Emilia Potenza
Curriculum Adviser

The seven roles of the teacher


ou have no doubt heard or read about the seven roles of the teacher (Norms and Standards for Educators, 2000). But can you remember or even guess what they are? See how many you can come up with. Then check which ones you've overlooked by reading on.

The first is learning mediator. This requires you to be sensitive to the diverse needs of your learners, construct appropriate learning environments, demonstrate sound knowledge of your learning area or subject and - yes - be an inspiration to your learners.

Why mediator? A mediator is somebody who goes between, who facilitates a dialogue, who makes it possible for an idea or feeling to be communicated. This is a critical role that a teacher plays. It involves setting up a dialogue between the learner and various sources of information, including yourself, and ensuring that meaningful communication continues to take place between the two.

Second comes interpreter and designer of learning programmes and materials. Teachers are expected to understand and interpret already existing learning programmes, design their own learning programmes and select and prepare suitable textual and visual resources for learning. They also need to sequence and pace learning in a way that shows sensitivity to the needs of the learning area or subject and those of the learners. This role is perhaps the one that has been most misunderstood and abused. It has been used to justify the fact that C2005 in its original form did not go far enough in specifying curriculum requirements on a grade-by-grade basis. "No problem", argued many bureaucrats, "each school should design its own learning programmes, based on the needs and concerns of the community."

What has become clear is that most teachers and schools do not have the skills, the resources or the inclination to develop a customised curriculum. Nor is it desirable that the state hands over the setting of curriculum standards to each school in this way.

Fortunately, the drafting of the Revised National Curriculum Statemen(t RNCS), currently underway, acknowledges the need for much clearer specification of content and skills for each learning area in each grade. Within the framework of the RNCS, which will set minimum standards, there will still be room for interpretation and choice. But both teachers and textbook developers will have a much clearer brief regarding the minimum content and skills to be covered in each learning programme.

Next comes leader. Leadership skills that you should display include managing learning in your classroom, carrying out classroom administrative duties efficiently and participating in school decision- making structures. All these functions require flexibility and should to be carried out in a democratic way.

Implicit in this role is the need to develop key 21st century habits of mind, which apparently include perseverance, originality, strong self-esteem and the ability to manage your own frustration.

The fourth role is scholar, researcher and lifelong learner. Teachers are expected to pursue their own ongoing personal, academic, occupational and professional growth. I am reminded of an unacknowledged quote that I came across in a history textbook recently - "In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

The fifth is the community, citizenship and pastoral role. This involves developing a sense of respect and responsibility towards others, upholding the Constitution and promoting democratic values and practices in schools. Learners need to be provided with a supportive and empowering environment, including full information about HIV/Aids. Essential to this role is the development of supportive relationships with parents and other key people and organisations in the community.

Next is assessor. Assessment is an essential feature of the teaching and learning process and should be integrated into it on a continuous basis. Teachers need to understand the various purposes of assessment, including identifying the needs of their learners, planning learning programmes, tracking learner progress, diagnosing problems and helping learners to improve their work, judging the effectiveness of the learning programme and assessing their own teaching.Teachers are expected to design and manage both formative and summative assessment and keep detailed and diagnostic records of learner performance.

And finally, the role of learning area/subject specialist. To be considered a specialist in your field, according to the norms and standards document, requires being well-grounded in the knowledge, skills, values, principles, methods and procedures relevant to your field. It means that you know about different approaches to teaching and learning and how these may be used in ways that are appropriate to the learners and their context.

How many of these roles could you remember? Actually, they really are all part of the nuts and bolts of teaching. Yet by renewing our commitment to carrying out these roles to the best of our ability, we can begin to restore some of the professionalism to teaching currently lacking in many schools.

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, February 2002.

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