Teachers

I wish I had a great story about how I inspired a young group of kids to change the world. Hell, I wish I had a great story about a time when a teacher inspired me to change the world. In reality, the first time I realized just how bad global warming was, I was sitting in a very cold, very dark classroom, in a old building that’s A/C creaked and whose projector had spots all over it.

I can’t remember my teachers name. It was EAR 101 – Introduction to Earth Science, the most basic geology course a person could take. It was a requirement at Syracuse University, and I took it in the summer because it was “less important” than my other coursework which, at the time, was primarily journalism-focused. I remember that he was young, Indian, and very patient and kind. He was soft-spoken and relaxed, and he didn’t flunk me for not doing the mineral scratch lab project in week 3. I grew up in the deep south, where science of any kind is shunned upon, much less a science that teaches the extent of man’s influence on “God’s” planet. So I walked in thinking global warming was, for lack of a better word, dumb. It was dumb to say people controlled something as big and important as the entire planet’s climate. It was dumb to say that something as little as driving to work could be driving hurricanes. It was dumb to blame me or anyone else for destroying the planet. OK, pollution is bad and we need to stop that, but global warming? Come on.

I even went as far as to express this view in class one day (in retrospect, I should have been very embarrassed). But there was a kid from Korea in my class who said poverty was non-existent in the United States and that “our poor” “have cell phones and drive supped up Cadillacs.” He definitely gets the prize for biggest idiot that semester.

My professor took it easy on me. It would have been quite enjoyable for everyone else if he had flayed me in front of the class for my ignorance. Instead, he just kept teaching. He went over the science, not the politics. He explained how the climate has worked in the past, and why this is different. He didn’t make outlandish claims or under-value global warming’s importance. When I stayed late one day to talk to him, a conversation that lasted about an hour, he took me step-by-step through it all. By the time I left his office that day, I was converted. I’m sure there are some people who would say I was… oh, what do they call it.. “indoctrinated” by higher education. But that’s what I wanted. I went to college to be indoctrinated by knowledge. I had been limited my whole life by those who had no education, or whose education was in education, not science. I wanted to be converted, and even though I fought it, I resisted it, and I mocked it, I have always been a rational, albeit skeptical, person. He sparked my interest. And from there, I took more earth science courses (volcanoes and plate tectonics were especially fun), and eventually added a second major in geography. I ended up going to grad school for geography, focusing on climatology, remote sensing and natural hazards. But from those first baby steps in his classroom, I would have never imagined I’d end up being a climatologist.

Teaching, I believe, is probably the single most important job in the world. For starters, you have to be taught how to teach, and then taught everything you’re teaching. It’s like two careers in one. I could never be a teacher, because if I saw bullying or teasing I would probably end up making the bullies and teasers cry by pointing out all of their inadequacies (nah, I wasn’t bullied or anything… OK, maybe a little… or a lot). My sister is a teacher, and I hear all too often about her struggles with the administration and with the parents (I’m pretty sure the actual students are the smallest problem she encounters).

There are a lot of great resources out there to help teachers teach about global warming, and how to tie it into subjects like English, History, Politics, Geography, and so on. Even if you devote only one class to talking about climate change, you will provide your students with one of the most fundamental, yet rarely acquired skills: perspective.

Here a few good places to start. I hope they spark your interest:

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PBS

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