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The role of the teacher

What is the role of the teacher? The eternal question. Articles, books, entire libraries have been written about this, usually by people who are not actually teachers themselves or who have escaped teaching by becoming writers. Now there's a thought...

They refer to all sorts of amazing ideas which always sound completely wonderful when you read them and inspire you to be the best teacher in the world. But this rarely works in practice because of the missing link. Children.

Children in books are always well behaved, and co-operative and are used to give examples which make the rest of us feel like total failures. For example:

'X played gently with the sand, sharing it with five other children. They concentrated for 20 minutes taking turns to use the buckets and spades to make sandcastles together which they ordered in size and counted. They then found materials to design and make the appropriate number of neat flags for the sandcastles, sharing the scissors and assisting each other to cut out symmetrical shapes. They used crayons to colour them in without even once going over the edge and finally they tidied the sand tray and creative area and quietly sat and wrote about what they had done.'

Yeah? Children in the real world have a sixth sense (which is lucky really because they are usually somewhat lacking in the first five) which enables them to make sure that the above never, ever happens. Children do not acquire mathematical language, develop concepts or learn to read and write as if by magic. The reality for most educators is that teaching and learning is actually more difficult than blowing up a goldfish with a bicycle pump – unless the fish is feeling particularly co-operative.

Apparently some of the aspects of our job are to :

  1. Provide materials to enhance learning. OK so far.
  2. Join in with children’s imaginative activities and model appropriate roles – which usually means you have to pretend to be the dead goldfish in the home corner which they are pretending to cry about. The fact that they suggested using a bicycle pump in the first place is immaterial apparently.
  3. Help children with their physical skills –tell them where the scissors are kept but pray they can’t work out what to do with them yet.
  4. Ensure safe use of materials – actually hide the scissors away in a very high cupboard.
  5. Enable children to initiate activities in different areas in the setting – this means allowing them to move everything around and put it somewhere else so no-one can ever find anything again, which is not actually very useful to anyone in the long term, is it?
  6. Empower children to adapt and develop their learning environment – see 5 above.
  7. Support children’s understanding – this means to encourage them to understand that if they try to organise their own environment or use dangerous materials such as scissors, things might get difficult.
  8. Plan a rich learning environment – sit up till 3 in the morning trying to write up last term’s planning.

There are lots and lots more of these. But what is the role of the teacher really?

Simple. To survive being locked up with hoards of riotous children for a minimum of one thousand hours every year.

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