Teacher Experiences with Climate Change

LeeAnn Sangalang

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October 26, 2022

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Several recent research studies have pointed to rising feelings of climate anxiety for youth and young adults across the globe. Despite the important role in young people’s lives that teachers have, less is known about their own levels of climate anxiety and how that impacts how they teach and support students’ concerns. ACE conducted a survey in September 2022 of our teacher network to learn more. Over 350 completed the survey and they resided in 44 different U.S. states. The majority taught at public schools (68%) in high school (35%) and middle school (24%) grades. Over three-fourths taught science (77%) and over half (64%) taught topics specific to climate change (e.g., sustainability, policy, etc.). Over half (53%) also identified as being a person of color.

Teachers are frustrated and saddened by climate change, but also motivated.

Teachers were asked to identify whether they experienced any of 27 different emotional responses related to climate change adapted from previous studies. The top emotional responses were frustration (75%), motivation (74%), sadness (69%), compassion (69%), and sympathy (69%). The least identified emotions were boredom (26%), indifference (30%), skepticism (39%), optimism (49%), and powerlessness (50%). 

These findings show how multifaceted feelings about climate change can be – though frustration, sadness, and “anxiety” broadly defined may appear debilitating, teachers may also feel empowered – and also have compassion and sympathy to help students navigate their own anxieties.

Supporting students’ mental health is incredibly important to teachers.

ACE’s Let’s Talk About It campaign highlights the importance of being transparent and supporting youth experiencing activism burnout related to climate change. The majority of teachers in the sample reported observing students’ mental health be impacted by climate change (64%).

At the same time, 68% of teachers reported that they already talk to their students about their emotions related to climate change and three-fourths of teachers reported their personal emotional responses inspire them to talk to students about it. These findings highlight the important role teachers can play in addressing youth climate anxiety and burnout. Most teachers also felt they were responsible for the way their teaching material could impact their students’ mental health (79%).

How can we better support teachers who teach climate change?

When asked what resources they find helpful and supportive in teaching climate change, the majority identified access to educational materials (e.g., books, videos, worksheets, etc.) (67%) and training on how to foster climate change discussions (63%). Teachers noted they felt support from other teachers for the way they taught climate change (74%), parents and guardians (59%), and school administration (66%). 

In summary,  we found that though teachers in our network also experience climate anxiety like many young people, they also have motivation and compassion to support students. These educators also noted the responsibility they feel over how their teaching can impact student mental health more broadly, and thus, they can play an important role in reaching students experiencing burnout from climate activism. To support educators with resources to teach climate change, ACE continues to provide educational materials and training.

This survey was done with support from the Ho Foundation.

Want to read more? Check out the ACE Blog!

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LeeAnn Sangalang

Director of Research and Experimentation

LeeAnn is the Director of Research and Experimentation at ACE. She oversees ACE’s research program to provide evidence-based support for its climate education, advocacy, and civic engagement initiatives. 

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