Climate Education

Climate Ed 101: Teacher Edition

I click my pen and jot another note on the growing list of things I need to do before school starts next week. Another summer has come and gone. I glance at the clock and then around at my fellow teachers, most of whom are zoning out, too. The director leading the professional development today looks around for hands to answer the question that nobody really wants to answer. This is the last thing we need at this moment in time, we are already overloaded and overwhelmed. I click my pen again and continue writing my list for the day — and this professional development I am sitting in right now is not even one of the items.

Being a teacher for many years, I know it is easy to get overwhelmed by new standards and curriculum, from all levels of the system. It always comes back to the same statement: We don’t have time. The last thing we want is something new to implement in our classroom without any time or any real idea on how to fit it all in. But last year I left my teaching profession behind, to advocate for climate education as part of EARTHDAY.ORG’s Climate Education Team. Now I am the person adding to their neverending to-do list!

Skip to August 2024 when in my dream scenario teachers all over the world hear, “Who’s ready to teach climate change this year?” I know from firsthand experience that their reactions will  be mixed but the bottom line will be the same. With a topic like climate change, how do general education teachers —  who have no prior background in tackling this topic — incorporate it into their classroom effectively? 

We have to look at how we train teachers.Teachers learn best when they have a variety of learning opportunities such as meaningful participation in continuing education, workshops and in-service training, and informal self-initiated learning activities. These opportunities are wonderful in an ideal setting where climate education is fully funded and supported. The question is, what about new initiatives that are not fully mandated and therefore funded? What about the question of the resources that might be needed as well to teach the new subject, as well as the time needed to prepare?

The answer could start with introductory professional development courses for teachers to begin the conversation. Teachers can use an existing lesson template but  rewrite it in the context of climate education. It’s a safe  “toe dip” into the climate education waters that are raging across the world right now.

We need a roadmap for climate education that starts with prioritizing a holistic understanding of the topic at hand. The climate literate lesson guide is an initial step which will eventually need support with continuous professional development opportunities, as well as the addition of institutional changes, supports, and resources. A crucial component for effective professional development is that it needs to be consciously and continuously revisited, while simultaneously digging deeper into content. Teachers want guidance to implement new curriculum and we need to find clever — even bite-sized — ways to give it to them.

We at EARTHDAY.ORG want to be part of a teachers’ support system when it comes to climate education — but to be effective, we need to be deliberate in how we educate teachers about climate change, especially when the future of our children is on the line.