A teacher (also called a school teacher or, in some contexts, an educator) is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.
Informally the role of teacher may be taken on by anyone (e.g. when showing a colleague how to perform a specific task). In some countries, teaching young people of school age may be carried out in an informal setting, such as within the family (homeschooling), rather than in a formal setting such as a school or college. Some other professions may involve a significant amount of teaching (e.g. youth worker, pastor).
In most countries, formal teaching of students is usually carried out by paid professional teachers. This article focuses on those who are employed, as their main role, to teach others in a formal education context, such as at a school or other place of initial formal education or training.
Duties and functions
A teacher’s role may vary among cultures.
Teachers may provide instruction in literacy and numeracy, craftsmanship or vocational training, the arts, religion, civics, community roles, or life skills.
Formal teaching tasks include preparing lessons according to agreed curricula, giving lessons, and assessing pupil progress.
A teacher’s professional duties may extend beyond formal teaching. Outside of the classroom teachers may accompany students on field trips, supervise study halls, help with the organization of school functions, and serve as supervisors for extracurricular activities. In some education systems, teachers may be responsible for student discipline.
Competences and qualities required by teachers
Teaching is a highly complex activity. This is partially because teaching is a social practice, that takes place in a specific context (time, place, culture, socio-political-economic situation etc.) and therefore is shaped by the values of that specific context. Factors that influence what is expected (or required) of teachers include history and tradition, social views about the purpose of education, accepted theories about learning, etc.
The competences required by a teacher are affected by the different ways in which the role is understood around the world. Broadly, there seem to be four models:
the teacher as manager of instruction;
the teacher as caring person;
the teacher as expert learner; and
the teacher as cultural and civic person.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has argued that it is necessary to develop a shared definition of the skills and knowledge required by teachers, in order to guide teachers’ career-long education and professional development. Some evidence-based international discussions have tried to reach such a common understanding. For example, the European Union has identified three broad areas of competences that teachers require:
Working with others
Working with knowledge, technology and information, and
Working in and with society.
Scholarly consensus is emerging that what is required of teachers can be grouped under three headings:
knowledge (such as: the subject matter itself and knowledge about how to teach it, curricular knowledge, knowledge about the educational sciences, psychology, assessment etc.)
craft skills (such as lesson planning, using teaching technologies, managing students and groups, monitoring and assessing learning etc.) and
dispositions (such as essential values and attitudes, beliefs and commitment).
It has been found that teachers who showed enthusiasm towards the course materials and students can create a positive learning experience. These teachers do not teach by rote but attempt to invigorate their teaching of the course materials everyday. Teachers who cover the same curriculum repeatedly may find it challenging to maintain their enthusiasm, lest their boredom with the content bore their students in turn. Enthusiastic teachers are rated higher by their students than teachers who didn’t show much enthusiasm for the course materials.
Teachers that exhibit enthusiasm are more likely to have engaged, interested and energetic students who are curious about learning the subject matter. Recent research has found a correlation between teacher enthusiasm and students’ intrinsic motivation to learn and vitality in the classroom. Controlled, experimental studies exploring intrinsic motivation of college students has shown that nonverbal expressions of enthusiasm, such as demonstrative gesturing, dramatic movements which are varied, and emotional facial expressions, result in college students reporting higher levels of intrinsic motivation to learn. But even while a teacher’s enthusiasm has been shown to improve motivation and increase task engagement, it does not necessarily improve learning outcomes or memory for the material.
There are various mechanisms by which teacher enthusiasm may facilitate higher levels of intrinsic motivation. Teacher enthusiasm may contribute to a classroom atmosphere of energy and enthusiasm which feeds student interest and excitement in learning the subject matter. Enthusiastic teachers may also lead to students becoming more self-determined in their own learning process. The concept of mere exposure indicates that the teacher’s enthusiasm may contribute to the student’s expectations about intrinsic motivation in the context of learning. Also, enthusiasm may act as a “motivational embellishment”, increasing a student’s interest by the variety, novelty, and surprise of the enthusiastic teacher’s presentation of the material. Finally, the concept of emotional contagion may also apply: students may become more intrinsically motivated by catching onto the enthusiasm and energy of the teacher.