Today I want to talk about teachers. I want to talk about the tremendous service they provide to our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and neighbors – to the leaders of tomorrow. Teachers are creative, determined, optimistic and driven; the 10 Education Ambassadors that are here with me here in Paris are no exception. I have watched them learning and wrestling with new ideas this week. They have met with people who have challenged them and inspired them. I have had the privilege to be their guide and their teacher, but as often happens in teaching, I have learned just as much, if not more, from them.
I have spent the last two afternoons and evenings helping our Education Ambassadors go online and webcast back to their classrooms. I have watched them transform from my students to a teacher of their students. They are caring and compassionate and amazingly deliberate about how they talk about climate change. Their excitement and enthusiasm for this experience is palpable, and their students are responding with applause and an abundance of questions, some of them funny and some of them tough to answer.
Yesterday, one 5th grade student in Atlanta asked her teacher about how you ask questions at the conference, and if people had to raise their hands. He responded with a lesson, explaining how he had been too nervous to speak up, but one of his fellow ambassadors had decided to raise her hand and ask a question. He explained how her action had given him courage to ask a question the next time he had one. Today, one student asked, “Will the world ever be the same again?” Without a pause, the teacher responded, “I don’t know that I can answer that question, but I will say that we need to keep working on this and keep trying our hardest, and as innovators and engineers and scientists all of you will be able to contribute to solutions in your lifetime.”
This morning we had the amazing opportunity to visit the United States Embassy to meet with Dr. John Holdren, the President’s very own science advisor. Each teacher from our group transformed once again, but this time truly into an ambassador for their students. They spoke passionately about the hopes and concerns that their students had sent along. One teacher had to pause multiple times to wipe away tears as he shared his worries about the future his students would inherit. One teacher shared that that her students had asked the questions, “Why doesn’t anyone care? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?” Dr. Holdren responded to these concerns with a clear message that President Obama does care, that he is doing everything he can and continues to look for more ways to act. He also shared that one of the big reasons to have hope is because of work that these teachers are doing.
Teachers keep hope alive for the next generation, and need to be recognized as one of the sectors of society that is key to our future. While the officials in high level meetings wrestle over an agreement here at COP21, it is teachers that all the while are building the climate literacy of tomorrow’s future leaders, who will mitigate and adapt to the changes to come. Climate change education by passionate and effective teachers is an essential piece of the solution, and knowing that these 10 Education Ambassadors are going back to classrooms around the country next week gives me hope as I look to the future.