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Artificial intelligence (AI) is predicted to replace a significant number of jobs throughout the economy. However, while teachers may find that AI provides efficiency, real-time information, rich content resources, and other supports, there are crucial aspects of the teaching role that teachers alone can offer.

Teachers provide a learner-centric value that AI cannot replicate. Teachers play roles beyond just the transfer of knowledge and development of skills. AI can teach and share knowledge, sure, but it lacks the key elements of human modeling, nurturing, and connecting that are essential components of a comprehensive learning process.  

In fact, experts predict that teachers are among the least vulnerable professions to replacement in an era of AI. However, the aspects of teaching that make the role less threatened are not content knowledge, instructional techniques, and other technical aspects of teaching. Instead, what makes teachers difficult to replace are the intangibles of modeling, inspiring, improvising, adapting, caring, and connecting in the learning process and relationships with students.

Teachers play at least five key roles in the learning process and context that present a challenge for AI to replicate or replace:

  • Teachers nurture values, ethics, and social norms. Teachers communicate to students what is important, appropriate, and expected in thousands of ways. They transmit social norms through formal and informal interactions. Teachers utilize explicit instruction and provide modeling and corrective feedback to help students understand and internalize important values and practice ethical conduct.
  • Teachers build communities of respect, belonging, and connectedness. Much important learning occurs within a social context. Teachers are uniquely positioned to build social communities, foster a sense of connectedness, and nurture in students a sense of belonging. Such experiences are nearly impossible to replicate in a technology context.
  • Teachers manage emotional, social, and behavioral elements of learning. Teachers constantly respond to student moods, concerns, and psychological needs and routinely anticipate and respond to student behaviors. Nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, eye contact, physical positioning, and posture can have powerful but highly nuanced impacts on behavior and learning.
  • Teachers motivate and inspire. Teachers understand that the process of motivating others requires more than a set of tricks and techniques. The relationships teachers develop with students permit them to do more than share possibilities, make predictions, and deliver inspirational messages. Motivating and inspiring require an understanding of who students are and what is important to them. Motivation and inspiration involve sharing passions, tapping emotions, and revealing possibilities that are meaningful and connect with students’ values and interests at a time that yields maximum impact.
  • Teachers integrate the social context of learning. They bring cultural insights and awareness to educational experiences, and their understanding of culture provides an important context for learning, adds meaning to content, and connects students to their cultural identity.

Artificial intelligence can offer much to assist teaching and learning processes. However, it does not have the capacity to replace the most essential contributions we make in our work with students. We need to own and leverage our special role, with the assistance of AI, to offer the very best learning experiences for our students.  

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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