Have you ever considered working as a teacher or instructor? If so, I thought I might share with you my experience of some of the responsibilities of the the role, to help you see what is involved before you start.
To undertake work as a teacher is a very serious responsibility, and as such, the role is regulated by a number of pieces of legislation and codes of practice. These are in addition to any policies and procedures are implemented by various teaching organizations. Among the major pieces of legislation that apply to the teaching profession as a whole and more specifically my role as a teacher are:
- The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Amended 2006) and Special Educational Needs and Disability Act. These regulations place a requirement on me as a teacher to make sure that I give all of my students the same opportunities regardless of disability, although I wouldn’t treat each in the same way. For example, a student who required the use of a wheelchair wouldn’t be expected to take part in certain group activities in the same manner as another student who was fully fit and able, however it would be my responsibility to find another way to ensure that that student has the same opportunity to participate fully in the activity in way that is both fulfilling and dignified. In addition, I am rightly required to make arrangements to ensure that any students with special educational needs are afforded the same opportunities as other students and are afforded the same level of respect and dignity as others throughout the course. In summary, these laws do not mean I must treat everyone in the exact same way, but place a responsibility on me to ensure that an individuals need are met in the most appropriate way to give all the same opportunities.
- Race Relations Act 2000, Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination (Gender Reassignment) Regulations 1999, Employment Equality Religion or Belief Regulations 2003. The above regulations place a serious responsibility on me as a teacher, not only to ensure that students and others are not discriminated against on the basis of race/ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, but to go further and ensure that I promote equality of opportunity for all students and treat each one with respect and dignity. This is involves both how each individual is treated and how each individual is spoken to. I also have a responsibility not to discriminate against someone on the basis of their age – whether young or old.
- Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HASAWA), Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. These two pieces of legislation place a requirement on me as a teacher to ensure that the learning environment is safe and secure one. This is achieved by carrying out appropriate risk assessments, making sure there are emergency arrangements in place (for example, evacuation and first aid arrangements) and that health and safety information is made available to students at the beginning of the course and again at appropriate intervals. This would especially be a concern if planning to take the class on a field trip.
- Data Protection Act 1998 regulates the processing and storing of information about individuals, and requires me to ensure that student information is secure at times.
- Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988 has an important bearing on my role when I prepare course materials and handouts for example, and prohibits me from copying or using a work that is protected under copyright law unless I first obtain permission from the copyright owner.
As a teacher I work in line with professional codes of practice and standards such as those from the Institute For Learning (IFL), which emphasises the importance of professional integrity and respect in all my interactions, not only with learners but also with colleagues and the wider profession. This also requires me to undergo continuous professional development, make a disclosure of any criminal convictions and support any investigation by IFL. There are other regulations and codes of practice that apply if I undertake work in a specialised field, as a teacher it is my responsibility to ascertain exactly what codes of practice and legislation apply to my individual role and adhere to these.
As stated above I have a responsibility to promote equal opportunities among my learners. Part of this involves recognising and valuing the individual and cultural differences among my learners, recognising their individual needs and meeting these in the most appropriate way that maintains their dignity. It also involves valuing the unique viewpoints and experience that the learner can bring to the diversity of the class. I therefore have a responsibility to ensure that everyone in the class is able to participate fully. In order to achieve this, preparation is essential. It may also mean I have to adapt the resources and assessments that are planned, providing additional support to the individual, or could even mean adjusting the class schedule. If I see any potential barriers to inclusion, it is my responsibility to remove them.
In order to be able to help individuals to be fully included and not discriminated against, I ensure that my language and speech is appropriate. For example, I would not describe someone as an ‘epileptic’, as this is defining them by their condition, rather ‘a person with epilepsy’.
As a teacher in the lifelong learning sector (LLS) I have a responsibility to ensure that my learners achieve their intended learning outcomes and have a fair chance of passing any relevant course assessments. Therefore, part of my responsibility is to identify the individual learning needs of those in my class. Ideally this is achieved prior to the start of the course at the enrollment stage, but if need be it can also be done on day 1 of the course. I would therefore also have a good knowledge of the services and specialist help that may be available to help meet specific learning needs.
I also have a responsibility to devote adequate time and resources to planning to ensure that the stated learning outcomes are met. For example, when planning an activity for the class I ensure the class has the correct handouts and other materials in order to carry out the activity, and ensure that any special needs are met to allow anyone with a disability to fully participate. As part of the planning stage I create lesson plans to ensure that learning outcomes are met. When teaching, I may have to adapt these lesson plans on the day to allow all of my learners to be fully included and actively participate, and to allow the learning outcomes to be met. This may also include adapting the material or the lesson itself to include the different kinds of learning preferences in the class – for example those who draw the most benefit from visual learning, auditory learning and kinaesthetic learning techniques.
I also have a responsibility to assess my learners achievements throughout the classes, and provide appropriate feedback to enable them to get the most out of the the class and meet their individual learning outcomes. This type of assessment would be ongoing, and as such I may need to keep a record of their progress to be able to properly assess them.
As a teacher, I also have an ongoing responsibility to assess both my teaching methods and course materials. I achieve this by taking into account feedback from learners, as well as feedback from colleagues, and this is undertaken with the aim of improving the course and my teaching methods for future delivery. I also evaluate whether requirements set by awarding bodies are being appropriately met by myself and my learners.
As a teacher, it is very important to recognize certain boundaries, both in relation to my learners and with regards to other professionals. For example, while wishing to be friendly and approachable with learners, it is also important to maintain a degree of formality. This would include being careful with regards to our use of language and we would also want to avoid over familiarity in our body language. Similarly it is important to maintain a degree of formality with other professionals, and recognize where our responsibility ends and at what point we need to refer a student to another qualified professional. This is important in ensuring we do not take on responsibilities or tasks that we are neither competent nor qualified to perform.
After assessing the needs of learners it may become apparent that some have additional needs. This could include extra support for learners with learning difficulties or practical assistance for a learner with a physical disability for example, or could include help with such a variety of things as: financial advice, help to buy study resources, counselling, help to access funding for childcare, or advice on how to further their career. As a teacher it is important that I know how to refer such individuals for specialist help to meet their needs. While help with some of these issues may be available to the learner “in house”, in smaller organizations it may be a matter of referring the learner to another organization such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or the local Welfare Rights, in which case it important to have a list of necessary contact details for easy referral.
Whatever referrals are required, the key point is to never go beyond the boundaries of the teacher role. For example, in matters of finance, or where a learner has psychological problems, the result to the learner of a teacher giving advice and guidance on matters in which he is not qualified could be disastrous – both to the learner and the teacher. Therefore it is vital that I continue to refer learners to a qualified professional when required, and so I need to keep up to date information on available resources and contacts. Whatever specialist support is required is then recorded for each learner on an individual learning plan (ILP).
A teacher has an important role in ensuring the learning environment is a safe and supportive one. This involves a number of aspects. For example, as mentioned at the outset, I have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to make sure that the learners are safe from physical danger, which will I achieve by having a dynamic risk assessment as part of the preparation stage when I am arranging field trips for example.
However, the other aspect of this is to ensure that the learning environment is mentally and emotionally safe for the class. This involves making sure that each learner is treated with appropriate respect and dignity, not only by myself as the teacher, but the the whole class. Each learner should feel able to express their opinions on the subject matter, and be able to do so without fear of making a mistake. Also, they should be able to do so without fear of discrimination or ridicule.
A good way of ensuring that such an environment is created and maintained is by
establishing ground rules on day 1.
Ground rules are statements of values and guidelines for appropriate behaviour that the class agree to adhere to in order to help them work well together in a friendly environment. They allow each learner to know from the start the sort of behaviour that is expected from them during each learning session. Some ground rules will be non-negotiable, such as health and safety rules such as “no smoking”. Others can be decided by getting the learners involved, for example, getting the class to suggest rules for appropriate behaviour and including all appropriate suggestions into the ground rules.
These could include:
- Use of mobile phones (switched off or silent so as not to disturb others)
- Confidentiality of any personal information disclosed by learners
- Listening to each others comments with respect (including not making fun of others comments)
- Agreed start, finish and break times (so as to avoid disruption)
- Being aware and responsive to others needs
As the teacher I should always set the example to the class, by treating each learner
individually with respect and consideration, being supportive, and using appropriate behaviour. This will help the learners see what is expected of them in their own speech and conduct. As the teacher I have a responsibility to address any lapse in this regard with my students.
For example if a learner is making fun of others for their comments, then I would need to discuss this with the learner. This would be done tactfully, privately, away from the rest of the class. The learner in question would still need to be treated in a way that maintains their own dignity and will leave them feeling that their own contributions are valued, but in a firm way so that they are aware their behaviour is inappropriate. By establishing the ground rules at the start, I can then point out that the comments were in breach of the ground rules that the whole class (including the learner) agreed to at the start of the course. This takes some of the sting away by showing it isn’t my personal opinion, but established rules.
In summary, my role as a teacher is an important, varied one. It goes far beyond simply delivering information to learners and includes creating and maintaining a safe learning environment free from discrimination and promoting equal opportunities, inclusion and diversity. It involves identifying each learners needs and treating each individual as an individual, and ensuring that each one has the support they need to reach their potential. However it is important that I know and maintain the boundaries of the role, both with learners and with other professionals, and to know when to refer a learner to specialist help. Yet despite the various challenges facing a teacher, it is also widely recognised as one of the most satisfying roles one can strive to attain.