Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Classroom Teacher: Roles and Responsibilities?

As education evolves so does the role of the classroom teacher.  What is the current role of the classroom teacher?  What are his/her responsibilities?  How does this educator prioritize and what is most important?  I consider the many aspects of the classroom teacher below.  I also propose reflection related to possible changes in that role for best effect.  I look forward to your response regarding this topic.

Classroom Teacher as Manager
In many ways, the role of a classroom teacher is that of manager.  He/she passes out and collects numerous forms, takes attendance and lunch count, responds to illness, supervises recess, manages transitions, responds to parent emails, notes and phone calls, organizes the coat rack, finds lost mittens (and other articles), prepares/cleans a classroom environment, orders materials and creates an atmosphere for learning. These are all time consuming tasks, but not tasks, in general, that require extensive subject knowledge or instructional understanding.  Should all of the tasks above be the responsibility of a classroom teacher?  Would it be better to broaden the responsibilities above to all faculty members so that every professional educator has responsibility for the management of a relatively equal group of students, or would it be better to start a new role in schools, one in which people are hired to manage the procedural aspects of running a school including attendance, lunch count, recess duty, transitions, coat rack organization and more?

Classroom Teacher as Social Skills/Behavior Counselor
A large part of teaching involves coaching and mentoring related to social skills and behavior.  Students come to school with all kinds of attitudes and readiness with regard to learning and working together, and teachers work day in and day out with students to develop their abilities related to optimal social skills, behavior and emotional intelligence.  This is an area of school life where I believe advisory groups would be better than homerooms as advisory groups could include all professional educators in a building which would mean smaller social groups to guide and mentor related to optimal social skills, behavior and emotional intelligence

Classroom Teacher as Academic Coach, Mentor, Guide and Instructor
With the move towards greater interdisciplinary project based learning, and the need for expert teaching related to specific skill development in reading, writing and math, I am wondering about this area too.
  • Have we reached a point where we need to re-look at professional responsibilities in the academic realm?
  • Do we know so much more now about the art and science of teaching that one-size-fits-all classrooms have become outdated and inefficient with respect to optimal learning?
  • Is it time to embrace a model of school that includes a greater use of targeted teaching responsibilities and content areas?  For example, as a fourth grade teacher, there is a lot to know about current math, science, reading, writing and social studies content, pedagogy and methodology.  With the current tools available, the sky's the limit for what we are able to do with students, yet when we try to do it all, our efforts are sometimes diluted and less effective.  
  • What are the developmental implications related to school structure and environment? What types of environments and instruction are best suited for students at particular ages?  
For best effect, optimal engagement and student confidence, I believe it's time to restructure the roles, schedules and responsibilities related to academic instruction.  With this in mind, I proposed a model last year.

A good way to start this restructure is to consider the efforts that currently work related to student learning, engagement and confidence, and those efforts that are less effective. Then begin replacing less effective strategies and efforts with activities that make students want to come to school, engage and learn as much as possible.

Further, the time to respond to students and families through editing, correcting papers, writing report cards, assembling portfolios/files and analyzing data has traditionally just been considered a classroom teacher's responsibility.  For some roles, this after hours work adds up to multiple hours, and for other roles there is little to no additional responsibility related to this.  This "on your own time" work has created a wide variety of responses and actions.  I think the time has come when this work needs to be considered as part of the teacher's overall on-time tasks in the school house which means that response time becomes a consideration when creating schedules, prep time and collaborative meetings.  In one school I read about recently, writing teachers were given smaller classes and greater prep time due to the great amount of time it takes to coach writing skill and proficiency with care.

Teacher as Collaborator
As schools respond to research which supports greater collaboration, how does that affect a teacher's work and skills.  Generally veteran teachers were used to working in relatively isolated situations, hence there's a learning curve related to collaborative skill, attitude and effort.  Also, school schedules often don't leave time for professional collaboration.  Fortunately I work in a system that has put aside three weekly times for collaboration including PLCs, common grade-level planning time and Wednesday inservice hours.  This is a step in the right direction.  Collaborative cultures in schools will develop if time and learning is devoted to building that culture.

Education evolution requires the evolution of roles and responsibilities.  I believe it is a time when we must begin to reconsider the classroom teacher role with regard to current cognitive research and a focus on best effect.  How can we create a school structure with roles and responsibilities that lead to optimal engagement, learning and confidence for all students? I am very interested in this discussion as I believe it holds potential for better schools.  Please don't hesitate to comment with links, arguments and other ideas.

Related Post:
We Can't Be All Things

I wrote this post several years ago. It has been my most popular blog post. Today, April 3, 2015, I updated my thoughts on the role of the teacher. Please take a look.