ALTHOUGH the words “duties” and “responsibilities” are sometimes used as synonyms for each other, there are probably subtle differences that are not immediately apparent.
So when someone asked me recently about the differences between teachers’ duties and responsibilities, I had to stop and think for a while.
My first impulse was to brush it aside and say: “What’s the difference?” After all, the main thing is to get whatever has been assigned to you done in due time.
Even if we wanted to, we didn’t have time to sit and ponder whether the directive we had been issued with came under the label of duty or responsibility.
We are familiar with our job description; we know the demands and what is expected of us as teachers.
We are teachers entrusted with the responsibility of educating those who have been placed under us and we need to fulfil that in the best way we can.
But when you sit down to think about it, what really is a teacher’s responsibility and what are her duties? Which is bigger and more important?
More than duty
I discovered that the word “duty” is derived from the French word deuwhich means “something which is owing”.
So then duty becomes something that you are required to do whereas responsibility has to do with moral accountability. There was also one other definition of responsibility that I liked above others and that is in responsibility, one takes ownership of the entire task.
If that is true, then our responsibility as teachers should go beyond mere fulfilment of duties. It would include a sense of possession and empowerment; implying also that the education of our students should belong to us and that we have a significant place in the making of decisions and of deciding what is and isn’t suitable for our students.
Implementing the curriculum is not just about scattering seed on the wayside. We are the ones who watch them grow, decide how much sun or water is needed and often, we do the reaping as well.
So it makes sense that we have a significant role in the decisions made as it will affect our teaching direction and approach as well as the outcomes.
Hear our voices
But how significant really is our role when it comes to the planning and decision making? How much of our voices are really heard over the clamour of other seemingly more “important” voices in the education sector?
It is true that listening and pandering to every teacher’s opinions or desires is impractical and neither is it altogether desirable.
There may be times too when teachers’ takes on issues may be highly contradictory but it is not necessarily a bad thing simply because it shows that teachers are in touch with the needs of their particular groups of students.
And yet there are other times when we wish that someone “up there” had at least asked us how we felt or what we thought, before a major initiative was implemented and a blanket ruling imposed.
When teachers seem to display resistance to changes that are announced, it indicates that somehow they are not thoroughly convinced.
Although the planning or making of decisions pertaining to national education policies may not be the main part of a teacher’s duty, nevertheless it makes sense that they be consulted and their voices heard before certain directives are issued.
It is we after all who are out there in the field. It is we who actually handle the tools, it is also we who actually see and sense our students and know what works, what doesn’t and why. Therefore, it is sometimes quite disappointing when teachers are given directives and told to implement them without asking too many questions.
At times, there are many questions in our minds about the wisdom or practicality of certain directives and whether the amount of time and energy spent on it is justified.
These are times perhaps when our innate sense of responsibility and urgency to complete a duty may not quite synchronise and although we do carry out what has been expected of us, deep down there is a welling sense of dissatisfaction that this is not the way it should be.
And despite having carried out our duties, we are left with the feeling that somehow we have not actually fulfilled our real responsibility.
There are times also when duties are sometimes churned out more quickly than teachers have time to process them. Thus we find ourselves at times working to meet deadlines or complete duties that we are not completely convinced about when the time and energy should have been spent meeting student needs.
Even in the midst of carrying out directives, we occasionally find ourselves thinking, “this is not the way to implement this need, this is not going to go very far”.
And this has nothing to do with negativity or pessimism. It is merely because at times we know better how an objective can be achieved and what is needed to bridge the gap. It is after all our responsibility. And responsibility should include empowerment.