The good teacher is more than a lecturer: the twelve roles of the teacher

An extended summary of AMEE Medical Education Guide No 20 R M Harden and J R Crosby

Published in Medical Teacher (2000) 22, 4, pp 334-347

The full text of this guide comprises 20 pages and 84 references and is available from:

Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE), Tay Park House, 484 Perth Road, Dundee, DD2 1LR

Tel: +44 (0) 1382 631953; Fax +44 (0) 1382 645748; Email:

Guide Overview

This guide provides an overview of the different roles of the medical teacher in the context of the many changes taking place in medical education. Twelve roles are presented in the model provided. This role model framework is of use in the assessment of the needs for staff to implement a curriculum, in the appointment and promotion of teachers and in the organisation of a staff development programme.

Some teachers will have only one role. Most teachers will have several roles.

All roles, however, need to be represented in an institution or teaching organisation.

The twelve roles of the teacher

Medical education has seen major changes over the past decade. Integrated teaching, problem-based learning, community-based learning, core curricula with electives or options and more systematic curriculum planning have been advocated.

While the increasing emphasis on student autonomy in medical education has moved the centre of gravity away from the teacher and closer to the student, the teacher continues to have a key role in student learning. A good teacher can be defined as a teacher who helps the student to learn. He or she contributes to this in a number of ways. These are described in the guide.

Each of the six roles described (see Figure 1) can be subdivided into two roles, making a total of twelve roles. Roles to the right in the figure require more content expertise or knowledge, and roles to the left more educational expertise.

Fig. 1 The 12 roles of the teacher

The information provider

  1. The lecturer: A traditional responsibility of the teacher is to pass on to

students the information, knowledge and understanding in a topic appropriate at the stage of their studies. This leads to the traditional role of the teacher as one of provider of information in the lecture context. The lecture remains as one of the most widely used instructional methods. It can be a cost-effective method of providing new information not found in standard texts, of relating the information to the local curriculum and context of medical practice and of providing the lecturer's personal overview or structure of the field of knowledge for the student.

  1. The clinical or practical teacher: The clinical setting, whether in the hospital or in the community, is a powerful context for the transmission, by the clinical teacher, of information directly relevant to the practice of medicine.

Good clinical teachers can share with the student their thoughts as a reflective practitioner, helping to illuminate, for the student, the process of clinical decision making.

The role model

  1. The on-the-job role model: The importance of the teacher as a role model is

well documented. The teacher as a clinician should model or exemplify what should be learned. Students learn not just from what their teachers say but from what they do in their clinical practice and the knowledge, skills and attitudes they exhibit.

  1. The role model as a teacher: Teachers serve as role models not only when they teach students while they perform their duties as doctors, but also when they fulfill their role as teachers in the classroom, whether it is in the lecture theatre or the small discussion or tutorial group. The good teacher who is also a doctor can describe in a lecture to a class of students, their approach to the clinical problem being discussed in a way that captures the importance of the subject and the choices available. The teacher has a unique opportunity to share some of the magic of the subject with the students.

The facilitator

  1. The learning facilitator: The move to a more student-centred view of learning has required a fundamental shift in the role of the teacher. No longer is the teacher seen predominantly as a dispenser of information or walking tape recorder, but rather as a facilitator or manager of the students' learning. The introduction of problem-based learning with a consequent fundamental change in the student-teacher relationship has highlighted this change in the role of the teacher from one of information provider to one of facilitator.
  2. The mentor: The role of mentor is a further role for the teacher. The mentor is usually not the member of staff who is responsible for the teaching or assessment of the student and is therefore off-line in terms of relationship with the student. Mentorship is less about reviewing the students' performance in a subject or an examination and more about a wider view of issues relating to the student.

The assessor

  1. The student assessor: The assessment of the student's competence is one of the most important tasks facing the teacher. Most teachers have something to contribute to the assessment process. Examining does represent a distinct and potentially separate role for the teacher. Thus it is possible for someone to be an expert teacher but not an expert examiner. All institutions now need on their staff some teachers with a special knowledge and understanding of assessment issues.
  2. The curriculum assessor: The teacher has a responsibility not only to plan and implement educational programmes and to assess the students' learning, but also to assess the course and curriculum delivered. Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the teaching of courses and curricula is now recognised as an integral part of the educational process. Evaluation can also be interpreted as an integral part of the professional role of teachers, recognising teachers' own responsibility for monitoring their own performance.

The planner

  1. The curriculum planner: Curriculum planning is an important role for the teacher. Most medical schools and postgraduate bodies have education committees charged with the responsibility for planning and implementing the curriculum within their institution. Teachers employed by the school and members of the postgraduate institution may be expected to make a contribution to curriculum planning. Curriculum planning presents a significant challenge for the teacher and both time and expertise is required if the job is to be undertaken properly.
  2. The course planner: The best curriculum in the world will be ineffective if the courses which it comprises have little or no relationship to the curriculum that is in place. Once the principles which underpin the curriculum of the institution have been agreed, detailed planning is then required at the level of the individual course or phase of the curriculum.

The resource developer

  1. The resource material creator: An increased need for learning resource materials is implicit in many of the developments in education. The new technologies have greatly expanded the formats of learning materials to which the student may have access and make it much easier for the student to take more responsibility for their own education. The role of the teacher as resource creator offers exciting possibilities. At least some teachers possess the array of skills necessary to select, adapt or produce materials for use within the institution.
  2. The study guide producer: The production of study guides is a further role for the medical teacher. Study guides suitably prepared in electronic or print form, can be seen as the students' personal tutor available 24 hours a day and designed to assist the students with their learning. Study guides tell the student what they should learn - the expected learning outcomes for the course, how they might acquire the competences necessary - the learning opportunities available, and whether they have learned it - the students assessing their own competence.

Multiple roles of the teacher

While each of the twelve roles has been described separately, in reality they are often interconnected and closely related one to another. Indeed a teacher may take on simultaneously several roles. However, a good teacher need not be competent in all twelve roles. It would be unusual to find, and unreasonable to expect, one individual to have all the required competencies. Human resource planning should involve matching teachers with the roles for which they have the greatest aptitude.

A questionnaire which can be used to assess the teacher's perception of the importance of the twelve roles and their current personal commitment and preferred personal future commitment to each role is given as Appendix 1.

This has implications for the appointment of staff and for staff training. Where there are insufficient numbers of appropriately trained existing staff to meet a role requirement, staff must be reassigned to the role, where this is possible, and the necessary training provided. Alternatively if this is not possible or deemed desirable, additional staff need to be recruited for the specific purpose of fulfilling the role identified. A role profile needs to be negotiated and agreed with staff at the time of their appointment and this should be reviewed on a regular basis.

The role model framework is of use in:

  • the assessment of the needs for staff to implement a curriculum
  • the appointment and promotion of teachers to meet educational needs within the institution
  • the organisation of staff development activities
  • the allocation of teaching responsibilities to staff
  • teacher evaluation by staff and students
  • self assessment by teachers of their optimum role
  • construction by a teacher of a teaching portfolio.

© 2002 AMEE

The AMEE Guides series comprises 29 guides on key topics in medical education and is available from:

Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE), Centre for Medical Education, Tay Park House, 484 Perth Road, Dundee DD2 1LR, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 1382 631953; Fax +44 (0) 1382 645748; Email:

Appendix 1

A questionnaire that can be used to assess the teacher's perception of the importance of the twelve roles and their current personal commitment and preferred future commitment to each role:

MEDEV, School of Medical Sciences Education Development,
Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University, NE2 4HH