monitor, reflect, and act. A teacher need to look both inwards and outwards; become aware of others´ points of view, as well as his/her own beliefs - about learners, about learning per se, and about him/herself.
Beliefs about learners Teachers hold a combination of beliefs about their students. Roland Meighan (1990) suggests that there are at least seven different ways in which teachers read learners and that such evaluative constructions have a profound influence on their classroom practice. Teacher's beliefs about their students mirror the nature of the teacher-learner power relationship. Some beliefs are teacher dominated, whereas some involve learner participation. The notion of learners as resisters sees learners as unruly and disobedient individuals who do not wish to learn. This assumption, however, gives rise to the assertion that punishment is the most appropriate way of overcoming such unmanageable learners, An even more common conception of learners is one in which they are viewed as receptacles to be filled with knowledge. The teacher is seen as having a "jug" of knowledge which he pours into the learners´ "mugs." This is what Freire (1970) describes as the "banking" concept of education, where learners are like bank accounts where deposits are made and drawn upon. Beliefs about learning Teaching is not indivisible from learning. We can be good teachers only if we know what we mean by learning because only then can we know what we expect our learners to achieve. If our goal is to prepare our students to pass an exam, then this will affect the way in which we teach. Gow and Kember (1993) suggest that most approaches to learning can be subsumed under any of the following points:
'a quantitative increase in knowledge
'memorisation 'the acquisition of facts and procedures which can be retained and / or used in practice 'the abstraction of meaning
'an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality
'some form of personal change
Teachers´ beliefs about themselves
Teaching is essentially a personal expression of the self, which has particular implications with regard to teachers´ views of themselves, since a teacher who lacks self-esteem will not be able to build the self-esteem of others. The teacher who does not accept his learners for who they are makes it difficult for them to accept themselves. By the same token, the language teacher needs to impart a sense of self-confidence in using the language, while at the same time respecting learners´ attempts to communicate in the foreign language.
There is no such thing as "the perfect teacher." Giving a lecture on what "good teachers" do appears to be unhelpful and unrewarding to those who want to improve their own practices. A far more helpful approach seems to be the study of teachers´ beliefs, which inform and shape their actions.
'Dimitrios Thanasoulas 2002
'Argyris, C. and D. A. Shon. 1974. Theory in Practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
'Argyris, C. and D. A. Schon. 1978. Perceptions of self- managed learning Opportunities and academic locus of control: a causal interpretation, Journal of Educational Psychology, 70 (b), 988-92.
'Ashton-Warner, S. 1980. Teachers. 2nd edn. London: Virago.
'Clark, C. and P. Peterson. 1986. Teachers'' Thought processes. In M. Wittrock (Ed.) Handbook of Research on Teaching, 255-96. New York: Macmillan.
'Connelly, F. and D. Clandinin. 1990. Stories of experience and narrative inquiry. Educational Researcher, 19(4), 2-14.
'Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.
'Gow, L. and D. Kember. 1993. Conceptions of teaching and their relationship to Student learning. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 63, 20-33.
'Louden, W. 1991. Collegiality, curriculum and educational change. Curriculum Journal, 2 (3), 361-73.
'Meighan, R. and J. Meighan. 1990. Alternative roles for learners with particular reference to learners as democratic explorers in teacher education courses. The School Field, 1(1), 61- 77.
'Salmon, P. 1988. Psychology for Teachers: an alternative approach. London: Hutchinson.
'Schon, D. A. 1983. The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.
'Smyth, J. 1991. Teachers as Collaborative Learners. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.
'Thomas, L. and S. harri-Augstein. 1995. Self-organised Learning: Foundations of a conversational science for psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 'Von Glasersfeld, E. 1995. Radical Constructivism. London: Falmer. 'Williams, M. and R. L. Burden. 1997. Psychology for Language Teachers: a social constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.