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40 Hour Workweek

Education Trends, Productivity Strategies, Podcast Articles   |   Jun 23, 2024

Is artificial intelligence the key to a 40 hour teacher workweek?

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Is artificial intelligence the key to a 40 hour teacher workweek?

By Angela Watson

We know there’s potential with AI…but let’s talk about the larger implications for the profession.

In this article + podcast episode, I’m sharing how AI has already transformed the way many teachers work, and I explore the ethics, best practices, and future trends for AI in schools.

We’ll explore the big picture overview of AI’s impact, its strengths and weaknesses as a tool for teachers, and specific ways fellow educators have used it to reduce their workload responsibly.

Read on, or listen in to discover:

  • What surprised me in a Truth for Teachers survey about school’s current AI policies
  • Guiding principles for my approach with AI
  • How AI can enhance the work of teachers, not replace them
  • Why educators MUST shape the direction of AI (and not leave this to tech companies)
  • 3 crucial mindsets to develop as you plan how to incorporate AI in your work

Sponsored by Understood Explains

How much are teachers using artificial intelligence tools?

In an email that I sent to my list in the spring of 2024, I included a 5-question poll to uncover teachers’ current opinions on generative AI. Over a thousand educators responded to this poll, and I promised that I would analyze and share the findings. I’ve already sent this follow-up to my email list.

If you’re not on the list, you can join over 90,000 other educators. I send one message a week, typically on Sunday evenings. You can go to truthforteachers.com to sign up. It’s right up in the header.

My email list is already aware of this, but I wanted to do a deeper dive on the poll and survey results here with you.

Caveats about the survey results

So here are a couple of things to keep in mind as I talk about the current state of AI and then we start thinking about how this fits into helping teachers streamline their work.

Keep in mind that these are only a survey of educators on my email list. So this doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the majority of teachers.

Also, I think people who have a strong negative or positive feeling about AI are more likely to open an email about it and complete a survey about it.

Also, take note that as we talk about the results, more secondary teachers than elementary teachers responded. I think you will find this as interesting as I did.


Nearly half of teachers are already using AI with students or would like to

The first question was, are you currently using AI tools? We found that 24% already integrate AI in their lessons and teach students to use it responsibly.

24% of respondents are showing their students how to use AI responsibly. That is much higher than what I was expecting. Another 24% would like to do this. So that’s about half of teachers who are already doing it or who would be interested in using AI tools with their students.

71% say their school district has no guidelines for AI

The next question was what’s your school or district’s current approach to AI? Here we found that 13% of teachers are encouraged to use AI and teach students to use responsibly. So 24% are already doing it, but only 13% are being encouraged by their school or district.

10% say they’re encouraged to use AI, but students aren’t. 8% say that everyone is discouraged from using AI. And here’s the kicker.

71% of respondents had no set policy or guidelines at all around AI yet. This is where I was surprised. Though in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been.

12 educators in 71% of school districts represented in the poll are not aware of any guidelines or any training at all. A full year and a half into the generative AI revolution, which began in November 2022 when ChatGPT was released.

School need visionary leadership around artificial intelligence

Sometimes I forget that the institution of school moves much more slowly than corporations and the rest of the world. AI has already transformed the daily workflows of many companies. It has revolutionized healthcare already. It has changed the way that different websites operate. It’s been integrated into our phones.

We’re using it whether we want or need to or are interested in it or not. It’s integrated into Google Docs. You’ll see Gemini pop up on the side that says “Help me write,” and that’s using AI. It’s literally everywhere.

My own team and I have streamlined a lot of systems using AI. And hopefully, you can’t tell at all. It doesn’t feel like we’re just bots reciting a script.

So what I’m sharing with you here, the outline for this episode, that’s written from the heart by me as always. But AI helped me analyze the survey results from that poll that I sent out to my list. And it’s helping me transcribe the audio. AI is also helping me edit the audio. And it’s helping me proofread the blog post when I’m done.

So, it’s a really big deal. It’s transformed the way that lots and lots of industries are. And we’re not really seeing that yet with schools.

While I don’t think that instantaneous transformative change is the right move for schools in this area necessarily, we do have to move more slowly. It’s different than a for-profit company, for example.

I do think that we need to have visionary leadership around AI. Because right now, what’s happening is reminding me of summer 2020, which was not a good time to be a teacher.

No district wanted to be the first to make a decision about whether to reopen schools in the fall. Do you remember that? No one wanted to be criticized for doing it wrong. So some people wanted to reopen, some wanted to stay remote and schools were just going back and forth.

There was this endless waffling. Last-minute changes: “We’re reopening. No, we’re not.” Unclear guidelines and ultimately in many areas teachers were left to just figure it out.

They had to adjust to vague safety protocols with no resources, no support, no guidelines on their own, and of course, who gets blamed if something goes wrong, right?

I don’t want to see this happen with AI. I believe educators need to be informed about how artificial intelligence is changing the way we learn, the way we work, the way we function as a society and educators need to help shape the direction of AI in schools.

There are going to be some very positive changes in the way that schools operate due to AI and there’s going to be some major drawbacks and some things I’m very, very concerned about. But just burying our head in the sand is not going to change that.

I’m not okay with allowing big tech companies to create plans for AI-infused schools without steering from experienced, caring, thoughtful educators.

63% of teachers are using AI to streamline their work

So get off my soapbox here for a moment. Let me go back to the survey results. Because the third question in the survey was the one that I’m most interested in. And it’s this: How much are you currently using AI to help you streamline your own workload as a teacher?

So not using it with students or teaching kids how to use it, but just sort of behind the scenes. And what we heard is that 63% of respondents have already been trying AI tools to streamline their workloads. Although the majority say they’re only somewhat familiar and they don’t use it regularly.

28% said they really haven’t had a chance to try it out very much. And these are more reasons why I find it concerning that districts have not been more proactive in offering guidelines or recommendations. And more importantly, offering training so that teachers understand how to use AI ethically and are provided with the time they need to explore the tools.

In other words, the survey is showing lots of teachers are using the software. 63% have already tried it out. Lots of kids are using this stuff, whether we want them to or not. So we need a thoughtful plan for that. We have to get out ahead of it instead of, you know, trying to play catch up.

Teachers need training on the ethics and time to explore artificial intelligence tools

So finally, in the survey, I asked what is preventing you from using AI more often in streamlining your work as a teacher. 55% said no time to learn and explore the tools. 36% were concerned about the ethics and not sure how to navigate that. 10% said they just don’t like AI. They’re not interested. They don’t want to learn it. And 2% said their school won’t allow it.

There were lots of comments at the end of the survey because there were open-ended questions in there as well. Like there was a space for people to tell me anything else they wanted me to know. And there were lots and lots of people saying they’re overwhelmed. They’re not sure where to start.

There are so many AI tools. It feels like there’s a new AI tool for teachers popping up every single day. I’m in different Facebook groups that are designed to help educators use AI. And when someone says like, what do you use for giving students feedback on essays or something like that? They’ll get like 50 comments with 50 different tools. And like half of them I’ve never heard of.

And I feel like I’m pretty on top of this. Like there’s always something new coming out. So it’s very, very overwhelming. A lot of people are expressing that.

And there are a lot of comments about being fearful about what AI will do to schools, what it will do to the way that our brains process information, to the way our society functions as a whole. I totally get that. And I share those fears and concerns

.But I also know that we don’t make our best decisions when we’re coming from a place of fear.

We make our best decisions when we feel confident in our understanding of the resources available. I want educators to feel empowered to make choices that align with the needs of their students. I want educators to see AI as a tool that can help them do their jobs more effectively and efficiently, not replace them.

My vision for the future of AI in schools

AI should enhance our creativity. It should reduce the mundane tasks so that we can do the things that really matter, the things that humans are really good at like connecting with kids and building relationships.

This is not gonna turn us all into generic robots. My goal is always to reduce your overwhelm. So I will never tell you about all the cool things you could be doing and all of the great tools. I will never be the person who gives you a list of a hundred different AI tools that you could be using. My approach is to develop a plan for work focusing on the most impactful things. And doing them in a way that is sustainable over time so that you don’t burn out, right?

We want to pace ourselves, we want to go slow. We want to integrate AI into what we’re already doing that is working well. We don’t need to throw out everything else we’re doing. Like AI is here, now we have to reinvent the wheel.

If you have processes that are already going great for you, then that’s fine. We want to keep that. So if you are excited about AI, I’m going to share in your excitement. I’m going to exchange ideas with you.

If you’re avoiding AI, I want to be your trusted guide who will not push you beyond what you’re ready for or strip your creativity or lead you into murky ethical waters.

Listen, I have been in education since 1999. I have been sharing ideas with teachers online through my website since 2003. So more than 20 years now. And during that time, I have experienced a lot of changes. I’m ready for this challenge.

So even if you’re overwhelmed or you’re intimidated or you’re dreading it a little bit, don’t worry. I’ve got you and we will figure this out together.

Finding the emerging best practices around AI in schools

I think at this moment in time, we are definitely in a build the plane while we’re flying it kind of moment. That again reminds me of 2020 a little bit. In which what we’re trying to do has never been done before.

During emergency distance learning, I often use the phrase “emerging best practices,” right? Because we don’t actually know how to teach in a pandemic during that time. Right? Now in 2024, we have emerging best practices around AI. We don’t know yet what this is going to look like.

So these are emerging best practices. And that’s why I chose to phrase the title of this episode in the form of a question. Is artificial intelligence the key to a 40-hour teacher work week? I think it’s fitting that we focus on asking good questions when it comes to AI rather than making broad sweeping proclamations that are probably not going to hold the test of time.

AI does not replace the need for institutional, structural change in schools

So spoiler alert, I am not going to answer the question of whether AI is the key to a 40-hour teacher work week. Instead, I’m going to give you the facts and the information that we know so far about how AI works and what impact it’s having on teachers and then let you make up your own mind.

If I had to give an answer myself, I would say yes, this will be and in fact already is a game changer for many, many teachers. But I want to be cautious about that and say that I don’t see this as a permanent or structural fix and I don’t want AI to be perceived that way.

In other words, there are still institutional changes that need to be made in the way that teachers’ responsibilities are assigned. Let’s face it, AI can help you plan lessons. But if you don’t have any planning time during your contractual work hours, you’re still using your evenings and weekends to plan.

Lesson design is so integral to student outcomes that I find it shameful that in so many American schools, teachers are expected to use their pockets of unpaid time on evenings and weekends to do something that is so important.

So AI cannot replace the need for structural systemic change. It cannot be a way that we allow folks to raise the bar on teachers and expect teachers to keep doing more with less.

Good teaching requires deep work. It requires extensive time for thoughtful reflection on lesson design, assessment, and student learning. Asking teachers to do this on the weekends is relegating one of the most important aspects of the work to the sidelines. And even if you’re using AI to help you do these things, you still need to do the deep work of analyzing AI’s output, personalizing it, editing it, refining it, making it your own, and making it fit students’ needs.

So I don’t ever want to see us get to the point as a culture or a society where we’re like, well teachers should be able to do more of this in less time because of AI. So now what do they need planning time for? I mean teachers are already barely getting any planning time, right?

Or, you know, why do we need a whole day for teachers to work on report cards when AI can just do the whole thing for them in an hour? So we’ll just take away that day. That’s the kind of thing that I want to be really, really cautious about and be very outspoken about from jump that like the institutional change still needs to happen.

Because the expectations on teachers, and I’m talking beyond public schools because the same thing is happening in private and charter schools as well. Every teacher is overworked. Every teacher is trying to do a job that does not actually fit into their contractual work hours.

Most teachers are paid to do around 40 hours a week, and they’re working far more than that. So we can’t just see AI as a sort of like band-aid solution there. We need to really change the nature of the job and really think about what is important for teachers to do, and we need to provide time for them to do that.

So I think that that’s a really important consideration that needs to always be at the forefront when we’re talking about AI, is that this does not replace institutional change to the way that teachers’ workloads are structured.


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The arguments against AI replacing teachers

I’m often asked if I think that AI will replace teachers. And I think we saw during the pandemic and the days of emergency distance learning that nothing digital can replace a learning experience in a classroom with other students and an actual human teacher.

I don’t want to see AI replace teachers. I want to see it enhance the work of teachers to take away some of the mundane tedious tasks so teachers can focus on connecting with kids and implementing high-quality lessons.

And I say all of this because I think it’s important for us to set an intent with artificial intelligence, just as it’s important to be clear on intent in everything we do.

We as educators with expertise in this field need to be aware of our goals for AI and education rather than letting tech companies make the decisions.

We don’t want our school decision-makers, our superintendents, and our school leaders getting swept up in these grand visions of a world in which kids are instructed by bots all day instead of teachers. That is a terrible idea.

And again we saw this during emergency distance learning. Maybe 10 to 15% of kids actually did better during that time. That being on a computer all day long for them and not interacting with their peers or with a human teacher was better.

I would say anecdotally this is not based on anything scientific. From what I hear it was about 10 to 15%. So 85% of kids this did not work. They cannot be on a device all day.

And we’re seeing growing concern from both educators and parents about the overuse of screen time. Parents don’t want their kids on devices all day long. So to be really real with you, I think there is a possibility that some schools that are really strapped for cash are going to envision a world in which we can pay a teaching assistant minimum wage to basically babysit a room full of students on computers being instructed by AI. That is a worst-case scenario.

I think we need to be aware that there will probably be some folks who are pushing for that. If for no other reason than just for budgetary reasons. That could be a possibility. And that’s something that I’m always keeping in the back of my mind. I have not heard of many districts doing that yet. But I want to be aware that that is the worst case. And that’s why educators need to be the ones shaping the narrative around AI and the direction of AI use in schools. We need to be really informed about this to make sure that that’s not happening. Kids need to be interacting with their peers and with a human teacher.

AI is a tool. So, for example, you may teach your lesson to students in the way that you would typically do it. And then the kids who didn’t get it, maybe you do some sort of exit ticket, or some sort of little mini-assessment to see who’s ready to move on and who’s not. The students who are not yet ready to move on may then spend 10 to 15 minutes working with an AI tutor, right? So they go to this device, they pull it up, and the AI tutor walks them through more problems. It explains things in a different way than you did. It can rephrase things. AI is a lot more patient than humans. So AI can just say the same thing over and over in many different ways.

And there are tools that are designed for schools. We’re not just talking about putting kids on ChatGPT. We’re talking about tools that were built for the purpose for tutoring and mentoring. Khan Academy actually recently came out with something like this and they’re very reputable in this area. So it’s something that has the guardrails in place and it’s designed to teach students specific tasks. I think that’s an appropriate use for AI. What we don’t want to do is expect AI to instruct students all day long.

Taking a pro-active approach to AI in schools

So I think it’s too early to know yet how this is going to all turn out. And I don’t actually know, and don’t have a prediction or even an opinion on whether AI is going to be a net positive or a net negative impact on education. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit this one out until it becomes more obvious. We have to be proactive in deciding how AI impacts education.

You know, when mobile devices were first invented and popularized which was close to 15 years ago now, I thought that was going to be a great thing for schools. They didn’t have enough computers but if every student had a device in their pockets then that could help fill the need. But fast forward to the present and we see the detrimental effects that smartphones have had on student learning and the constant distraction that they pose in schools.

So my recommendations around cell phone use in schools are very different now than they were a decade ago. The world has changed. So I’m reluctant to make predictions about how all of this is going to turn out with AI. But I know that waiting to see is not the right option.

AI is here and it’s only getting more pervasive and more powerful. And therefore as educators, we have the responsibility to understand it. We need to know the dangers and the possibilities for harm. We need to know all of the ways it can help us do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.

There’s tremendous potential with AI that I don’t think we can even imagine now. I think about myself doing a podcast about AI three years from now and I can’t even imagine where we’re going to be at that point. I think it’s going to be so ubiquitous that it’s just literally built into everything that we do. Having teachers be on the cutting edge of what’s happening is so important in shaping the direction of learning.

To put it bluntly, if classroom teachers are not educated about how to use AI, then they can’t inform policy around it. And we can’t allow policy to be shaped without teachers’ voices. So whether you are currently pro AI or anti AI or just not really sure where you fall yet. I invite you into the discussion. All of these perspectives are needed and valuable.

If we only have people who are gung ho about AI that can lead to a dangerous acceleration of AI with unimaginable consequences. And if we only have people who are reluctant about AI, then our society won’t make forward progress and we won’t innovate.

We need a variety of perspectives and we need the neutral folks who come in with curiosity and an open mind.

The other thing I know for sure is that our students have an ever-growing awareness of these tools. And many of them are using AI, whether we want them to or not. And just for that reason alone, if nothing else I’ve said has convinced you that you need to be informed on this, I think the reality that students have already discovered this and are using this makes it really essential for teachers to understand what generative AI can and can’t do and how to recognize its output. And really having a clear vision about how we’re going to use AI responsibly and ethically in the classroom.

Professional development for educators on artificial intelligence

I invite you to consider signing up for the 40 Hour AI membership. This is a brand new offering that I am incorporating with part of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek. And it’s just now kicking off — we’re actually going to begin July 1st, but you can start now if you’re listening to this before that.

There is a private discussion community right within the membership site not hosted on social media where you can share ideas with other teachers, ask questions, share your fears and concerns, talk about what you’re noticing, see what’s working in other people’s classrooms and just ask questions so that you always feel up to date.

With the 40 Hour AI membership, you get immediate access to all of my existing courses on AI and all the others that are coming out. So I have one already that is about the basics, how to get started with AI and the ethics, how to create a responsible plan. There’s also a course coming in July about habits, how to integrate AI into your regular routines so that it’s your go-to teaching assistant to accelerate your lesson planning and your grading and all those other kinds of tasks.

There’s an ever-growing collection of super short video trainings in 40 Hour AI that will help you stay current with the latest ways teachers are saving time.

I’m inviting graduates of the main 40 Hour Teacher Workweek program who have already been using AI in their classrooms to create videos for you. So you can see exactly how a middle school science teacher creates lab assignments with AI or how a third-grade teacher uses AI to speed up report card comments. As always, I want to highlight the expertise of current classroom teachers doing this kind of work alongside you with their students every day.

So those 5-7-minute on-demand videos are for the folks who are like, I just want to pop in here when I want to know how to do something. Use the tutorial to walk me through it for a couple of minutes. Get it done.

And if you’re the type of person who likes to have someone sit down beside you and walk you through it in real-time, the membership also includes 30-minute live trainings. Followed by 30 minutes for you to experiment, ask questions, and troubleshoot. All those live sessions are recorded and archived on the membership site so you can watch and rewatch anytime.

Because there’s so much changing with AI and I’m going to need to do a lot of updates, I decided to offer this program as a membership rather than a course, which has forever access like the rest of the 40 Hour programs.

So this way you can join the AI membership anytime, you can cancel anytime, you can take a break, you can come back later. If there’s been some new AI development that you want to learn about, come back in later. There’s a quarterly and an annual membership. And we do accept school purchase orders and group license discounts. You get PD certificates for completion of each course within this membership.

So if your district is not offering any kind of training around AI, let your admin know. If AI professional development is something you and your colleagues would benefit from, this is available and it’s affordable.

Whether you have been worried about AI or burying your head in the sand until you can’t ignore it anymore, know that I am committed to staying updated on everything related to AI and education so that you don’t have to. I’ll find it, I’ll curate it, and I’ll give you just the best most impactful stuff so that you’re not overwhelmed.

So, I hope you will join us and if you’ve never been part of the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Full Year Program, this is actually a great time to join because you get a free year’s membership in 40 Hour AI when you join the full year program this summer.

The 40 Hour AI membership site will help you access the info you need to know when you need to know it without bogging you down in unnecessary or outdated guidance.

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela is a National Board Certified educator with 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach. She started this website in 2003, and now serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Truth for Teachers...
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