Teaching About Climate Change in the Midst of Ecological Crisis: Professional and Ethical Responsibilities and Challenges

Year: 2021

Author: Bleazby, Jennifer

Type of paper: Individual Paper

This paper reports some findings of a small, qualitative study that aims to explore the challenges teachers may encounter when teaching about climate change, especially within the midst of ecological crises, like the 2019-2020 bushfire crisis. As part of society’s collective ethical responsibility for addressing climate change, teachers have role specific responsibilities, including helping students to understand climate science; encouraging students to develop pro-environmental values and behaviours; and preparing students to adapt to an environment impacted by climate change. However, in trying to fulfil such responsibilities, teachers may encounter significant challenges. This is because, despite the scientific consensus, climate change is still socially and politically contentious, and it is a topic that may provoke strong negative emotions, including fear and anger. These debates and emotions may become more pronounced when people directly experience the negative consequences of climate change (e.g., natural disasters).We conducted semi-structured interviews with thirteen teachers, who have worked in pre-school, primary or secondary schools in metropolitan and regional areas of Australia, regarding their experiences and perceptions of teaching about climate change. Most interviewees agreed that “teachers are morally obligated to raise awareness about climate change and to actively encourage students to be environmentally responsible” and that it was appropriate for teachers to make connections between climate change and the bushfires, while acknowledging the sensitive nature of this topic. The interviewees also described a range of challenges they encountered, including: 1) ‘push back’ from students, parents and other staff, some of whom could be described as climate change deniers/sceptics; 2) policies and curriculum documents that do not explicitly encourage, or may even impede, climate change education; 3) concerns about being ‘too political’ (e.g., criticising government policy on climate change; encouraging student political action, like the ‘School Strike 4 the Climate’, writing letters to members of parliament); 4) apathy, ambivalence and/or lack of support from students/staff; 5) lack of resources, especially time, materials, and training. Despite this, these teachers remained committed to realising the key aims of climate change education. In fact, we infer that many of them exemplify, to varying degrees, key attributes of transformative intellectuals (Giroux, 1988). Nonetheless, we explain how these challenges can be alleviated so as to better support all teachers to implement quality climate change education.