I imagine that for many students this is a vexed question. As a teacher you are just that to them and to be honest to quite a lot of the rest of the world. I always imagined myself hanging my “Sir” persona on the peg on the back of the door on a Friday and then “Jon” emerges from the school gates a completely different character unknown to the students who you are exposed to all week. This was reinforced early in my career when I lived a short walk from the school and would get remarks from students that they saw you on Saturday, or you were in the shop and had chicken in your basket or were in a pub with a… drink! All of this highlighted to me that students had a fascination and yet no real understanding of teachers as human beings. Colleagues could be driven to dark places by these creatures and also taken to amazing highs on another day by the same crew. Therefore, what are the roles that teachers can play? I think they fall into 5 main categories.
It may seem almost counter- intuitive to state what may seem obvious, but is it? As teachers have had to take on so many roles in the past few decades and become multi-faceted providers it is important to remember that this is the primary role. To facilitate learning not just to pass exams but as a lifelong process of being inquisitive, questioning and reflective. A good educator is not just a vessel for the passing on of second hand knowledge but will be someone who indelibly stamps themselves on the life and future of a student. It sounds trite, but it is a truism, someone who makes a difference.
This is a word with too many Insta connotations these days but I think it is important to realise how much influence and impact an excellent teacher can have on a young person’s life. There are countless stories of great individuals who put their success down to the influence of an inspirational teacher. Usually, someone who believed in them, worked with their natural talent and helped them choose the right path and make the correct decisions. This holds true not just for famous star but for countless “ ordinary” young people who have looked at some point to a teacher or a collective group to influence their direction of travel.
3. Role Models
This may seem to be similar to the point above and there is some crossover. However, the connotation is much more individual. The cool or kind or intellectual or patient teacher who made a real difference is a brilliant role model for a young person to learn and emulate. By possessing any of these amazing attributes you have the capacity to impact not just the short term but the whole life of a student and that is very special!
After all of the amazing positives above it is a necessary evil to have to mention the E word. It is part of the job that individuals or groups are not going to like you and that is part of the role. “He/she hates me” is just part of the lexicon of teenage speak. There is usually no rhyme,reason or rationale for it but to the student it is a truism and you have got it in for them. Whatever you say or do will be wrong and any situation will be twisted to be seen in a negative light- that is just the way it is. However, lovely, reasonable, nice you maybe as yourself to certain individuals in the school sir or miss are a nightmare and the devil incarnate. Roll with it!
In a world where anything can be twisted and we are one step or click away from career and personal implosion this may seem a strange thing to say. However, as students progress to the latter part of their careers and especially if your paths cross later in life there is so much of a shared history and narrative that it is possible that those you taught could be very easily friends in the real sense. I have been to a number of weddings and christenings and often pinch myself to think that these were former GCSE or A level students.
Therefore, when asked what does a teacher do, the answer is a multi-faceted one. Some of the most remarkable experiences of your life will happen in a school or on a trip or at a fixture. However, some of the lowest moments of self-doubt, feelings of isolation and even panic can also be part of the package. It is a job like no other and although everyone has a teacher and school story or experience to tell only those who have done the job will know the highs and lows and the many roles that you need to play to survive, flourish and enjoy.