What Do Teachers Really Think About AI in the Classroom? Experts Respond to New Report

9 Min Read
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AI is getting a lot of hype. The headlines about AI in the classroom run the gamut, from cautionary (“It’s Easy to Fool ChatGPT Detectors”) to practical (“Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Schools. Teach with It.”).

So how do educators feel about AI? We share their perspective in our 9th annual Educator Confidence Report. It is released in three parts. Part 1 highlights teachers’ views on generative AI. Part 2 looks at teacher well-being. And Part 3, which will be published in November, focuses on learning recovery.

For their take on the results of Part 1 of the report, titled Outlook on Teaching & AI, we spoke with the following HMH experts.

  • Francie Alexander, Senior Vice President of Research. Alexander has taught students from kindergarten to college, and is a leader in early childhood education, literacy, and intensive intervention. Alexander also provides leadership on topics from early and adolescent learning to brain development and its influence on childhood and teenage learning.
  • Aoife Dempsey, Senior Vice President Product Management. Dempsey heads the supplemental programs, including Writable, Waggle, and Saxon Phonics & Spelling. Before joining HMH, Dempsey was the founder and CEO of Waggle, a K–12 EdTech company providing award-winning adaptive learning solutions for teachers and students.
  • Steven Chambers, Senior Advisor to the CEO. Prior to HMH, Chambers was the CEO of an ed-tech social robotics startup featured on the cover of Time Magazine as Innovation of the Year and president of a multi-billion dollar voice and AI company whose technology powers Siri, Alexa, and a host of Fortune 50 enterprise services (e.g., Amex, United Airlines). He holds degrees from Harvard University: an MA in Technology & Innovation and a doctorate in leadership.

For CEO Jack Lynch’s view on generative AI and learning, check out his piece on Shaped.

Shaped: The ECR shows that teachers are looking for guidance around AI. What kind of guidance do you think they need?

Francie Alexander: Teachers will need guidance on how to harness the potential of AI and mitigate the pitfalls. Most people went into this profession to learn more. They're used to going into learning mode when confronted with something new, like technology. They ask themselves: How am I going to incorporate this into my work? How will it impact academic outcomes and social behavior? As teachers, they're going to look for guidance because they know that where there’s great potential, there will also be pitfalls.

Aoife Dempsey: Teachers approach the topic of AI with curiosity and trepidation. They’re wondering if students will cheat with this technology and how can they prevent that. They’re also wondering if this technology will replace them. There’s a whole gamut of issues related to AI that make teachers wonder if it’s a tool for evil or good. The key is to harness the power of AI in the curriculum in a way the teachers can trust it and enjoy its benefits. With the program Writable, for example, we implemented AI in such a way that the teacher is in the driver’s seat. AI can create an assignment, and the teacher's role becomes editing versus creating. Same with guided feedback. Providing personalized feedback for every single student can be exhausting, so writing often gets deprioritized in the curriculum. But now, AI can provide the personalized feedback and the teacher can edit it and make it their own. That knocks out about 70% of their work.

HMH provides guidance by creating safe workflows that harness technology in a way that makes it less about AI in the wild and more about AI in a structured environment that keeps the teacher in control.

Steven Chambers: I think about AI teacher guidance in three buckets: The first is general awareness of information resources that demystify AI, explain key issues related to bias or hallucinations (i.e., content that chatbots fabricate), and explain how AI engines work best with quality data. AI allows teachers to do what they do best: to learn; to explore.

The second bucket would center on classroom AI uses, best provided in the form of teacher stories from the field. Probably 80% should be about opportunity and promise (i.e., best practices and innovative uses by teachers), and 20% exploring student-centered and ethical use (i.e., best practices for education students on proper and fair AI usage, and frank discussions about fraud).

And the third bucket is solution-specific. For example, and as Aoife discusses above, instructors can learn about solutions like HMH Writable, a writing application that integrates AI seamlessly and unobtrusively so teachers can more efficiently grade student essays.

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Shaped: Fewer than 20% of educators say they feel equipped to use tools like ChatGPT. Do you think more teachers need to be equipped to use these tools?

FA: Yes, we need to know how to use these tools so we can monitor ourselves and teach our students that just because information comes up quickly and sounds good, that doesn’t make it accurate. You still have to fact check. A few years ago, we would Google ourselves to see if there are any inaccuracies out there. Now you ChatGPT yourself. In my case, I found false information. They had me working at a former place of employment and the author of education books (I write children’s books), yet it was all written so beautifully. So of course we need to proceed with caution and check for incorrect information. But those of us who learn to use these tools with great care are going to be making a real difference in supporting students and their learning.

AD: It's brand-new technology, so nobody's equipped to use it. I'm surprised it's even as high as 20%. That likely refers to teachers who have fooled around with it and tried to implement it in some capacity in their classrooms, and are confident enough to do that. The vast majority of teachers don’t feel that confidence. There are so many caution signs around us. Still, educators need to be equipped to use these tools because the demands of the classroom have changed so much. The demand on teachers’ time is mind boggling. Any tools that can help them reach students in an efficient and targeted way is worth exploring. But I also think that product developers have a responsibility to make sure that teachers are being given these tools in a way they can trust, a way that's helpful to them. It's akin to creating new content yourself versus relying on a curriculum.

SC: Technology is all around us. No one serving young learners can afford to ignore advances in classroom technology given their students’ fundamental interest in and experience with technology from so many perspectives: as creatives, as learners, as social sharers, as societal consumers. I also believe teachers gaining mastery of new, student-relevant technologies like ChatGPT will uncork a world of teacher-inspired possibilities for enhancements to the classroom learning experience.

Here, I take an optimistic, asset-based stance. Yes, responsibility and equity must remain paramount in our ed sector usage because in the future, AI will undergird the relational classroom experience in exciting ways. Nothing will cause that excitement to resolve into real student experiences faster than if teachers say, “I want to learn about AI. I want to use AI. I want AI in my classroom to focus on the right outcomes, like freeing up more of my time so I can offer one-on-one instruction to the learners who need me most.” I view part of our HMH mission to help, to provide the necessary supports so teachers see the extraordinary promise, know how to use that promise and manage its challenges, and lead their students in ways teachers only 10 years ago never could have imagined.

Shaped: More than half (58%) of educators said they would be interested in professional development and coaching around AI. What might that coaching look like? What do teachers need to know?

FA: We know that AI means there will be a lot more data coming in. Teachers have told us they need professional development that helps them deal with data. You don't want to be data rich and insights poor. You want to be sure that you’ve got data at your fingertips and that your time exploring it is well used, so you can do the best job possible. A well-trained coach can partner with teachers to help them make the most of all the information they’ll have access to.

ED: AI shouldn’t be a lot of extra work. In HMH programs, we have embedded Getting Started sessions that guide teachers through implementation and provide extra support. There are also articles on Teacher’s Corner on how to create an assignment in a program, and then how to create an assignment using AI, for example. Coaches can guide teachers through implementation every step of the way.

SC: I know this will sound a bit circular, but AI can be used to effectively teach AI. I envision a teacher’s partner, like HMH, providing the district teachers training and resources. But AI chatbots and automated agents can make it simple for any teacher, any time of the day, to access a resource to deepen understanding about a program, pedagogical approach, or assessment strategy. We already see this happening in industry as increasingly the country’s most iconic brands are providing an unprecedented number of options with which consumers can navigate their interactions in banking, airline, food, and hospitality. So the coaching may be people-to-people, but that relationship can be augmented with automated supports, powered by AI.

Shaped: Fifty-one percent of educators say that teacher PD should address ways to incorporate tech like AI chatbots into the classroom. What are some ways to incorporate AI chatbots? What are some things to watch out for?

SC: Students can have a conversational study buddy pop up on their screen if they have a question about, say, linear algebra. That same AI study buddy can help a student who gets stuck while working through a digital lesson in any subject. The power of AI to help us achieve more differentiated instruction is profound. For example, let’s say I’m a student in a ninth-grade geometry class, and I’m really struggling. The teacher knows I love tennis. She configures that week’s lesson to teach me curves, angles, and rays, using the tennis court and tennis ball trajectories to illustrate concepts. The familiarity and interest in tennis brings geometry concepts to life. I’m excited about these potential applications as they herald new possibilities in arenas of equity, differentiated instruction, and deep learning.

Shaped: What do you hope educators take away from the ECR findings?

FA: AI lets teachers do what teachers do best while giving them more time for students. But we should also highlight some of the things that AI doesn't do for us. It doesn't build relationships. It doesn’t counsel students. It doesn't see students or understand their struggles and their joys. AI can’t do a lot of the things that teachers can do with a look or a word, actions that make a tremendous difference in the life of a child. One thing the research tells us is the teacher is the most significant factor in a student’s academic success. And my prediction is that won’t change. These wonderful new tech tools are simply going to fulfill the promise of letting teachers do what they do best.

A Sneak Peek at ECR Part 2

Part 2 of the Educator Confidence Report focuses on teacher well-being. The results show that teachers’ own mental health is now a top concern. The report also reveals what educators say is needed to help teachers battle burnout at school and make the profession more appealing to new teachers. Think you have an idea of what teachers had to say? Test your knowledge with this question.

What did 82% of teachers say they needed to battle burnout?

A. A counselor or therapist for themselves at school

B. A more balanced workload that supports well-being

C. More time for themselves during the day

For the answer, check out the ECR Part 2 and sign up for access to Part 3, which will become available in November.


HMH’s 9th annual Educator Confidence Report (ECR) will be released in three parts. Part 1 looks at how educators nationwide view the teaching profession and generative AI. Part 2 focuses on teacher well-being. Look for Part 3 in November. Download Parts 1 and 2 now.

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