The unreasonable job description of teachers: 'A systemic problem few people talk about'

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Teachers are the mother of all professions. (Getty Images)
Teachers are the mother of all professions. (Getty Images)

Teachers are the mother of all professions. This adage continues to inspire countless educators across the world who tirelessly serve the profession with commitment and passion.

At their best, teachers impact students' lives in a positive and profound way; they shape their minds and lay solid foundations for their future career paths. 

As agents for social change, teachers typically believe that theirs is a profession that requires them to go beyond the call of duty. 

They say they find it immensely fulfilling and rewarding to see their former students succeeding in their various spheres of influence and making a meaningful contribution to society.

Must read: 'Learning with a smile': Homeschooling moms share their tips

The roles and responsibilities of a teacher

In February 2000, a national policy was signed by the department of education, Norms and Standards for Educators, which listed the following seven roles of a teacher in South Africa:

1. Learning Mediator 

2. Interpreter and designer of learning programs and materials 

3. Leader, administrator and manager

4. Scholar, researcher and lifelong student

5. Community, citizenship and pastoral role

6. Assessor

7. Learning area/subject discipline/phase specialist

A direct extract from the policy states that, "the seven roles and associated competence for educators for schooling provide the exit level outcomes. They are in effect the norms for educator development and therefore the central feature of all initial educator qualifications."

In addition to the official list, the unofficial list of teacher roles and responsibilities might include the following and more:

- Curriculum Designer

- Parent engagement and communications manager

- Sports coach

- Counsellor

- Administrator

- Tech Support

- Social worker

- Outings and field trip coordinator

- Facilities Manager

My view is that teachers in the traditional education system are required to perform too many jobs. 

In short, their responsibilities are too broad, and their accountability for each responsibility is too shallow, and the combination of these factors is a primary driver of our falling education standards in South Africa.

It's a systemic problem, and yet very few people are talking about it.

We seem to have accepted that teaching has always been done this way, and teachers should just get on and do their jobs.

In my opinion, it’s not a reasonable job description, and it’s a very rare type of person who can perform all of these jobs well, and have the staying power to last in the school system.

As a sector, if we want any chance of consistently delivering high-quality education at scale, then we need to rethink the role of the teacher.

To rethink the role of a teacher is to rethink the fundamental design of the education experience, and this is a very scary prospect for a sector that has changed relatively little over the last 100 years.

Also read: 'Opening schools to full capacity is insane': Teacher shares fear of looming third wave

How to rethink the role of a teacher

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink the structure and delivery of education, and currently, there is a willingness from parents, students, school leadership and regulators to look at new options in a way that simply wasn't present before the pandemic. 

A number of new online and blended learning schools which are not beholden to the traditional role of a teacher are already presenting new ways of structuring the support of students, and we should pay very close attention to these new initiatives over the next few years.

One such example is the St Stithians Online School, where the role of a traditional teacher has been broken down into its many component parts, and filled with experts in each field. Other schools worth paying close attention to include Curro’s DigiEd blended learning campus in Delft, the iBhodi Trust micro school in Mitchells Plain, and ADvTECH’s online school, Evolve. 

In this model, the team supporting each student includes dedicated teams of administrators, learning technologists, curriculum designers, graphic designers, copywriters, live session facilitators, markers, counselors, data analysts and more.

The challenge of this model is that it requires effective systems to coordinate the individuals performing each function, and ensure that the students experience a cohesive learning environment.

The new field of learning analytics (big data for education) is a primary enabler in this regard, and allows every staff member supporting the student’s learning journey to have a consolidated single view of each student.  

Reimagining the unreasonable

Although in its early days, this innovative model is already showing immense promise, with students achieving on average 9,6% over their predicted grade average from their initial diagnostic assessments.

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results."

I believe that teachers are at the foundation of the academic results we achieve in this country, and it's time to start reimagining the unreasonable job description of teachers so that we can start achieving better results.

Submitted to Parent24 by Valenture Institute.

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