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Turn of the Decade: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Educators across our network discuss the big education issues that stood out in the last decade, and what they see on the horizon for 2020 and beyond.

December 18, 2019

The TFA Editorial Team

The TFA Editorial Team

As another decade comes to a close, we asked educators to look back on the moments in education that mattered and share their hopes for the decade ahead. Here is what they said.

The Changes in Education That Made the Biggest Impact

The past decade ushered in several big national policies that made a significant impact on education.

"Entering into 10 years with the Common Core State Standards, adopted by a majority of states and Districts in 2010, we have seen many shifts in education. I feel like the most impactful changes have been the shift in rigor pertaining to student understanding of their content and the focus on family engagement." Benjamin Vaughn, Jr. (D.C. Region ‘10) 2nd Grade Math Teacher & Primary Grades Chairperson D.C. Public Schools


"The Common Core curriculum requires students to go deeper with their thinking and complete more complex tasks. Now students are expected to read twice the amount of text, compare and analyze the similarities and differences, and be able to use a computer to craft their responses." Chiquita Puckett (Metro Atlanta ‘02) Early Intervention Program Teacher Atlanta Public Schools


"What we can learn from the last decade is that there are many unintended consequences when administering policies for education at a national level. While No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and ESSA were all attempts to bring the federal government in to improve outcomes for kids, we have not seen those results. In far too many communities across the country, educational disparities and inequities remain, and in many cases have gotten worse." OJ Oleka (St. Louis ‘10) President Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities

Educators were tasked with helping students make sense of an uncertain and divisive national climate.

"I remember sitting with a couple of students in my office after the 2016 election and just processing it together. I think everybody knew there was some kind of shift happening and there was a lot of fear and high emotion. But there was also hope. We might not know what to do but we can make sure that we take care of each other." Ruth Le (Los Angeles ‘13) Special Education Teacher Camino Nuevo Charter Academy


Political beliefs aside, the 2016 presidential election highlighted the hurtful divisions that exist in our nation. In response to these changes, educators were pushed to reflect inward and reimagine what it means to teach in fractured times. For some, this change manifests in class climate and culture, with an emphasis on socioemotional support. For others, this change means an increased sense of urgency on culturally responsive practices and curriculum that centers on the lived experiences of our students. Takeru Nagayoshi (Massachusetts’ 14) High School AP English Teacher & Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year New Bedford Public Schools

Educators and students spoke up.

"Marching with my students to defend DACA was a powerful moment as an educator. We marched through neighborhoods making extra noise when we walked by houses. I saw my students stand up for themselves, even with so much fear in the air." Ruth Le


"This past year I had the honor of going on strike with over 30,000 other educators in Los Angeles. We were striking for better conditions, increased funding, and an equitable future for public education. On the first day of the strike, we gathered downtown in the pouring rain for our first rally and march to LAUSD's headquarters. The march route took us through the 3rd Street tunnel, and the sound of our voices ringing through the tunnel was one of my most powerful memories from the strike. I've been to many marches and protests in my life, but never one where I felt so impassioned and directly involved." Maya Suzuki Daniels Teacher San Pedro High School, LAUSD


"Our students are increasingly aware of and restless about the world they’ve inherited. They’re looking for ways to address the problems of previous generations and have demonstrated that they’re unafraid to speak up. It’s no surprise that our youth are leading many of this decade's social movements, rallying around sensible gun control and spearheading global efforts to take action on climate change. Their courage and willingness to speak up reminds me of my obligation to develop the skills and mindsets to help our students take charge in the future." Takeru Nagayoshi

Many schools are widening their focus and embracing social-emotional learning and the whole child approach.

"While academics are important, so is identifying our students’ strengths, and helping them develop a growth mindset to overcome challenges." Mathieu Williams (Hawai’i’ 12) Multimedia Teacher & Hawai’i State Teacher of the Year Kealakehe Intermediate School


"I have seen classroom management evolve from a focus on 'management and control' toward setting up a classroom culture that honors the whole child. We are building relationships with students and learning about them as whole people, and not just as students. My classroom is so much more positive than it has ever been as a result of this shift." Craig Brandenburg (Houston ‘01) Teacher YES Prep North Central


"There's been so much discussion of mindfulness and socioemotional learning. I think trauma-informed education is something that's starting to gain more and more traction. Many of us are going into communities that have been historically disenfranchised. A lot of healing work needs to happen in order for students to be ready to learn." Christina Torres (Los Angeles ‘09) English Teacher Punahou School

Educators are creating more space for exploring and affirming race, class, and identity in schools.

"Among the changes in education that had the biggest impact in the past decade is the push to create spaces for teachers of color in the profession. As a Black woman who often felt othered in my schooling experience, I had the most profound memories with educators who could also connect with the most salient parts of my identity as a Black student. They too understood the value of validating the experiences of all of their students, especially students of color." Brittany Dawson (Houston ‘15) Manager, Teacher Leadership Development Teach For America


"I think there's much more of a willingness from teachers to ask, 'What do race and privilege look like in my classroom? What are the discussions I need to be having with my students?' I feel like teachers are more open to navigating these conversations with students, even if they are sometimes messy." Christina Torres

Change is happening, but not quickly enough.

"We’ve seen significant change for the better in communities across the country, but the pace of progress hasn’t been fast enough. Gaps in educational outcomes and opportunity across racial and class lines persist, and we’re seeing fatigue from those who have a history of supporting efforts to end educational inequity. Some are even questioning whether the problem is solvable in the long term. That question is about the adults—do we have the will and courage to be really student- and community-centered and come together around the systemic changes that are necessary? No one is questioning if our kids can do it—they’ve shown us their resilience and brilliance over and over again. At Teach For America, we have never been more resolved to create the powerful partnerships needed to ensure all children can learn, lead, and thrive." Elisa Villanueva Beard (Phoenix '98) CEO Teach For America

“Our students are increasingly aware of and restless about the world they’ve inherited. They’re looking for ways to address the problems of previous generations and have demonstrated that they’re unafraid to speak up.”

Takeru Nagayoshi

High School AP English Teacher & Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year, New Bedford Public Schools

Massachusetts '14

The Most Powerful Memories from the Past Decade

Relationships with students fuel our hope for what is possible.

"My most powerful memory as an educator comes from my second year in the classroom when I served as an advisor for my school’s student council. Our student council president—a 7th grader—rallied the students to sign a petition and pledge to raise the money for the school’s first-ever school dance. She impressed both me and my principal, and my principal allowed us to have the dance. It was powerful because it was a mixture of both community organizing and adolescent joy. It made me hopeful for the future." OJ Oleka


"I will never forget talking with a former student I taught as a 5th grader in 2001. About seven years ago, he asked me to be the godfather of his son. It has been the absolute most rewarding experience of not just my career, but my life. If all goes well, I will teach my godson in 2028!" Craig Brandenburg


"Some of my former students will come back to my school—even ones who weren't in my homeroom—to see who still teaches. They will ask, 'Ms. Puckett, you remember me?' I’m always in awe of how tall they are and how they've matured. Then it really clicks: what we do matters.  We are producing the future generation, the future workforce, and global citizens of tomorrow." Chiquita Puckett 

It’s the small victories that keep us going.

"One family I worked with had a scholar who came to me in the middle of the school year, after several negative experiences in school. I wanted to create a different narrative for my brilliant, student who felt like he had been given up on. Working with his family to encourage him, he made immeasurable personal growth. I saw him progress from a kindergarten-level to a second grade level of math in five months." Benjamin Vaughn, Jr.


"I remember getting the report and seeing that all of my kids had passed their end-of-year test, and just bursting into tears in my classroom. It was this really big, powerful moment. I realized this is what change on a large scale can look like. And I knew that it wasn’t just because of me. This was a school that had banded together to make sure that our students could pass that test so they could graduate high school." Christina Torres


"My most powerful memory as an educator from the past decade has been forming relationships with students and their families. One student who was on the verge of dropping out texted me a photograph several years later of his new truck, high school diploma, and his family. He shared that I made a difference in his life. I will never forget this moment." Brittany Dawson

“The end of this decade has shown us that our students are the ones who are going to help make big systemic change in our nation.”

Christina Torres

English Teacher, Punahou School

Los Angeles '09

Looking Ahead: Predictions & Hopes for the Next Decade

There will be a tremendous reinvestment in education, led by those who are most directly impacted.

"I believe, in the next decade, we need to take a targeted approach to education reform, community by community, working alongside education leaders and students to achieve a truly equitable and outcome-based education system that provides both the resources and the opportunity for students and families to thrive. I believe we can get there and I am going to do my part to make that happen." OJ Oleka


"I hope to see a tremendous reinvestment in public education and community schools. We need to continue to build pathways and incentives for smart and driven people to become educators and then stay in the classroom. We need to continue to support families and students outside of school. And we need to keep asking the big questions: Who is responsible for educating our children? What is the cost of a good education, and what does it look like? How do we keep our schools and communities safe and healthy?" Maya Suzuki Daniels


"I believe the traditional public education system will strengthen. Through all the nonprofit work and legislative activity focused on improving schools, I see schools as regaining the power and importance in society. I predict teachers will be more revered for their work and that will be reflected by the investment made in educators. All of these predictions point towards a stronger education system by 2030, and I cannot wait for it to come to fruition." Benjamin Vaughn, Jr.

What students learn and the way they learn it will look very different as the world becomes increasingly complex.

"I think we will see more solutions that are community-driven because we know it will take those kinds of efforts to create meaningful and durable change. I believe more and more schools and systems will define excellence in ways that encompass academic rigor but also go beyond it. More educators will be working toward the success of the whole child—thinking holistically about what it will take to prepare students for the future, especially the inputs that will determine students’ readiness for our society and economy in the next generation. Advances in technology will also continue to enable enhancements to classroom learning, and at the same time, we’ll see more and more learning happening outside the classroom—both online and offline. And there will continue to be innovations and refinements to newer methods of social-emotional, personalized, and project-based learning, and these won’t stay contained in the classroom but will drive entirely new school models." Elisa Villanueva Beard


"I predict that our increasing diversity will usher in innovative ways to rethink the school system.  As more folks in our education system diversity, we will begin to question fundamental assumptions of how we learn, teach, and build community together. We will come up with creative solutions to the limitations set by the older models of schooling." Takeru Nagayoshi


"Technology will continue to play a big role in how students learn, both inside and outside of school. Beyond technology, students will continue to be more engaged in hands-on learning opportunities and real-world experiences through partnerships with local industries. More learning will happen outside of the classroom." Mathieu Williams


"I predict that schools and education system will increasingly rely on technology to facilitate learning. Teachers' will take on more of a facilitator role because there will be an endless amount of material available to students, allowing them to learn at their own pace. It will also become more important for schools to teach students self-control on technology because the reliance on technology is going to increase in all aspects." Karen Li (San Antonio '17) Full-Stack Web Developer


"As teachers, we're being pushed to think more critically and go beyond how we were taught. We will need to unlearn how we’ve learned and figure out how to prepare our kids for jobs that don't even exist yet."  Ruth Le


"I believe there will be a continued disruption of the traditional ways in which both PreK-12 and postsecondary education are delivered, accompanied by a continued fight for public resources. With the rise of technology, the self-sorting of families and communities based on values and virtues, many parents will opt to pull their kids out of public education systems. This could lead to increased inequity in education; it could also lead to a recommitment to providing a robust public system for kids and families who need and want it." OJ Oleka


"Students will be more engaged in different paths of learning towards one goal: life preparedness. I hope that students will receive a global education they need to compete in our changing economy, be financially literate and prepared to live a long life and have the soft skills necessary to live with civility and resolve conflicts in safe and appropriate ways. I hope that schools become places that work with families to ensure that this happens by changing what we think is important to prepare students for life." Benjamin Vaughn, Jr.

Everyone will have a role to play in ensuring students succeed.

"In the last decade, the language and politics of education have shifted, but two things remain true: Real change starts in schools, and educators are best poised to lead it. In the decade ahead, those of us in the nonprofit and philanthropic communities have a role to play as well; we must ensure that teachers and principals continue to be recognized and supported as innovators and leaders as well as educators. That way all students are guaranteed the world-class education they deserve." Heather Y. Anichini (Greater Chicago-Northwest Indiana ‘02) CEO, The Chicago Public Education Fund


"I think the world is going to start waking up and realizing that it’s not just teachers or schools, but entire communities have a responsibility to invest in our students. Beyond monetary support, I think we’re going to see more people giving their time and offering mentorship. Everyone has an important role to play in this conversation about creating a healthy community. Because when we have healthy schools, we have healthy communities."  Mathieu Williams

In the next decade, students will continue to be a driving force for change and advocating for their education.

"By 2030, I believe it’s possible for many more students to meet key educational milestones that ensure they’re on a path to self-understanding, economic mobility, and a life filled with possibility. I hope that the aspirations of students and families will be driving the priorities for our education system so that students are consistently at the center and co-creating the path forward. And with the tremendous shifts in technology—such as artificial intelligence—I hope schools will routinely prepare students not just to have literacy and math skills, but also to be inquisitive and adaptable, with strong critical thinking skills, inclusive mind-sets, and the ability to work across lines of difference." Elisa Villanueva Beard


"I hope we will invest in innovations that improve access and learning outcomes for all, not just the privileged few. I hope we create learning experiences that speak to, not exclude those historically marginalized. I hope our students will lead this cause and hold us adults accountable." Takeru Nagayoshi


"I hope students will be able to have seats at the table to drive change for their campuses. No longer should they have to wait for someone to give them permission to offer their input. Instead, the system should already have seats for them." Brittany Dawson


"The end of this decade has shown us that our students are the ones who are going to help make big systemic change in our nation. As we're moving towards a world where we're starting to listen to students and seeing what youth activism can do, I'm really hopeful that it will continue." Christina Torres


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