“Teacher” is an inaccurate title

People, both as children and adults, are constantly learning new things. The more actively engaged in the learning process they are, the more likely they are to learn something well and retain that knowledge. So what exactly is the person “teaching” a course doing? Their title implies that they are somehow loading knowledge into student brains. While that may fit the assumptions behind the “lecture model” of instruction, that is not the way learning works.

So what title is appropriate for people who:
– Decide on, or create a sequence of topics and tasks that engage, but do not overwhelm
– Set the stage, pique student interest, then let students play while they learn
– Constantly assess group and individual progress, both informally and formally
– Provide encouragement or intervention as needed to keep students on track
– Serve as a catalyst for student reflection and meta-cognition
– Are a role model, mentor, advisor, and resource

Learning Facilitator? Accurate, but bland and slightly passive.
Leader? Accurate, but a bit ambiguous.
Instructor? Slightly better than “Teacher”, but still assumes the old model.
Essentialist? Gets at the right spirit of things, but nobody knows what it means.
Coordinator? Fairly accurate, but too passive.
Organizer? Accurate, but sounds organized labor connections are strong.
Guide? Tempting, but tourist industry connections are strong.
Director? Accurate in many ways, and drama connection is good – I like it.
Instigator? Has a nice subversive or irreverent feel to it – I like it.

I have not come up with “the perfect title” yet… ideas?

By Whit Ford

Math tutor since 1992. Former math teacher, product manager, software developer, research analyst, etc.


  1. Brain Farmer – good one, Robert!

    Whit, I’ve often had the same questions about the title “Teacher”, but also haven’t yet found the perfect title.
    Learning Guide?
    Learning Mentor?
    Love the list you created of the things teachers do – a good foundation for a job description!

    1. Cheryl,

      I like the term “Guide” – all by itself without any modifier (simple terms are better)… as in “Hi, my name is Whit, and I’ll be your Guide today” :-). It applies in many contexts, most notably exploration of unfamiliar territory. The guide sets the route, determines where the group will pause, responds to specific interests within the group, and generally tries to ensure that every participant gets as much out of the journey as possible (if they want a good tip).

      However, while it works beautifully from a metaphorical perspective, I don’t know that it is specific enough to work for students, parents, and “teachers”.


    1. Paul,

      I like “tutor” as a title because it already has a strong education context to it, one which is grounded in the process of learning.

      However, “tutor” – as used in the United States – usually refers to someone who works with much smaller groups than “a class”. So, we might have to start a movement to redefine the word in the eyes of the public to have a more general sense:
      Tutor: someone who helps others learn


  2. Whilst doing some work with colleagues in South Africa (AIMSSEC) I was introduced to the terms ‘educator’ and ‘learner’ [http://aimssec.aims.ac.za/ ]

    On reflection, perhaps ‘educator’ captures more of your listed activities than ‘teacher’ manages to address?

    1. Educator certainly can be defined as “one who helps others learn”. I don’t know if you share the same perception of the word as I do, but it seems a slightly passive word… perhaps due to the way it has been used over the years here. If someone tells me that they are “an educator”, my interpretation is that they have some role in the education process/bureaucracy – but I am really not certain what it is. It could be an administrative position, a consultant, a professional development consultant, etc. And I think the role of the person who is primarily responsible for the educational progress of the students in a class deserves a title that somehow conveys that. Their title should clearly indicate their function, without risk of confusion with the many other roles that exist within a school system.

      It is interesting to note that, while you may have been introduced to those terms there, their web site seems to use the fairly traditional titles “Lecturer” and “Student” (under the People link on the home page).

      Perhaps we need to either create a new word, or re-purpose an existing word that does not currently have an educational context… thus the appeal of a word like “guide” to me.

      Words are tricky things… I look forward to reading more peoples thoughts and reactions!

  3. You’re probably familiar, Whit, with the old saying among progressive educators, that teachers (in the progressive tradition) are much more the “guide on the side” than they are the “sage on the stage”.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: