What Teachers Really Think About Students Striking over Climate Change

"The thought of children missing mass amounts of school fills me with fear."

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14 February 2019, 10:00am

When school classmates join forces, they can achieve quite incredible things. For example, my Year 9 Physics group was so collectively good at doing that thing where everyone hums really low under their breath, so it sounds like there’s just a general, inescapable droning sound, that the teacher once threw a whiteboard pen across the room. It was amazing.

As strong a victory as this may have been, however, it didn’t really get us anything but a laugh followed by a general bollocking. The point, that students are a forced to be reckoned with when they pool their resources, still stands though. So, when they all stand behind a real, productive cause, it’s reason to sit up and listen.

This Friday (the 15th of February), school students in more than 40 British towns and cities are due to skip class in the Youth Strike 4 Climate, as part of the Fridays for Future initiative. Founded by 15-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future started when Thunberg staged school strikes on Fridays, in order to provoke the Swedish government into action on climate change. This Friday, students globally are invited to join her as they have for weeks now, with Britain taking part for the first time in a concerted effort – as climate change is, let’s face it, an issue that will most radically affect the current generation of students.

It’s an impressive movement, but when you’re no longer at school or college, it’s easy to miss. So I spoke to the people closest to it, asking teachers what this sort of activism looks like from inside the classroom.

Lucy, 24, Lancashire

VICE: Hi Lucy. What subject do you teach?
Lucy: I teach English Language and Literature.

How long have you been a teacher?
Four years.

What do you think about the idea of students striking to raise awareness about climate change?
I think it is great that students feel empowered, that they are being proactive and that they care about their future.

Have you experienced much else in the way of student protest during your time as a teacher?
Recently, many students have been signing an online petition about school starting later. I think they are more aware of ‘cyber protests’ and more comfortable with these. Also, being in the north west, I think they feel separated from London and feel as though they can only have an impact through social media and the internet.

What do you think about student protest in general? Are students powerful when they unite?
I think it can be powerful, but only when students are well-informed. I think there are dangers in terms of peer pressure and students jumping on the bandwagon and therefore not getting involved for the right reasons. However, I do encourage young people to care about their future and be proactive in ensuring their vision materialises.

Thanks Lucy!

Rhiannon, 27, West Midlands

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VICE: Hey Rhiannon. Who do you teach?
Rhiannon: I’m a Year 1 teacher, and I qualified in July 2017.

What do you think about the idea of students striking to raise awareness about climate change? Do you think it'll work? I don’t really think our current government know or care much about what life in school is actually like. The thought of children missing mass amounts of school fills me with fear, too. I like the idea of young people standing up for something so important, but would worry about the impact on their education.

How would you feel if you were in the position of teaching students who are taking part?Nervous! Missing just one day a week is 20 percent of their education that year. (If my calculations are correct) that would mean missing almost 8 weeks of school. That’s a massive amount. When you look at pupil progress, the children who aren’t making expected progress – in my experience – almost always have attendance as a factor.

Finally, what sort of world do you hope for for your Year 1 students? Less prejudiced, safer, kinder.

That's beautiful.

Kerry, 40, Birmingham

VICE: Hello Kerry. What’s your subject, and how long have you been teaching?
Kerry: PE, but I’m currently a supply teacher due to having my kids. I’ve been a teacher for 15 years.

What sort of world do you hope for for your students?
I would love a world for my students where they fulfil their potential and are the best people they can be.

What about striking for climate change then? Are any of your students are planning to take part?
In principle it’s a good idea! However, with current government initiatives I worry that it could really have an impact on their attendance records – if it's put down as unauthorised absence this could really impact on their future, in terms of getting into college, or with apprenticeships and jobs. I don’t know any students thinking of taking part so far.

What do you think about student protest in general? Are students powerful when they unite?
Personally I think it is more of a college or university thing. I think a lot of students would only use it as a day off without really understanding the reason for it. As mentioned before it could have an impact on their future. Also, at college and university, you are expected to know the world around you a bit more than secondary school students.

Cheers Kerry!

Jayson, 48, Staffordshire

1550069549196-jayson

VICE: Hey Jayson. What do you teach and how long have you been doing it?
Jayson:
I’ve been teaching English for 26 years.

What do you think about the idea of students striking to raise awareness about climate change? Do you think it'll work?
If they truly believe in the cause then it can't be a bad thing. If students use it as a way of getting a day off school (or are portrayed as doing this) then it could backfire. I think an initial protest in another form - a march during the holidays or on a weekend would show that they really care about the issue whereas a protest involving time off school could be manipulated by the media to paint them in a less than flattering light.

Would it work? Strike action, when it is most effective, is both disruptive and thought provoking. I'm not sure who or what would be disrupted by such action other than the students themselves. It would, if widespread, certainly bring the issue to the fore.

Have you experienced much else in the way of student protest during your time as a teacher?
No, and that's a little sad. It's also grist to the mill that young people are not politicised.

What do you think about student protest in general? Are students powerful when they unite?
I think power and strength come from uniting behind causes. A lack of solidarity undermines any cause. Student protests about loans and tuition fees have, unfortunately failed by and large. The ballot box has to be the ultimate voice in a democracy. It would be good if this was an accessible route for those below the age of 18.

@hiyalauren

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