Of the many definitions for English teacher, they all have one common thread – teaching English to an adult or child whose first language is not English.
While that description describes what is done at a basic level, it leaves a lot out of the job description. The truth of the matter is that English teachers wear a lot of different hats in and outside of the classroom. You might not even be aware that you’re playing some of these roles.
If you have been avoiding giving yourself a little pat on the back, or you aren’t even aware that you deserve it, today is all about you.
Let’s take a look at some of the roles you play for your students.
English Teachers are Coaches
“Get your head in the game!”
Sports coaches yells from the sidelines, encouraging their players to push through moments of exhaustion or uncertainty that they face during games.
It’s not really that different from what English teachers do. Substitute the players for students and who is yelling from the sidelines?
That’s right. It’s you.
Even though society has labeled you as teacher, you are also a coach. You are the person that pushes your learners to be persistent when they hit that distressed phase that whispers in their heads, “It’s time to quit.”
You are the one that perfects their technique. You perfect their technique when they serve a sentence, or shoot a question. You watch their form when they are playing the game and you give them feedback that they use to improve their delivery before the next match.
Sure, they call you teacher, but you are also a coach. All English teachers should be able to relate to putting on the coach hat.
English Teachers are Cultural Demystifiers
I will never forget how shocked I was the first time someone said to me, “You don’t look like an American. You are skinny, and you act so normal.”
There is a lesson in backhanded compliments right there, but it is also a lesson in something far more dangerous. Stereotypes.
Preconceptions are one of the world’s plagues, and they enter our brains all too frequently through mass media that depicts parts of the world that we don’t know anything about. It’s natural, though.
One of the fantastic parts of being an English teacher is that you are the gateway to English speaking cultures. As native speakers, clearly we are natural authorities on cultural habits of our homeland. Furthermore, as coming from countries with a shared language, we have a larger window into the perspective of what life is like in other English speaking countries than our students do.
This is one of my favorite teacher hats, as I am fascinated by the cultural dynamics of how people in different countries interact with each other. I love my Brazilian students and their thirst for a deeper understanding of other cultures.
English Teachers are Tour Guides
Although there are a number of countries in the world that have shared languages, traveling outside of that list leaves you with few options. Speaking English as a second language expands the list immensely.
The most commonly spoken language between two people that don’t speak a shared first language is English, so you can bet it is going to be damn useful if you are traveling. However, what about before you hit the road?
English teachers have a special job of providing learners the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world, its wonders, and communicate about them in English. In fact, many of the qualities that make a great teacher are what makes a great tour guide; communication, memory, storytelling, passion, sensitivity, and flexibility.
It’s an enjoyable and entertaining contextualization of material to breathe life into a subject through an imaginary journey to a far away land. Destinations and general customs of a country are always welcomed ways to bring the use of language to life.
English Teachers are Business Mentors
We don’t need to romanticize the notion of why adults are learning. It’s not because they love our accent or think that our language is pretty. I mean, maybe they think those things, but they aren’t the principal reasons.
A great deal of adult learners develop English learning goals to get better jobs, or better opportunities at their current job. As business mentors, we are able to provide them contexts for how relations manifest in specific business situations.
Whether we are providing proper formal and informal greetings, or just adding to the student’s vocabulary by offering them the English names of transactions and departments of a company, we mentor them through the realities of the business world outside of their home country.
Teacher Is A Worn Out Word
Over time, the word ‘teacher’ has become a traditional word that evokes images of a middle aged person wearing an earth tome sweater and glasses, likely with a look of reprimand on their face.
The tired old image of English teachers needs to change. We need to fight back against the negative stereotypes that affect our profession. Having a positive image in the minds of our students about who we are and what we do is important to be effective in what we do.
Tailoring the environment to match the roles you play as a teacher is another way for you to master the classroom, whether that be at a school, in a café, or on Skype.
By wearing all of the teacher hats and stepping outside of the traditional teacher/student dynamic, you will be staging the learning environment for greater learner comfort, which produces better outcomes for you and your students.