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Stacey McAdoo Brian Chilson

For our November print issue, we asked local experts to gaze into the crystal ball to predict what life in the Little Rock metro area will be like in 2050.

When I was little, I used to line my dolls up in my bedroom and play school. Craig, my baby brother and only sibling, would always be my only live pupil. I remember using fly swatters or anything that would extend my reach to call on him when he was being “voluntold” to answer questions. Craig’s participation in class and how he engaged was heavily dependent upon the lesson, what was going on and how long we’d been playing. There were days when none of that mattered; he simply didn’t want to be my student. But once he began real school, he started to appreciate my “school” more than he realized. Even with the dolls, stuffed animals and pretend classroom put away, I often found myself using the arts, specifically rap music and drama; manipulatives; and mnemonic devices to reteach the material that Craig had a hard time grasping from his teachers. Pop-up study sessions would continue periodically throughout high school.

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Craig’s unexpected death from a car accident served as a wake-up call to fulfill my purpose — to teach, protect and advocate for our most vulnerable. I spent 19 years as a classroom practitioner, working to build meaningful relationships, teach the whole child, support the most marginalized and ensure that each student I was responsible for was college and career ready once they graduated. Shortly after serving as the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, I transitioned into a new role as the Teach Plus Arkansas state director. In this capacity I help empower educators across our state to develop and advocate for policies to advance equity, opportunity and student success.

Time has passed and the year is now 2050. Rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic of the early ’20s (the most catastrophic event of the century) caused society to reexamine our priorities. Once we made a serious commitment to take care of our students and teachers, our education system started to turn around. And I’m beyond thrilled to share that teachers are now listened to, respected for their expertise and compensated like professionals. The pipeline is booming! Teaching is now treated as a reputable profession by all, and the salaries reflect it. Teacher morale is high, and attrition is at an all-time low. All teachers (regardless of what or where they teach) have the support and resources to do their job effectively. Teacher leadership pathways have created opportunities for teachers to advance and lead without leaving the classroom. They are now heavily involved in educational policy, curriculum, instruction and assessment decisions.

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The improvement in working conditions for classroom practitioners has also had a positive impact on students. Students now sit at the table alongside teachers and other decision-makers to actively lend their voices and weigh in on educational issues. Teaching and learning are reciprocal, experiential and culturally responsive. Students engage with a relevant curriculum that provides opportunities to see themselves and learn about others. They are taught accurate facts and universal truths, service-learning projects that solve community issues are required of all students, and the arts are as important as sports and advanced placement classes.

 Today, in 2050, the demographics of the teaching profession, including administrators, superintendents and state leaders, are as diverse as Arkansas’s public school youth. This visual is especially promising to the little Craigs everywhere, who only saw someone who looked like them in 2% of the teachers a few decades ago. This explosion has caused them to experience a positive self-fulling prophecy. Their brilliance and creativity are being recognized at record-breaking levels. They are no longer over-represented in special education or underrepresented in gifted and talented. Wrap-around services are readily accessible, and since school is no longer a place of trauma for them, many Black males now aspire to become a teacher — not athletic coaches — but teachers of all subjects, including early childhood.

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Finally, the opportunity gap has been closed. All students now have an equitable education with excellent teachers and can achieve their full potential.

If Craig, my first real student and baby brother, were alive today, he would be 70. I imagine after hearing this update on the current state of education, he would flash that big smile of his, give us the reverse nod, and say, “Good job! But you know you don’t have to wait for a tragedy to make major moves or to start living your best life, right? So, what’s the goal and plan for 2080?”

Stacey McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, is the state director for Teach Plus Arkansas.