Back to the Future: Teachers’ Stories from 2030

Photo by Headway on Unsplash

“This morning, I was screening and doing some footnote traveling when one of those sources really caught my eye. It made reference to a coronavirus variant that had just been identified in Indonesia. That took me back! I was in my second year of teaching a standalone ninth-grade algebra class in March 2020, when, suddenly, we were completely disrupted by a pandemic caused by a coronavirus — we’d never heard of such a thing. Everyone panicked! We had to shift overnight to something called emergency remote learning. Thank goodness that doesn’t even exist anymore, but, at that time, it didn’t matter what we called it: the bottom line was that no one knew what the hell they were doing. Complete pandemonium. Looking back now, that’s when my teaching changed, for the better. Remember how consumed we were with seat time, learning loss, and whether our students would sit for those state standardized tests in the spring? Not to mention teaching just one subject by itself! It took an actual pandemic to force us all to recognize that accessing, filtering, and remixing was what schools needed in order for students to be fulfilled, interested, and successful. Remember when the states got rid of standardized tests in 2023, and the Department of Education eliminated any and all funding related to testing? You’d have thought that the world was ending. That was when I found myself at the beginning of becoming…becoming the teacher I’d always wanted to be. I could have cared less about learning loss and seat time — those metrics were so archaic, they had nothing to do with real learning. I realized that accessing, filtering, and remixing wasn’t just for my students — it was how I worked and thought, as a teacher! Why would I ever teach a standalone algebra class when I could find far more satisfaction in helping to craft quests that felt like real life? It was the biggest a-ha moment ever; it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it! I could never go back to what we used to do, it’d be like the ninth circle of hell. Thank goodness my own children will never know what school was like when I went there as a kid.”

— Aarav Agarwal, New Jersey, age 34

“I don’t know how I ever did it without Veronica. She’s always there, helping me to get a high-level understanding of my kids’ writing before I start screening, questioning, and pointing out where they could be remixing more effectively in order to give more authentic voice to their writing. You know, the mechanical stuff that is so important — punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure — she’s so helpful. I don’t think I could live without her now. Before she entered my life, I focused all my time and attention on that mechanical stuff. I mean, I was so busy with those minutiae that I didn’t have adequate time to provide meaningful feedback about the actual substance of what the kids were writing. Now, before I even see their first draft, she just videos them to tell them how to fix their mechanics, and she lets me know that they’ve done those revisions so that I can start. Interacting and filtering are a way of life for me now, and I feel so much more fulfilled as a practitioner than I did back in 2022, when it was becoming a make-it-or-break-it moment as we were trying to make sense of the aftermath of the first coronavirus pandemic. Jim — -what was his title then, instructional coach..? What a bizarre title… — introduced me to Veronica that summer. I had never heard of an artificial intelligence assistant. “She’ll save you so much time,” he said. “Plus, with the state talking about getting rid of state testing altogether, you can program her with your own quantitative and qualitative rubrics so that she knows how you like to look at student work, and you won’t have to worry about whether your grading is designed to make sure kids meet the lowest cognitive denominator anymore. No more scores resulting in extra funding next year.” Jim changed my life that day: I want to work with Veronica forever!”

— Katie Wetherby, Iowa, age 45

“Learning-by-doing was such a momentous shift for us; I’ll never forget when it happened. After the coronavirus pandemic of 2020/21, the schools in my region — as well as across the country — were struggling to keep students in school. Those retention rates affected graduation rates, and suddenly we had a serious issue with an increasing percentage of students leaving school at age 16. They had lost faith in the system, and, quite frankly, they called us out on the relevance of what we were doing. School made no sense to them, the high-stakes testing culture was creating an increase in mental health issues, and it was a complete mess. A group of us looked at the evidence of schools that were experimenting with service-learning-focused curricula, and saw that their retention rates were so high, and we noticed that they had far less of an issue with mental health referrals. We visited their schools: the kids were so engaged! When we asked the students what they liked about school, they said things like, ‘It doesn’t feel like school used to. We’re here for a reason. Our old teachers thought we were just slackers, but actually, we just didn’t understand what the point of school was. Here, we learn by working on activities and projects that tie into the local community. When we’re learning, we’re doing that in real-time, and we can see the effects on our community. What we learn matters!’ There was no end of comments like that. Learning was much more about purpose, and we decided to put that into action in our own school. The change wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be. It took about eight weeks to plan out everything, from A to Z. The most exciting part was an advisory system that began in elementary school and progressed through high school: the kids identified a ‘mission,’ and advisors helped them and the teachers to use that information to identify learning quests, while tying into local community needs. We ended up measuring ‘impacts,’ not grades. What a sea-change that was! Four years in, we’re now seeing students who want to impact their local community and go international with what they’re doing. I can’t wait to see how we might design for that! Our kids are so engaged. It doesn’t feel like ‘school’ anymore. I think we ought to call it something different!”

— Charlotte Jimenez, Texas, age 33

*These stories, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this entry are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

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