As teachers, we know that students can read us like a book. We might be cheerful, stressed, energetic, overwhelmed, or any other number of emotions. And students pick up on our moods very quickly.
So when you teach about climate change, should you let your students know how you feel?
Yes! It is important to model appropriate social-emotional behavior in the classroom. This includes appropriately sharing your feelings with your students.
This sharing, of course, depends on the age and maturity of your students. For example, when teaching 1st graders you can talk about how you are concerned about the Earth. You can say something like, “I love my family, all the animals and plants in the world, and the entire Earth. And I want to protect everything that I love.” This language may not overtly show that you are worried about climate change, but your concern for the planet will be understood by your students.
When teaching about heavier topics in upper grades, feel free to more directly share your feelings. For example, an 8th grade class on climate tipping points can quickly become very scary for students. Lean into those emotions with your students. You may want to use language like, “This stuff can be really scary. Sometimes I feel worried about climate change too. I’m really glad we are learning about the facts of climate change so we can do something about it.”
In both of these examples, the example language includes empowering students to do something about climate change. Empowering your students to stand up and take action may relieve some of your students' stress and anxiety when learning about climate change.
Sharing your climate emotions with your students can also create a classroom space that is open and inclusive for all students to share their own climate emotions. Students may feel more comfortable sharing their feelings if you have already modeled appropriate sharing.
It may be best to listen to your students first as they learn the facts about climate change. A simple, “How does this make you feel?” is a very powerful discussion starter. In other circumstances, you might want to share your emotions with the class before opening up the discussion for students to share. Your courage to share your emotions may break the ice so students feel comfortable sharing.
Be honest and open with your students. They will appreciate your candor and willingness to be vulnerable.