Some things have happened recently to make me think more about the role of a teacher. My mind keeps turning over the phrase—anyone can teach someone something, but not everyone can be a classroom teacher. I like to think of the role of the teacher as comprised of different parts: teaching is twenty five percent providing information, forty percent guiding the students and thirty five percent getting along with the students.
First, providing information simply means giving notes, lectures etc. where the teacher shares with the students. She passes information that he has read or that is in the text book or other literature to her students so that her students are knowledgeable and aware of the things going on in this world.
The second role of a teacher is guiding the students. This includes making students aware of the all the various sources of information available, e.g. printed matter such as books, newspapers, journals, articles, instruction leaflets, brochures, and even things like cereal boxes, road signs etc., electronic media, e.g. radio, television, internet, movies, etc., people, e.g. experts and everyone else (everyone has a story to tell and a lesson to teach or information to share), and tours, visits and travel opportunities. Guiding also means to teach the students how to use information. The teacher can help the students to decide on the purpose of the information; how to gather information, through means such as by interviews, surveys, observations, making notes, memorizing, recording, and analysing and critical reading; how to sort information and use it, e.g. how to relate pieces of information to each other, how to derive meaningfulness from the information and how to apply the information to their lives or occupations.
A good teacher should also build a relationship with the students. This involves how the teacher feels about her students, which must be central among the three roles. Teachers also experience feelings in the classroom. These include feelings of ‘dislike’ for some students’ behaviour patterns, anger, frustration about the job and their role, anxiety and daily personal stress, fear of not doing a good job, incompetence, boredom, embarrassment, discrimination (based on intellectualism, classism, racism, gender, etc.) The students also bring their own feelings, including their own dislike of teacher and others in the classroom, fear of failure, threat of punishment, embarrassment, boredom, frustration (work too challenging or not challenging enough, pace too fast or too slow, not enough choice), invalidation and incompetence. A teacher having to cope with any of these feelings either of his own or the students will have a hard time keeping his attention clear enough to fulfill 1 and 2. above. And it is known that at any moment in the classroom at least some of these feelings are running.
Some simple examples: if the teacher himself is bored with the material, then it is difficult for him to inspire the students to research and discuss the material in the classroom. Trying to lead a discussion of the relevance of the material and how it can be used in their lives will take more from the teacher than she probably has to give at that moment.
Research has been done and continues on the effects of stress from personal problems on the ability of the teacher to function well in the classroom. A teacher who comes to school in the morning having left a sick child at home will find it almost impossible to focus on the needs of the students in the classroom, particularly the emotional needs of the students.
Every teacher has experienced at least one time when a particular student in her class triggered unpleasant feelings in her. Not all the time is the teacher aware of the trigger nor of the subtle effects these feelings are having on her daily interaction with this student. This student’s behaviour patterns or even physical appearance, way of dress, tone of voice, hairstyle may be triggering memories of other individuals with similar patterns that the teacher had to deal with in the past. These memories if they were unpleasant and not resolved, when triggered, will interfere with the teacher’s ability to think and function rationally in the present moment. Students sometimes see this as favoritism or ‘picking on ‘. Not only does it interfere with the teacher’s functioning , but it also affects the student’s reciprocal interaction with the teacher.
Developing a nurturing, supportive and validating relationship with students, which includes a good rapport, appropriate touch, rewarding effort and not just performance, removing punishment and fear of punishment, giving choice, is at the center of being an effective teacher.