An ELT Glossary : Teacher Roles

What are the roles of the teacher in the EFL classroom? There are many, and we're not claiming that the following is an exhaustive list. Which roles the teacher assumes most often, or indeed at all, will depend on the teaching context - a teacher of a class of ten-year olds will have certain roles - eg Educator - which may be less relevant to eg an ESP teacher working with a group of high-level business clients. in addition you may find that different sources give different names to each role - what we have called Knower may also be called, for example, Informer or Expert

The Teacher as...

  • Activity manager : In order to get the most out of classroom activities, the learners need to eg be grouped with others who they will be able to work productively with, and understand exactly what they have to do. When the teacher is setting up activities, forming pairs and groups,  giving and checking instructions, allotting and controlling the time allowed etc, s/he is acting as activity manager.
  • Assessor : This role can be assumed formally - as when the teacher evaluates learners in a progress test - or informally - as when s/he responds to a learner's utterance with a "good" or a correction. 
  • Course evaluator : As the course progresses the teacher will be reflecting on how successful it is based on eg the learners' results in progress tests, their enjoyment of and belief in the usefulmess of the course demonstrated in feedback questionnaires, and other evidence including simple "gut reactions" to how each lesson went. The evidence gathered during the course can be used to make changes and improvements to the course plan as it is being taught and/or afterwards, before it is taught again.
  • Educator : Arguably, the teacher of young learners cannot see him or herself as "just" a language teacher, but must also consider themselves an educator - responsible not just for teaching the language but also as a developer of the child's knowledge and social, emotional and cognitive skills. With adult learner's this role has less prominence, especially with those learners who are already highly educated. However, it may still be apparent if the teacher finds him/herself needing to teach learning strategies, dictionary skills, inference skills and so on, all of which contribute not just to language learning but also to the learner's overall cognitive abilities.
  • Facilitator : The teacher is facilitating learning when s/he does not "tell" the learners directly what s/he wants them to know but leads them to discover it for themselves. Some examples : guided discovery activities aim to promote the facilitation of learning; a teacher is facilitating learning when s/he uses a correction code to help learners identify their mistakes in a piece of writing (Sp = wrong spelling; VF = wrong verb form etc) rather than simply crossing out the error and writing the correct form over the top.
  • Knower : The teacher acts as knower when s/he gives the learners information that they did not previously have - Eg When the learner says How do you say "castagna" in English? and the teacher replies Chestnut; when the teacher feeds in some unknown lexis in the warm-up stage to a listening or reading activity; or when s/he corrects something a learner has said and gives the grammar rule - L :  I go often to the cinema. T : Listen "I often go to the cinema" - the adverb is in front of the verb.
  • Language Model : Needless to say, the teacher is acting as a language model every time she opens her mouth in the classroom!. However, this may be formalised. For example, if the teacher wishes to develop the learners' ability to tell spoken anecdotes, s/he may start by telling an anecdote of her own, and checking the learners' comprehension of the content, the structure, and various useful language items before asking them to plan and tell an anecdote of their own. S/he is therefore "modelling" the discourse type and the language items for the learners. 
  • Learner : By reflecting on what happens in lessons, the teacher should constantly be learning more and more about the teaching and learning process. However, by drawing on the experience of the learners themselves, and researching their areas of interest,  s/he may find that she learns other things as well. This can be particularly important, for example, in ESP courses where the learners are the experts in the field and the teacher is not. What s/he learns the first time s/he teaches a group of doctors, for example,  can help with planning future courses for the same target group.
  • Learning Counsellor : In this role the teacher will help learners to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to decide on a study plan or study strategies to compensate for the weaknesses and obtain the goals thay are working towards. For an excellent and much more detailed account of this role, see here
  • Monitor : As the learners are working on tasks, the teacher should be looking at/listening to how well they are doing it in order to make decisions about what should happen next. if for example, s/he spots an error as the learners complete a writing task s/he needs to decide whether to point it out to the learner immediately and individually, to save it for focus in a follow-up stage, or to ignore it completely. these decisions will be based on factors such as whether other learners are making or are liable to make the same error, the learner's feelings about being corrected, whether it is something that can be quickly and easily explained or whether the learners would benefit from a complete lesson on the topic.
  • Motivator : Virtually everything that happens in the classroom can affect motivation. The teacher needs to think about factors such as ; a) the sequence of activities used - do they provide a progressive increase in difficulty, so that they remain always "doable"? If not; who is paired with who - for example, a learner who constantly gets paired for long periods with the weakest learner in the group may feel that s/he is not being stretched and consequently become demotivated; c) how much correction is given? Some learners need constantly to hear Good! and may be sensitive if corrected at all, while other may feel the teacher is "not doing their job" if every mistake is not pointed out. In making decisions on issues such as these, the teacher will therefore increase or decrease the learners' motivation towards the course. 
  • Planner : The teacher is acting as planner if s/he is responsible for any of the following: a) the course syllabus , b) the selection or creation of the course materials; c) the design of individual lesson plans.