The Many Jobs of a Teacher

Recently, I was talking to some other (non-teacher) professionals about working during summertime. They lamented how they were busy at work and I related how I was getting ready and prepping my classes that would begin during the summer session. They were confused. “Don’t you just recite what is in the textbook?” they asked. Of course, being a teacher is far more than simply reciting facts. And it got me thinking, what does it take to be a teacher? Why is it so much more effective to have a real, live teacher in a classroom instead of  just a computer program or series of videos? The responsibilities of being a teacher are many and often it seems as if a teacher really does the work of many professions.

Psychologist: Teachers must be able to read and analyze their students. How are students responding to your lesson? What types of learners are your students? What are the best ways to engage with the many types of learners you will encounter? Indeed, there are many types of learners. Some students respond to auditory instruction, others are more visual, and some learn best by doing. If you are lecturing and you notice some are not focusing, how will you respond?

One of my favorite ways to encourage students to engage with a topic is to have the students themselves present a lesson on it. Assign students the task of explaining the various lessons in class to their fellow students while stepping in only when absolutely necessary. If the student is responsible for explaining next Friday’s lesson they will be far more likely to ask questions and cultivate a complete understanding so that they will perform well in front of their classmates.

For more information on the various types of students check here:

Therapist: Building off of the previous category, a teacher will often have to quickly surmise the source of students’ trouble. Is your student constantly late? Do they participate well in class but never seem to get their work done at home? Has a student who formerly did well become withdrawn? Is a student perhaps lashing out at school as a form of release for their struggles at home? As teachers we never get to choose who sits in our classes, so it is our job to keep order while still never turning our backs on our charges.

Once, a very good student was caught copying her assignment from another student. The situation seemed odd to me and I called the student into my office. When I asked what was going on my student burst into tears talking about her mother who had recently passed away. As her father grieved, she suddenly faced the burden of caring for her younger siblings. As a teacher I needed to decide how best to handle the situation. I expressed my condolences, suggested she see the school counselor, and offered to allow her to make up the assignment (or if she was too distraught, to withdraw from the class without the penalty of being branded a cheater).

Teachers will often face decisions like this one. Our job is to make sure each student has an equal chance of succeeding no matter the circumstances. Sometimes we can help, and when we can’t we point them in the direction of people who are better qualified to help.

T-Ball Coach: I say t-ball coach instead of baseball coach because we are not dealing with professionals who tried out for a position in our class. We are dealing with people with little to no experience, who may be approaching the material for the first time, who may not want to be there, and who may never do these things again. As a t-ball coach you are simply guiding your students in the right direction. You help them when they stumble, you cheer them on when they do well. You try to make them feel like the sky’s the limit for what they can accomplish, and they already have what it takes inside themselves. (It sounds schmaltzy but sometimes you need a little schmaltz!)

We also have to be ready to “go to bat” for our students. It is our duty to the best we can for all of our students, even when it’s not in the best interests of the school’s bottom line or image. Sometimes our own pocketbooks suffer for it.

Comedian/Entertainer: We can’t spend all of our time and energy trying to entertain our students. But to dryly state facts and statistics to our students whether they are engaged or not is not teaching. A machine could do that. Just like we work to analyze how best our students learn, we also try to make the things we do relevant to the issues they are facing. Sometimes we make a goofy joke or relate a lesson to pop culture. We make our students laugh to break up the monotony of a lecture. Finding that line between droning through a lecture half of the student are sleeping through and completely losing control of your class is a job all teachers do daily. Think of it as doing a semi-improvisational show five times a week for an audience that doesn’t all want to be there and the show changes every day.

Computer technician: Nowadays, so much of our teaching is done with the help of a computer. From email and computer projected PowerPoint to online submission/grading of assignments and internet learning labs our classrooms are becoming increasingly high tech. Though these are amazing tools, it often falls entirely on us to make sure everything is running smoothly. Do you know how to use a Mac, or maybe just PC? You need to anticipate compatibility errors between the systems. Do you know how to clean the filter on the projector? If not, make sure you have markers and a dry erase board as backup. Tech support is often hard to come by, so you have to be prepared.

Mentor: Your students spend eight hours a day at school with you. Whether they realize it or not, they will come to look up to you. From you, they will learn how to act in a professional setting. They will learn social skills. You might become a friendly ear to listen to them. You are their first point of contact to find people who can help, like the school nurse, school counselor, a career adviser, or in the most dire of circumstances the police. It is a sacred bond of trust between teacher and student, one which we honor and cherish.

These are only some of the professions a teacher must prepare for daily. What other duties can you think of? Let us know in the comments!

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