Safeguarding: An ethos for teachers amid the climate emergency
UK teacher Kit Rackley shares their thoughts for educators wanting to help climate anxious students "feel human again" and make a difference.
Today’s original art for The Phoenix is by Laila Arêde.
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With school out for summer, I’ve been doubling down on thank you’s and appreciation for all the teachers in my life that made this wildly unusual year possible for me and my family. Both of my kids brought home seeds and plants during their last week of school — living metaphors for their growth this year and the care that we all are expected to provide to each other as members of a healthy and loving society.
The honest reality is that it’s not “just” a pandemic that teachers are navigating with their students in 2021. Every year of my kids’ entire lives will be wildly unusual by any measure, now that carbon dioxide levels have reached a point unseen by any living creature on Earth in the past four million years. Today’s children will witness a breathtaking transition to a zero carbon world in their lifetimes, and they’re counting on us to make that happen.
That puts teachers in a high-stakes position. As UK educator Kit Rackley writes in today’s edition of The Phoenix, for students, “poor mental health as a result of environmental degradation and climate change is real.”
I’m thrilled to share Rackley’s advice to teachers of how they navigated their own climate anxiety, and have incorporated it into their classroom work as well under the premise of safeguarding today’s youth.
Teachers: we have climate-anxious youngsters, but can we do something about it.
by Kit Rackley
Why does an individual become a teacher, and what is their number one priority? Is it to pass on knowledge of something that they are passionate about? Is it to give youngsters the best possible opportunities to fulfill their potential? I can’t speak for every single teacher. However, from my own experience, is that while passion and aspiration-raising are significant parts of a teacher’s identity, nurturing and protecting young people is fundamental. This loco-parentis aspect of the job is called ‘safeguarding’.
Through various jobs in education, I’m pretty clued up on safeguarding practice and policy. When I combine this with my experience working in the climate science sector, it is very clear to me that climate change is a safeguarding issue. I have laid out my case via teachers conferences, radio and podcast appearances, articles and blog posts. Our students are being directly affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, and the growing robustness of climate attribution science is one source of evidence that this is the case.
One of those impacts is on our mental health. If you have not yet read Eric’s candid piece from 26th April about climate anxiety, then I strongly recommend you do so. But what about our children? In March 2021, a report titled The Rise of Eco-Anxiety was released by Force of Nature, a non-profit that works to empower young people to ‘climate agency’. Responses from over 500 students in 52 countries saw that over 70% experienced a ‘feeling of hopelessness when they thought about climate change’. Poor mental health as a result of environmental degradation and climate change is real.
To read the rest of Kit Rackley’s essay, subscribe to The Phoenix.
Kit Rackley (they/them) is a freelance educational blogger, author, consultant, speaker & trainer with many years of experience teaching high-school students in the UK, and working with climate and environmental scientists to communicate their work to the public and schools. They maintain a blog for educators at geogramblings.com.