It’s likely that the extent to which teachers teach about climate change and whether or not they teach it in an accurate, relevant, and meaningful way is influenced by the fact that three-quarters of teachers have not received any professional training or education on how to teach climate change.
Teachers’ coverage of the topic that students say is of great personal interest and relevance to them is investigated in a December survey conducted by the nationally representative EdWeek Research Center, which polled 538 K-12 educators. In the survey, sixty percent of educators across all grade levels and subjects reported discussing the issue with their students. However, there is some variation in how they describe the issue, which may obscure its true scope.
Roughly half of educators say they discuss with students what they can do individually to mitigate climate change, and nearly half say they discuss how climate change will impact the planet’s future.
However, only 31% discuss the science behind climate change, and only 22% discuss the employment prospects in the field of sustainability or environmental justice.
Despite a dearth of preparation, today’s educators are increasingly fielding discussions with intricate topics and far-reaching consequences. While many students express an interest in expanding their understanding of climate change, others may be misinformed about the subject. They need guidance sifting through climate change claims they come across on platforms like YouTube and TikTok. The need for sensitive, nuanced discussions is especially pressing among young people, many of whom report struggling with anxiety and fear when considering climate change and its effects.
Meanwhile, increasing temperatures around the world are altering weather patterns in many places. Hotter temperatures during the school year and an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters are interfering with students’ ability to focus on their studies. However, in some regions, climate change is still a highly charged political issue, making some educators wary of backlash from parents.
Jones Paideia Elementary Magnet School principal Tesia Wilson, who also works with teacher-leaders in graduate school, has found that many new teachers “don’t feel adequately prepared” to have some of these conversations. It wasn’t nearly as big of a deal when our parents and grandparents were teaching. In recent years, we have witnessed “aggressive weather changes.”
She also said that students “want to know how to help their world, protect the environment.”
However, most educators are on their own to figure out how to deal with the problem.