The Secret Teacher: ‘Many in our profession wonder how they ever managed without AI’

We should safeguard the classroom so it remains a haven of genuine human contact

The best day of MY summer holiday was when we went to Brittas Bay. When we got up, Daddy asked Mammy if she wanted to go somewhere and she said yes. She asked us if we wanted to bring a picnic and I really wanted to but the others wanted to just go. I really wanted the picnic and Mammy knew that, so we got one ready. The others helped Daddy pack the car. I think I got the best job because I could eat bits while making the sandwiches and Mammy did not mind at all...”

… and so on. We heard every minute detail of the family’s preparation and very little about Brittas itself.

I had known when Louisa put her hand up that we were in for a memorable answer, but even by her standards this was a remarkable feat in taking as long as possible to get to the point and answer the actual question. And then once there she somehow managed to share almost nothing about the day at Brittas. The rest of the class listened, for the most part anyway, and even those that did not offer their full attention were demonstrably kind towards their classmate. There was a general recognition that Louisa was having a good time being listened to and there was no good reason to take from it. Besides, she was genuinely entertaining, and her peers recognised that. There were only so many great days out at the zoo a class could listen to, and the intricacies of how Louisa and her family eventually got on their way were both different from the other accounts and more interesting.

That happened during my teacher training in a primary school which I was welcomed into for observation and then later worked in for a time as a substitute teacher. There is a level of innocence in the scene that is exceedingly rare nowadays, if it still exists at all. We are currently spending a lot of time analysing the impact AI is having and will have on our students and in schools. Perhaps too much time, and our focus would be better spent on recognising that we are the gatekeepers and would do well to assert our authority over how much it features in our lessons and how frequently. A huge part of the challenge is that many in our profession have been seduced by it and wonder how they ever managed without it. Its benefits may be manifold, and we are right to avail of them as we engage in our own professional time planning and preparing.


And it’s arguable that we should draw the line there. When it comes to affording AI access to our classrooms and exposing the youngsters in our charge to it, isn’t it likely that it will harm more than help? And won’t there be time enough and plenty of other places for them to get to grips with AI? Safeguarding the classroom so that it remains a haven of genuine human contact strikes me as a greater priority. That had already been compromised enough without AI.

The fact that youngsters are clocking up screen time, and perhaps not always as well supervised as would be ideal, means that they are absorbing large volumes of entertainment content. They can imitate much of it, which means they are honing a range of memory techniques and gaining invaluable cognitive skills. There is perhaps a dark side, however, in the form of prioritising performance; entertainment may nurture a preference for perfect performance over more genuine interactions.

There is a staggering range of entertainment options on offer for children of all ages, so it’s a well that will never run dry. Can the same be said of the supply of people queuing up for uninterrupted human interaction? The entertainment option is funded, rehearsed, promoted and commercialised, whereas human contact is spontaneous and based on goodwill and generosity of spirit.

Excessive screen time is perhaps not so damaging for those who are older and have spent the necessary time and effort on getting educated and developing a varied skill set, but what of youngsters? They remain in the formative years and stand to lose out if genuine person-to-person engagements are not a significant feature of their young lives. Artificial Intelligence may be new and trendy but its predecessors still have their merits and must be preserved.

Take Authentic Innocence, for example. Am I alone in feeling nostalgic for a time when youngsters such as Louisa were so uninhibited in showing their youth? The way she clearly revelled in holding the attention of a live audience while she confidently shared her story is something too few modern youngsters experience.

Then there is the risk that it could deprive our second-level students of Authentic Interaction if they see AI as a one-stop shop for all of their educational requirements. While it has its place in school, it must be in the context of us as teachers educating the pupils. This must continue to take the traditional form of Active Interaction on a human level where teachers create careful opportunities for students to encounter AI as a tool. Invitations to use artificial intelligence to complete tasks for the specific purpose of comparing the result with the humanly-produced equivalent facilitates student learning around how to use it optimally.

Such an approach also refines their use of AI to equip them to better use it in their future workplaces. But most crucially it ensures that they also have the attributes required to fully participate in those communities on a human level. Something Louisa and her classmates easily managed all those years ago but which has somehow become more difficult.

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