Role of the Teacher in the ELT Classroom

One of the biggest things I got out of Delta was a better understanding of the role the teacher plays in the classroom. It wasn’t just a topic we had an input session on – it was something which significantly changed through the course as my understanding of teaching changed.

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The role the teacher plays in lessons can vary quite a lot. At times the teacher is the “knower” and other times the teacher is more of a “friend” or “colleague.”

For most of my pre-Delta teaching, my main role in the classroom was setting up activities, letting them run and then feeding back on them. In fact, if anything caused me to stray from that course, I would get quite irritated: I didn’t like it when a learner asked me during an activity if the answer is X or Y. I would always tell them to wait and just to try their best.

Now, post-Delta, the role of the teacher is quite different. The teacher is the “knower” – the specialist you have paid all that money for. The teacher “knows” what is right and wrong – they can also help you to understand why something is correct or incorrect, by “explaining” or “eliciting.”

Bearing this in mind, when I now set up activities, instead of just letting them run, I now monitor them very closely and make myself available to the learners. I walk around the room as they work on their exercises, and if they have a question I am at their disposal.

As I monitor, I pay particularly attention as to whether they have got something wrong, and if they have, I highlight it to them. I don’t usually give the correct answer straight away, but I do point and say “not quite” or “try again.” For the learners this means:

  • They are getting my attention (which they have paid highly for)
  • They are getting individualised attention within a group (which they didn’t expect but do appreciate)
  • They are getting hot correction and instant feedback (which they want and need)

I think the biggest advantage of this approach is that it takes simple monitoring one step further, by getting the teacher involved in the ‘meat’ of the learning process.

It also gives the teacher the information they need to ascertain whether they need to quicken up or slow down the pace – as they walk round the room they can see how much of the activity the learners have done.

This also feeds into who you nominate for feedback: you don’t want to embarrass a learner by choosing them to answer a question they don’t know the answer to. So, as you walk around the room, make a mental note of who has which answers correctly.

You can also use this advanced style of monitoring to determine what you need to feedback on and what you don’t need to. As you walk around the classroom and you see the learners have questions 1, 4, 6, and 9 correct, then why bother feeding back on them? For those learners who don’t like ambiguity, you can even say “I can see everyone has 1, 4, 6 and 9 correct, so we won’t look at them.”

What about you? How do you do monitor and what do you use your monitoring for in the classroom? I would love to hear your responses as comments below.

13 thoughts on “Role of the Teacher in the ELT Classroom

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  2. I completely agree with you Anthony, and I do this all the time. I monitor, help if necessary, point out mistakes. I can’t really agree with the “teacher disappearing” approach I read in some methodology books during CELTA.
    As you say, students are paying good money for the teacher to be there, so the teacher should make the most out of the time students spend with her in the classroom. One-to-one correction and help during activities is a big part of this.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading your post since I’m planning to do Delta in a couple of years. I have to say what you wrote has been quite educational for me! Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Lana

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  4. Nice topic, Anthony.

    Indeed the teacher plays multiple roles in every lesson (sometimes more than one roles at the same exact time). As Hada says, we must be aware of the expectations our learners have (re our roles, that is), respect them, and be flexible.

    I am pretty sure that by ‘knower’ you don’t mean the old ‘source of knowledge’ role teachers had during the GT era. Students should be able to experiment with language, self- or peer-correct, and be supported so as to become autonomous learners, shouldn’t they? They pay so that one day they won’t have to pay, so it is our job to make sure that they learn how to learn.

    Surely, though, I agree with the point you make about feedback and the teacher’s ‘monitor’ role. Of course, one must not forget that having (weak) students use class time to say correct answers aloud can be vital for their confidence.

    It was great reading it, Anthony. Kept me thinking! 🙂

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    1. That’s right. By “knower” I just meant the person who has the knowledge if it’s needed. For example: if no one in the class can figure out the right answer to something, which doesn’t happen often, the teacher has the knowledge to give them the answer.

      Thank you for reading ^_^

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  5. Teacher roles is also something I find particularly interesting. I was just reading an article written by Greg Ellis (1996), which tackled the role of the teacher in the communicative approach in non Western contexts. He argues that the teacher as a facilitator may not always work in every contexts (he cites Asia) and that in fact the approach could yield negative effects on some learners. He mentions that according to Bochner (1982), if and when faced with ‘opposing’ cultures, interculture can help learners and teachers reconcile their differences, and this can be achieved if the teacher acts as a mediator rather than a facilitator. This was new to me and such a revelation. Saying that, we probably do that naturally, and I must admit things are a lot better now with my students than they were the first few years I started teaching in Saudi. It takes time to learn and adjust to the culture of our students, and certainly doing my Delta also helped me appreciate this as, like you, I learned to slow down, step back and allow the learning process to take place and enjoy the experience with my students, on their ground.

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  6. Fully agree. Also with what natibrandi wrote on taking notes. I have a notebook for each group I teach. From time to time, I’d run a lesson on common mistakes or mention them specifically during feedback.
    For me, monitoring is also about motivation, both individual and for everyone. Weaker students may see themselves as unworthy of presenting their answer to the whole class. If they have their answers right, however, and I notice that and call them out, the result may be particularly motivating and reassuring.
    Also, what you both wrote about learning goals is true: correction on the spot sometimes reminds the learners about accuracy. With a class full of communication-oriented learners, it’s so easy to lose the need for correct, accurate language. Reminding them about that during close monitoring works best for me.

    Monitoring is what they are paying for, true. But it is quite satisfying for the teacher, as well – it makes me feel I have control over what and how learners do, sometimes even how much effort they put into activities.

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  7. I agree entirely Anthony, and I think you can take the mental note a step further, and take proper notes, instead. If you’re good at this, you will be able to gather loads of information about students so as to spot areas to work on, and give them individual learning goals. As you’ve said, they’ve paid for it, and they deserve individual attention. Another really valid point is, if you avoid whole class feedback when it’s not necessary, you won’t be wasting time by checking answers everyone got right, instead, you can focus on the ones that caused trouble. Great post, will pass it on, thanks for sharing.

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    1. Excellent stuff – you’re right, that’s what they’re paying for: for teachers to identify what they need to work on and then helping the, to help themselves 🙂 thank you for comment x

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