Awareness about the roles played by ESL/ EFL teachers in the classroom is key to a high quality development of the class. One lesson is held together by a string of inter-connected moments in which the teacher will be carrying out different actions. Understanding the nature of each one of the teacher’s roles is pivotal, since every action teachers perform calls for different skills that require certain kinds of knowledge and mastery from the teacher.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic started, learning environments have changed. Teachers all over the world were practically forced to reinvent themselves. Along with this reinvention, came the evolution and at times, total transformation, of some of their roles in class. In the following paragraphs, we will consider the roles that have undergone the biggest transformation as the result of teaching in the virtual classroom.
For this role teachers need to use different resources in order to ensure the class has a clear aim, and that the procedures and materials are relevant according to their students’ profile. The new learning environment includes the virtual classroom which requires teachers to research and analyse suitable platforms, as well as the online resources available to plan an engaging lesson.
The teachers’ digital competence was already necessary, but because of the pandemic, the need for the development of technology-related skills was completely accelerated. Thanks to the help of the newest digital tools, teachers will be able to enrich their lesson planning and explore new teaching tools simultaneously.
Teachers used to prepare their presentations, organise the group into teams, have the students work in pairs, or even give individual assignments in a face-to-face environment. There were also mingling activities so students could happily move around the classroom.
Now, distance learning calls for a different approach. Learners are sitting in front of a computer, phone, or tablet, and have other needs. Students need to continue interacting and moving even whilst being at home, this is crucial in order for them to feel engaged and motivated. Consequently, the teacher must now discover ways to provide students with opportunities to do so through the use of breakout rooms or WhatsApp groups, or any other similar tools, with the purpose of building knowledge together. Building knowledge together is one of the basic principles of constructivism, which states that individuals learn better in social contexts:
“Learning constructively requires an environment in which learners work collegially and is situated in authentic activities and contexts” (L.S. Vygotsky, 1978) 1
As for physical mingling activities, they have disappeared, and the only way students can move from their seats is when teachers become creative enough to get them to stand up, do something, bring something from their house and show it to the camera or share it through the chat.
The role of the observer now takes place during students’ work in Breakout rooms when the teacher checks upon learners to make sure they are on task and makes notes about language or the task itself, without being overly intrusive, because this is the moment for students to produce and to feel free to interact with others. In this case, the use of the technology makes the difference, but the role remains unchanged.
This role has taken a major shift in this past year. We need to understand the loss that learners are experiencing day after day, the loss of real contact with their peers. The moments when they used to look to each other, searching for a glimpse of complicity in which they had fun, were relaxed, and continued working. Teachers are now the connection among learners. Teachers need to create a rapport that benefits learners so they feel comfortable, engaged and most certainly, not alone.
Discipline in the classroom is not lost, when a teacher gives learners time to express how they feel or when he/she makes them laugh. On the contrary, students see that their teacher understands their struggles and they react positively towards such an approach.
Katie Lear, a mental health counselor who specialises in trauma and anxiety, explains: “We are all missing out on so many mundane social interactions: walking between classes with friends, a chat with the barista at your favorite coffee place, small talk with your professor before class starts…these little interactions really add up, and without them, even pretty hardcore introverts are feeling isolated.” 2
By caring about your students and by letting them know that they can confide in you, teachers can really make a difference in students’ lives.
This role has proven tricky for some teachers. Assessing students has always been a complex matter because it involves many factors. Informal assessment inside the classroom continues to be of paramount importance and learners can be evaluated when they send their homework, do classwork, take quizzes or during the class when they participate, for instance.
Formal assessment, on the other hand, is still an area with room for improvement. This is due to the fact that presently, exams and tests are being carried out online, and some platforms or digital tools used by teachers are somewhat restricted to multiple choice, closed answers, or true/false type of questions. Teachers must be really creative if they want their test to contain a variety of task types. For that reason, formative assessment plays a key role here.
Here the teacher is an invaluable “asset”, especially when it comes to grammar explanation. The vast majority of teachers are quite knowledgeable regarding the theory and application of grammatical rules. As for lexis, we see that teachers have a great knowledge of vocabulary, words, and expressions too. However, lexis is one of the areas where learner-centered classrooms can take place when using online dictionaries such as thesaurus, idioms, phrasal verbs, monolingual or bilingual dictionaries. All of them are freely available for students to use on the internet. So, the job of the teacher now, should be researching and advising students about the use of each one of them depending on the focus of the lesson and then directing learners towards the right resource. In this way, autonomy is developed in the virtual classroom.
Grammatical explanations are found in thousands of websites or even in some social media videos, so the new task for teachers is to complement their own explanation with the help of those websites, videos or resources, thus, allowing a variety of resources within the classroom.
This role has not changed but has become more evident. Teachers are there in order to create opportunities for learning by helping learners access resources, information and to become more independent in doing so. PhD and author, Luisa Guillermina Ramirez holds:
“We are bound as teachers to implement strategies that motivate students to acquire their knowledge…to do this, teachers require a new educational approach, more critical and ingenious…where they are the facilitators of learning”.3
In conclusion, as we have seen, online classes and virtual learning environments have transformed the way most traditional teacher roles were viewed. The real challenge lies in embracing that change in order to meet the needs our global pandemic situation!
Now, tell us, What role do you consider to be the most challenging one? Write your comments in the box below.
Also, if you are interested in knowing more about this topic, read our article “Reconsidering the role of a Teacher” by Michael Flecher 4
1 Walden University
2 Katie Lear.
4 Michael Fletcher