As the conversation around reopening the UK’s schools rolls on, we’re bringing the focus in on our country’s educators. In this truly unique period of history where the world is as one in its battle to defeat coronavirus, key workers have very much formed the backbone of many communities. 

The UK government has changed its stance on reopening schools en masse, as it grapples with issues surrounding physical health and safety versus the need for education to resume. Which leads us to the topic we’ll be discussing here today: educator or carer? How far do our teachers’ responsibilities stretch?

The academic education

At its core, the role of teachers in every stage of the educational journey is to impart knowledge, ensuring students leave the realms of education with a solid grasp of key subjects. However, it goes beyond simply passing this information on, particularly in further education settings where subject matter is more complex and detailed. 

As educators, teachers need to have the ability to communicate effectively with their pupils to empower and inspire them to want to learn, as well as make students realise the value of this knowledge and how to apply it in real life. 

To do this, the modern educators have had to adapt to cultivate an interactive learning environment that goes beyond the traditional lectures and essay assignments. While these still have their place, particularly in further education, there’s evidence that suggests active learning can produce better results

By diversifying teaching methods to include a variety of hands-on learning techniques, teachers may be in a better position to nurture their pupils’ academic development as these approaches require them to engage in the classroom, rather than observe.

Whether it’s teaching physics to A-level students or English literature to undergraduates, it’s a teacher’s responsibility to find the best way to connect with learners to ensure they absorb the key information. 

Life and societal skills

Beyond academia, there is also a huge emphasis put on teachers to educate their students about culture, society and key life skills. This may not be a predefined part of their job description, but there’s a natural and logical connection between teaching academic subjects and educating students about the real world.

The whole structure of the educational system in the UK is designed to set the foundations for what behaviour is deemed appropriate in real life. From set lesson timetables to classroom etiquette and respecting authority, it’s often these subtle nuances that have a greater impact on students than actual subject matter.

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Modern teachers are required to use their classes to teach key life skills and cultural lessons alongside curriculum learning. This can cover everything from social skills and problem-solving abilities to respecting diversity and the different cultural backgrounds of fellow classmates. 

In higher education, many of the fundamental life skills may already be in place, but that doesn’t mean educational institutions don’t still have an impact on developing them further. For instance, a key part of further education is for students to develop their sense of independence. Having to realise that they’re in control of their academic development and they’re responsible for getting to class on time, handing in assignments and managing their own learning schedule.

This doesn’t mean teachers aren’t on hand to support learners through this process, but as pupils are considered more mature and capable, the encouragement is typically less hands-on than with younger adults. 

Emotional wellbeing 

Discussing a teacher’s role in the emotional wellbeing of their pupils is where the carer element comes into play. Whether we realise it or not, educators are heavily involved in nurturing their students’ emotional wellbeing and behaviour. 

From assisting them in understanding their strengths and weaknesses to bolstering their self-esteem, the daily interaction between teachers and learners can make a real difference in addressing key areas of their emotional development. 

From a caring perspective, teachers take on the responsibility of being aware of their students’ emotional wellbeing just as much as their academic performance - after all, if a pupil is suffering emotionally, it’s likely they’ll be underachieving. It can be challenging for educators to know where to draw the line, but in a position of authority and with the right approach, they can have a direct influence on helping young people realise their true potential and self-worth. 

For instance, when asked about their biggest influencers, young adults are often quick to name a memorable teacher - and how often is it subject matter that they regale of their formative years? Their stories tend to be more focused on being helped to see what and who they could be. This demonstrates the power that teachers possess in delivering a lasting impression on the youngsters they teach - helping them to feel inspired, supported and encouraged emotionally. These are things that aren’t on the curriculum and can’t be learnt from a book.

The pandemic has brought to light what many of us have known for years: teachers do far more than teach. It’s inaccurate to categorise them as just educators or carers. Instead we need to recognise the important and complex role they have in developing young people both academically and emotionally, preparing them for the real world ahead.

Luke Conod is Managing Director of School Uniform Shop, providing high-quality, competitively priced schoolwear to see children from primary school through to sixth form in style.

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