Nola A., a Senior English Instructor at Eton Institute, provides a useful insight into the roles relevant to today’s teaching.

The 7 Roles of a Teacher in the 21st Century:

Think about the type of lesson you normally teach:

  • In which roles are you often involved?
  • Are there any roles in which you have less experience?
  • Are there any new roles you might try in the future?

It is clear that the 21st-century classroom needs are very different from the 20th-century ones. In the 21st century classroom, teachers are facilitators of student learning and creators of productive classroom environments, in which students can develop the skills they might need at present or in future.

However, before we begin to understand the evolving role of an ESL teacher, let’s outline some of the most popular teacher roles. Harmer, J. states that ‘it makes more sense to describe different teacher roles and say what they are useful for, rather than make value judgments about their effectiveness.’ So here are some of the most common teacher roles:

Teacher Roles:

Most teachers take on a variety of roles within the classroom, which role do you think most defines your role in the ESL classroom?

1. The Controller: The teacher is in complete charge of the class, what students do, what they say and how they say it. The teacher assumes this role when a new language is being introduced and accurate reproduction and drilling techniques are needed.

In this classroom, the teacher is mostly the center of focus, the teacher may have the gift of instruction, and can inspire through their own knowledge and expertise, but, does this role really allow for enough student talk time? Is it really enjoyable for the learners? There is also a perception that this role could have a lack of variety in its activities.

2. The Prompter: The teacher encourages students to participate and makes suggestions about how students may proceed in an activity. The teacher should be helping students only when necessary.

When learners are literally ‘lost for words’, the prompter can encourage by discreetly nudging students. Students can sometimes lose the thread or become unsure how to proceed; the prompter in this regard can prompt but always in a supportive way.

3. The Resource: The teacher is a kind of walking resource center ready to offer help if needed, or provide learners with whatever language they lack when performing communicative activities. The teacher must make her/himself available so that learners can consult her/him when (and only when) it is absolutely necessary.

As a resource the teacher can guide learners to use available resources such as the internet, for themselves, it certainly isn’t necessary to spoon-feed learners, as this might have the downside of making learners reliant on the teacher.

4. The Assessor: The teacher assumes this role to see how well students are performing or how well they performed. Feedback and correction are organized and carried out.

There are a variety of ways we can grade learners, the role of an assessor gives teachers an opportunity to correct learners. However, if it is not communicated with sensitivity and support it could prove counter-productive to a student’s self-esteem and confidence in learning the target language.

5. The Organizer: Perhaps the most difficult and important role the teacher has to play. The success of many activities depends on good organization and on the students knowing exactly what they are to do next. Giving instructions is vital in this role as well as setting up activities.

The organizer can also serve as a demonstrator, this role also allows a teacher to get involved and engaged with learners. The teacher also serves to open and neatly close activities and also give content feedback.

6. The Participant: This role improves the atmosphere in the class when the teacher takes part in an activity. However, the teacher takes a risk of dominating the activity when performing it.

Here the teacher can enliven a class; if a teacher is able to stand back and not become the center of attention, it can be a great way to interact with learners without being too overpowering.

7. The Tutor: The teacher acts as a coach when students are involved in project work or self-study. The teacher provides advice and guidance and helps students clarify ideas and limit tasks.

This role can be a great way to pay individual attention to a student. It can also allow a teacher to tailor make a course to fit specific student needs. However, it can also lead to a student becoming too dependent or even too comfortable with one teacher and one method or style of teaching.



Now that we’ve had a chance to look at some of the variety of roles let’s see how we can adopt these into a real classroom activity/task:

Team game energetic, clear, fair, encouraging
Role Play supportive, retiring, clear, encouraging
Teacher reading aloud dramatic, interesting commanding
Whole class listing efficient, clear, supportive

What we notice here is that the roles are often interchangeable. The teacher’s role is never static. One activity could see an experienced teacher smoothly transition from one role to another.

That said, the 21st-century classroom is created on the premise that students experience what they require to enter the 21st-century workplace and live in the global environment. The characteristics of the 21st-century classroom, therefore, sets it apart from the 20th-century classroom.

Lectures on a single subject at a time where the norm in the past. Today, collaboration is the thread for all student learning. For instance, the collaborative project-based approach ensures that the curriculum used in this classroom develops:

  • Higher order thinking skills
  • Effective communication skills
  • Knowledge of technology that students will need for 21st-century careers and the increased globalized environment.

While there is certainly a place for teacher-centered, lecture style learning, the evolving ESL teacher must embrace new teaching strategies that are radically different from those previously employed. The curriculum must become more relevant to what students will be exposed to in the 21st-century.


An interactive teacher is by definition one that is fully aware of the group dynamics of a classroom. As Dörnyei and Murphey (2003) explained, the success of classroom learning is very much dependent on:

  • How students relate to each other and their teacher
  • What the classroom environment is
  • How effectively students cooperate and communicate with each other
  • The roles not only the teacher plays but the learners engage in

Brown, H. Douglas (2007) mentions that “teachers can play many roles in the course of teaching and this might facilitate learning. Their ability to carry these out effectively will depend to a large extent on the rapport they establish with their students, and of course, on their own level of knowledge and skills.”

According to Harmer, J. (2007), the term ‘facilitator’ is used by many authors to describe a particular kind of teacher, one who is democratic (where the teacher shares some of the leadership with the students) rather than autocratic (where the teacher is in control of everything that goes on in the classroom), and one who fosters learner autonomy (where students not only learn on their own but also take responsibility for that learning) through the use of group and pair work and by acting as more of a resource than a transmitter of knowledge.

Facilitating learning is empowering for both the learner and the teacher and frees the teacher from many of the burdens that having to be an ‘expert’ might entail. It would traditionally have been seen as a weakness for a teacher to say ‘I don’t know, let’s find out’ or ‘I don’t know, do any of you students know the answer?’ But, times have changed and so must the role of the ELS teacher.

So here’s hoping the next time you teach a class you consider how your role might affect your students’learning. Are your classes teacher-centered, with you always at the center controlling everything? Or are you able to ‘let go’, and allow students to take center stage?

Regardless of the roles they assume, teacher’s shape the culture of their classrooms, improve student learning, and influence practice and production. Making the shift from teacher as an expert to facilitator is sometimes seen as diminishing a teacher’s power and authority, but this should not be the case at all.

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