The Many Unseen Roles Teachers Fill Today


Too many educators are simply perpetuating a teaching style and lesson plan from generations past.

After a faculty training event, I was approached by a professor who admitted to me that while he enjoyed my presentation — he was exhausted by his classroom work. He told me he’d been teaching for 31 years and frankly, “Kids don’t pay attention or work as hard as they did back in the 80s.”

It was interesting for me to note that both he and I were students in the 1980s. Ah, those were the good old days, weren’t they?

The fact of the matter is, unless an instructor attended a teacher’s college, they likely majored in the subject they planned to teach, but were never taught how to teach. Consequently, they tend to simply repeat what was done for them, when they sat in a classroom. That just doesn’t fare very well today. Too many educators simply perpetuate a teaching style and lesson plan from generations past.

The truth is, both the “what” and the “how” may need to change today.

The Need for Change                                               

This is why I love hearing how some schools have begun “teacher fellowships” where faculty can come together in a “forum” type of atmosphere and swap ideas on how they’re engaging their students in “learner-centered teaching approaches and fostering “innovative teaching practices in a collaborative environment.”

How could this enhance and energize your faculty?

I recently met with a group of university students who were all education majors. They all echoed the same chorus to me. Each one appreciated the work their teacher put in, but acknowledged some personal fears:

  • Their peers were dropping out of education to pursue other more lucrative areas of study.
  • They felt the pedagogy their professors used (especially the senior faculty) was outdated and “tired.”
  • They felt the subject they studied was relevant, but not the style of teaching their instructor utilized in class.
  • They felt that from time to time, their “fact checks” uncovered that even the content of the lectures were not up to date.

What Must a Teacher Become Today?

The fact of the matter is, teachers today are often called upon to do more than merely instruct in the classroom. Students come with such a wide variety of needs. Faculty quickly learn that if students emotional needs or physical needs are unmet, it does little good to lecture them in history or chemistry. So, just what roles must educators fill in today’s schools? Let me suggest some below. I welcome your own thoughts and comment at the conclusion.

An Ambassador

At the college level, teachers who play the role of recruiter and ambassador for the school make a tangible difference. For instance, if 60 full-time faculty each retained one additional student per course who would’ve otherwise dropped out, the college would stand to gain an additional $1.6 million a year in revenue.

A Counselor

Today’s students frequently attend school with unmet emotional needs. Many live in single parent homes, where a mom must work full-time, then play the role of good cop/bad cop. It can leave kids with deep emotional deficits that prevent them from even paying attention in class. Sometimes a heart-felt word of encouragement make a difference.

A Surrogate Parent

I know a high school teacher in Atlanta who hosts a weekly segment in her class called, “In Case Your Parents Haven’t Told You This Yet …” It is intended to simply augment what some parents are failing to impart over dinner. Faculty constantly tell me they feel like an additional parent or they must “re-parent” their students.

An Inspirer

Too many students disengage from at least one class period a day. Some disengage from all their courses. This means a teacher must, from time to time, not just inform but inspire students about why their subject is relevant and important to their future. Pausing to tell your own story could make a difference in students’ interest.

A Salesperson

I meet students each year who tell me it was their teacher (in middle or high school) who sold them on becoming a teacher or on teaching a particular subject. We must remember that we are selling the idea of learning and teaching every time we stand in front of our students. I must ask: Do I attract or repel them from education?

An Innovator

Believe it or not, our level of innovation can make or break a student’s future. When they see us merely repeat lesson plans from the past, they not only lose interest but they can assume education is an antiquated profession. Professional development is a deep need among educators—if for no other reason than to offer fresh ideas for kids to consider.

A Mentor

Finally, my favorite teachers at all levels of school (elementary through college) were people who played the role of personal mentor to me. It wasn’t always formal, but I had at least one educator who took me under their wing and offered more than coursework and homework. They imparted their life. It got personal.

And that’s what I believe education is supposed to be about. It gets personal.


John C. Maxwell
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