The purpose of this past week was to get you to think about the role of teacher from some different perspectives. We’ve considered whether or not there is one role or many. We’ve talked about what we think that role is imposed or inherent. We’ve written a bit about what we think the relationship between teacher and student might be. Since this is all really opinion — there is no hard fact here from the perspective of any kind of testable hypothesis — let me offer my views on the subject with the understanding that need to construct a joint reality.
My thinking is that there really is only one role for teacher — to serve as a bridge between the learner and knowledge. There are other things that a person might do for/with a learner that, while part of the human relationship, are not part of teaching. While this may seem an unnecessary splitting of hairs, what I’m trying to accomplish here is a precise construction of Teacher.
The reason for precision is to try to tease out the inherent and imposed components of the notion of Teacher-as-Role and Teacher-as-Job. By separating out the Teacher-as-Job stuff, I think we can more clearly identify those components that relate to the act of teaching and come to a better understanding of some of the dichotomies that pull us in opposing directions. Teacher-as-Job has a lot of imposed baggage. The rules for classroom engagement, the curricular requirements, and even the kinds of tools you can use are imposed from without. While these imposed notions provide a kind of container for the teacher-learner experience, they are not the role of Teacher so much as a kind of environmental context. By contrast the Teacher-as-Role idea is inherent to the notion of Teacher by definition. When we are engaged in teaching, our role — helping a learner learn — is inherent in the activity. All the rest is background.
That brings us to the relationship between teacher and learner. The problem in thinking about this is that we tend not to separate out the various parts of our human experience into neat compartments. Being human is messy and it’s hard to know where one role ends and another begins. Life is like a kind of watercolor painting where the edges blur and melt together. Seen from afar, the picture is clear but close up, you can’t really tell where one color starts and another stops. Yes, sometimes we need to be a friend and sometimes not. Sometimes we need to be a disciplinarian. Sometimes we’re just a resource on two legs. This is a kind of sloppy continuum that’s contingent on the course, the subject matter, and the level. Kindergarten teachers have a very different relationship than high school teachers which is different from college teachers which is different from doctoral advisors, but most of that difference can be attributed back to Teacher-as-Job and Teacher-as-Role. It helps me if I think about it in terms of the relationship as being a kind of “How do I provide a bridge to this body of knowledge?” idea. The almost surrogate parent level of kindergarten relationship is very different from the mentoring colleague in doctoral programs. These ideas flavor and enable the individual to fulfill the role of teacher.
So my view is that the role of the teacher is to be a bridge for the student. My relationship with the student will be governed by the context — environment, level of course, and content domain. Some of the things I have to do — like record keeping — are imposed by the job. Other things — like organizing the information — are inherent. Some of the things I have to do — like media selection — are less easily pidgeon-holed.