The future of America, according to 7 teachers

Teachers in America share their vision for the future, and how this new generation will lead the way.
The Future of America According To The Teachers
What's the future of America? Here's what teachers and educators think.Abbey Lossing / For TODAY
/ Source: TMRW

Amid a racial reckoning, a deadly pandemic that has caused over 210,000 deaths and a high-stakes presidential election, the future of America feels uncertain to say the very least. Our national identity has never felt more divided — and some days, it’s hard to marry the vision of America as it is with the vision of America we dream it could be.

TMRW asked seven educators across the country, from elementary school teachers to college professors, what they envision for the future of American education … and for the future of the country itself.

For more like this, follow TMRW on Instagram at @tmrwxtoday.

Luis A. Gonzalez, high school social studies teacher at Huntington Park High School in California

Master of Arts in Education, Stanford University

What is the future of America?

We see communities, especially low-income communities of color, left out of political, social and economic spheres. This shouldn’t be the case. Looking toward the future, I envision an America where all communities feel like they belong and where folks from these communities are leading the way forward.

What is the future of American education?

My hope is the future of American education will prioritize creating and facilitating opportunities for young people to realize their tremendous power to drive change in our country. Educators at all levels should be intentional about fostering educational opportunities where young people recognize their power and prepare to take charge. We desperately need this.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

Many of the young people I teach feel like they do not belong because they find themselves in an environment where they do not see people who look like them getting ahead and staying ahead. Some of them also feel discouraged about their own futures given negative health and well-being trends in our country.

They are right to feel this way, and we need to be sounding the alarm about how discouraged many young people are feeling. At the same time, we need to be doing everything we can to support these students in realizing their potential. Asking, what are you doing to create the future you envision?

I am humbled by the opportunity to be a high school social studies teacher because I get to play an active role in preparing my students for a future where they will be our leaders. In my role, I am doing everything in my power to champion an education where students feel like they belong, see themselves reflected in the curriculum, excel academically and feel empowered, supported and mentored.

Michelle Lee, Ph.D. candidate in American studies at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Master of Arts in American Studies, Purdue University

What is the future of America?

Right now? The future of America is looking bleak. There are times when I feel so terribly sad about what’s happening in our public education, in our government and the rise of right-wing fascism. We need a revolution if we want a future that is queer, feminist, equitable, liberated.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

So many! We need more stories about nonbinary folks, more Black, Indigenous and people of color experiences. We need to know more about how welfare policies continue to create inequities. We need more stories about our ancestors.

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

I’m doing my best to teach, read and write my way toward the future. I’m going back to some of my favorite Black, Indigenous and women of color feminist writings to look for some inspiration and to remind myself of what these teachings meant to be when I was younger, and how they can make a change.

Katherine Matheson, Spanish instructor at Phillips Andover in Massachusetts

Master of Arts, Spanish language and translation, New York University

What is the future of America?

It’s a fallacy to think that America’s future is somehow separate from the rest of the world. As human beings, we are more closely connected than ever before, through social networks, travel, supply chains, telecommunications, media, etc. That’s been the trend of globalization throughout my lifetime, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon. The future of America is not just America. It’s linked inextricably with the future of every other country in the world.

What is the future of American education?

I would love for education to be more humane for everyone that the system is supposed to serve and support. It seems that students, teachers, families, administrators and support staff are being asked — demanded — to do more and be more, to fix the dysfunction that we’re experiencing in our society today. We look to education to right all of the wrongs. But both the pandemic and the college admissions scandals have exposed how inequities permeate the system and perpetuate injustice; our education system is a reflection of our conflicting ideologies and priorities, not an institution that’s going to reconcile them. So I believe that we need to share an understanding of what education is for. Is the purpose of an education to prepare students to get a job? Or is it to help them understand themselves and the world around them? Or is it something different entirely?

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

I would like to rephrase this question: Whose stories haven’t been told that need to be told? And how can we ensure that they tell their own stories? And how can we ensure that those stories are heard? As author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, there is danger in a single story, and we need to hear many stories to make sense of our reality. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we must question the stories that we are told and ask ourselves, “Whose perspective is missing? Whose voice is not being heard? How can I make space for those voices to be heard?

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

I think it’s critically important that young people learn how to be flexible in their thinking. In order to resolve conflict and find solutions that will allow us to survive and thrive on this planet, we need to understand that there is no “right” way of looking at any given situation. We need to understand how our culture shapes our perspective, and be able to view the world through lenses that are not our own. Learning a language is one way to step outside of our “normal” and interrogate our assumptions, frames of reference and biases. That goal drives how I teach my students, who will — hopefully — develop their flexibility and cultural competence so that they can ensure a safe and sustainable future for all.

Alex Huff, intervention specialist at Dayton Early College Academy in Ohio

Bachelor of Science, special education, Central State University

What is the future of America?

The future of America seems uncertain. With the presidential election coming up, the country seems to be in limbo … just twiddling our thumbs. The country could be headed in a negative direction, which leaves me with many trepidations. I fear that America will continue to be a place that stands for division, racism and inequality.

What is the future of American education?

The future of American education is in limbo as well. America has shown a lack of educational care for all students but especially for those students of color from low socio-economical backgrounds and those at risk of displacement. America often conveys a message of education being the key to upward mobility, yet makes attaining a higher-education degree more difficult than ever by not making it accessible to all students.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

The stories of students with disabilities haven't been told or conveyed as clearly as they could be.

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

As an intervention specialist in an urban setting, I attempt to create a classroom space that conveys the current climate of America, while pushing students to tap into their inner potential to be all they can be. I try to show students what America perceives them to be and teach them the true history often left out of textbooks. Education and knowledge are power. When armed with it, there is nothing one cannot do.

Aria Halliday, Ph.D, assistant professor of gender and women’s studies, University of Kentucky

Ph.D. American studies, Purdue University

What is the future of America?

The future of America is a diverse, people-centered and people-led democracy that actively works to end white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and its effects (racism, colorism, fatphobia, xenophobia, etc.) in policies and cultural landscapes.

What is the future of American education?

The future I envision of America is deeply embedded in educational systems that are rooted in the histories of Indigenous, Black, Asian, Arab, Latinx and immigrant experiences. To be people-centered and people-led as a society, American education requires we teach the histories that embedded in our own society as well as the discrimination, oppression and bias that threads many experiences of anyone who has coercively or voluntarily become included in the U.S.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

There are many stories that have yet to be told, namely of Indigenous, Black, Asian, Arab, Latinx, immigrant and nondominant religious, sexual and educational experiences. Our future requires that we all know more about the policies and behaviors that have precipitated the world we live in today, but also that we study the creative energies of people from various backgrounds to inspire and narrate a future where oppression and bias are readily acknowledged and uprooted.

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

The future I envision compels me to work to include the stories and theorize the experiences of Black girls across the diaspora. My work as an educator, researcher and community builder means that I center liberatory theories and practices. I empower students, colleagues, friends and family to name their experiences, express the fullness of their identity and find joy and inspiration in the stories of others. I am an educator in a research-intensive environment because I believe new knowledge and greater educational opportunities will change our world for the better.

Sarah Feigelson, fifth grade teacher at PS 59 Beekman Hill International School in New York City

Masters in Education, early childhood education, Bank Street College of Education

What is the future of America?

It’s hard to maintain hope for the future when the present — our vulnerability to climate change, our national resistance to any kind of racial justice — feels so scary. Part of what feels rejuvenating about teaching is that it’s such a forward-looking profession: kids are always thinking about the future, about who they’ll be as a grown-up and about what the world will be like when they’re adults. Seeing the future through the eyes of 10-year-olds makes me feel a little bit more optimistic.

What is the future of American education?

We will all have a better shot at surviving and thriving in the future if we center folks who have historically been pushed to the margins. To me, the future of our education system lies in the leadership of the BIPOC educators who are reimagining American education every day. To name just a few: Annie Tan of the MORE rank-and-file caucus of the UFT inspires me to keep fighting for a more just future in New York City’s public schools. I’ve learned so much from Dr. Bettina Love’s work on abolitionist teaching and her book, "We Want to Do More Than Survive." And my own assistant principal at PS 59 in Manhattan, Nekia Wise, inspires me every day with her compassion and vision.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

Young people do not get enough opportunities to tell their own stories, in their own words and on their own terms. I see my students at their most engaged when they’re learning through the stories of other young people, whether it’s peers in their own class or young leaders around the world. My colleague, Tiana Silvas, has taught me a lot about the way storytelling can unlock students’ voice and power.

I’m always looking for stories of educators and families in true partnership with each other. Teachers and school leaders often face a tremendous amount of pressure to keep families at arms’ length — we have a certain amount of content to cover with limited time and resources — and there’s a sense that involving families “too much” will get in the way. Hearing the stories of educators who authentically center the lives of students, families and their communities in the face of that pressure inspires me to keep resisting it myself.

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

I talk a lot with my students about what it means to “live your values.” In a way, my thinking on this is guided by my own favorite teacher in elementary school, my 5th grade teacher, Andrea Osnow. Mrs. Osnow taught us that your actions say something about the kind of person you are, and that the kind of person you are matters. In my own teaching, I try to make the connection between my values and my actions visible for kids. All of us remember asking our teachers, “When will I ever use this in real life?” For my own students, I hope that the answer to that question will always be apparent; that everything we do feels purposeful, relevant and connected to their extraordinary futures.

Karla Rodriguez Beltran, Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of California, Davis

B.A., English, Nevada State College

What is the future of America?

The future of America is one where community is recognized as fundamental to our well-being. As the ongoing pandemic and racial violence has consistently shown us, we must rely on each other to survive. The future of America is one where we actively seek to remedy the violence that has led to our current reality and work towards communal healing.

What is the future of American education?

In line with this vision, American education should reckon with its role in the continued violence and oppression of marginalized peoples. In order to achieve this, American education should divest from a white supremacist framework and instead investigate this country’s history critically and unflinchingly. Only then can we move forward to create a curriculum where marginalized people are represented.

What stories haven’t been told that need to be told?

As an immigrant woman of color, it was a very long time before I saw stories in the classroom that reflected my own experience. I realized then that I had spent more than a decade feeling invisible. The stories of women like me, brown and undocumented, are rarely told with nuance and care. That is why it is crucial that only these stories be told but that they be shared by the people who have lived them. To understand and envision the future of America and American education, we must account for the stories that have been made invisible.

What are you doing to create the future you envision?

As a researcher working in higher education, I aim to understand how undocumented students build a sense of belonging on college campuses. Undocumented stories, often relegated to empathy-inducing spectacles of trauma, need to be understood beyond their service to this country. My contribution to the future I envision is making clear the resilience, courage and love undocumented youth rely on to navigate the violence inflicted on them by the U.S. immigration system.