I'm sitting in my room, courtesy of the University of Manchester, trying to start writing this blog and wondering how it is that I got here. Not 'here' as in Manchester, but 'here' writing these words on this page as someone who helped birth Teach the Teacher and guide it into what it has now bloomed into. Many would say the beginning is the best place to start, and maybe they're right - but it feels like Teach the Teacher is more than where and why it was conceived. It feels like the culmination of so many experiences, of frustration and disappointment and anger, but also of hope. So maybe Teach the Teacher isn't actually the beginning; maybe it's instead the turning point.
Every turning point must first have an opportunity, an 'inciting incident', if you will. Mine was one of my A Level science teachers, who I hope never has to know it was them. I used to get emails from them with articles detailing why climate change wasn’t anything to worry about. I don’t really blame them at all - the climate crisis is hard to grasp at the best of times, but with the vast amount of misinformation online (even carbon footprint was propaganda made up by BP to shift the blame to individuals) it’s unsurprising they got sucked down that particular rabbit hole. I remember sitting down on a call in early 2021 with three other people; Jamie Burrell, now also a TtT coordinator; Jamie Agombar, Executive Director of SOS-UK; and James Sutton, the then Director of campaigns at Raleigh International, (why did we all have ‘J’ names?!) - and remarking that I wished I could teach this science teacher so they would better understand my work. We joked about turning it into something bigger, “Teach the Teacher, there’s your name,” I said. Really, that’s all there was to it. I didn’t think anything special had happened that day, but we had stumbled across a wider problem - 70% of teachers do not feel adequately equipped to teach their students about the climate crisis, having received no training on any aspects of climate change, its implications, or its solutions.
And what a huge problem it is. If every job can be a green job, as the Department for Education well recognises, then sustainability can and should be taught in every subject. But if teachers don’t know how to teach it, how to present it as relevant, how to integrate it into all aspects of the classroom, then we’re almost back to where we started. Almost. Because this is a very fixable problem.
Whilst the DfE won’t commit to teacher training just yet, we plan to fill the gaps for the next three years. Teach the Teacher trains and supports young people to go into their schools and colleges to give their educators a session on climate change and associated issues that students are increasingly more worried about - climate justice, eco-anxiety, and how to start the climate conversation.
For me, a big part of Teach the Teacher lies in empowering young students in secondary school to believe they can be part of the solution. It’s a time for them to reclaim a space they might not see as theirs, it’s a time for the authority figures in their every day life to truly listen to them, and it’s a time for students to tell a system which is inherently unsustainable, that education on sustainability is vital for any future we might have.
We’ve already run these sessions worldwide, even taking it to COP26 in 2021 to reach education ministers and stakeholders across the UK. But it’s not enough - every teacher needs to have the confidence to start talking about climate change in their classrooms. In all honesty, it shouldn’t really be down to us as young people to shoulder the task. We’ve already been burdened with so much - learning about this crisis on our own, having to grow up in a world which is drastically affected by global warming, taking to the streets to demand action from our leaders - but it is testimony to the resilience and power of students that we have fought, and will continue to fight, no matter the personal cost.
Whilst this project does essentially prove a point to the Department for Education - it is first and foremost a platform for young people. One where they are treated as equals in the climate conversation. Because, at the end of the day, climate change will affect us all, and so climate education needs to be for everyone.